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Neeson the only reason 'Taken' works at all

Posted: Friday, February 20, 2009

L et me start by saying I do not condone human trafficking.

If, however, you decide to get involved in that seedy underworld in the near future - the economy does stink right now, after all - I offer you this advice: If you kidnap a young lady, and speak to her oddly calm father on the phone moments after you have "Taken" her ... and if he tells you over the phone that he's had a "long career" that has honed certain "skills" that make him a nightmare for people like you, that he "will find you," and that he "will kill you," take him at his word.

A lot of ifs, I know. And of course the whole idea is ridiculous ,as it hypothetically puts you in the shoes of a ruthless Albanian, at least if you're going with the script by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen. The ifs, as well as the word "ridiculous," are appropriate when talking about "Taken," though. The film is packed with convenient ifs that work out nicely for our hero, Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson). In between the ifs working our perfectly for Bryan, we see him sprinting through the streets of Paris with speed sufficient enough to keep up with souped-up sports cars, maiming or killing human beings at a breakneck pace, and avoiding capture by either the bad guys or the police.

Ridiculous.

Yet, if you allow him to, Liam Neeson will take you on quite the 90-minute ride. Make no mistake about it: Neeson is the only reason "Taken" works at all. The character of Bryan Mills is not someone we haven't seen countless times before. Mills is a retired CIA operative trying like hell to rekindle some sort of relationship with his teenage daughter, Kim (Maggie Grace). His marriage to Kim's mom (Famke Janssen) long ago failed, thanks to the time-consuming career. He is a man, as we see early on and then in just about every frame to the end, that hardly needs a weapon to take down bad guys in mere seconds. Bryan Mills is not all that interesting, truth be told. Somehow, though, Neeson makes him seem that way.

Neeson turns Bryan into a forgetful but good-natured-enough friend when he's barbequing with his CIA pals, a short-fused ex-husband when he is around Janssen, a loving but completely clueless father, and of course a lethal killing machine once his daughter is taken. Neeson is effective enough that all of the fluff director Pierre Morel asks us to swallow starts to seem less silly. Bryan sprinting around Paris at nighttime, keeping up with a speeding Audi? Sure, why not. Bryan escaping handcuffs and strangulation thanks to a loose pipe the bad guys have hooked him to? Makes sense.

I knew for sure how good Neeson was when Bryan shot an innocent lady in the arm - a friend, no less - without blinking in order to intimidate her husband. His reasons are valid enough for him to shoot innocent acquaintances: Time running out, evil Albanians selling his virgin daughter to fat sheiks, etc. Still, it'd be like if you stabbed the checkout clerk at the grocery store because his boss wouldn't tell you when the next shipment of your favorite apples was coming in. It's a bit much. Yet, when Bryan does it in "Taken," I only had a brief "What the hell?" moment.

Then I was right back on board.

Yes, Neeson is excellent. And without him, "Taken" would be a bad piece of fluff.

With him, it is a very enjoyable piece of fantastic fluff.



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