Review

Taken

Director    Pierre Morel
Starring    Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace, Xander Berkeley, Katie Cassidy, Famke Janssen
Release    30 JAN (US) 26 SEP (UK)    Certificate 18
4 stars

Kirsty

31st January 2009

Ah, the French. They know how to do so many things well - runny cheese, red wine, yacht-based film festivals and so on. Now they can add kidnap capers to that list. Taken, co-written by Luc Besson and directed by District B13's Pierre Morel, is a fast, taut and remarkably enjoyable thriller which is refreshingly free of twisty reveals or double-double crosses.

Liam Neeson is Bryan Mills, an ex-military man cum super-spy who has taken early retirement in an effort to reconnect with his estranged daughter Kim (Maggie Grace, almost unrecognisable from her time as Shannon in twisty, double-double-crossing TV show Lost). Kim heads off on a jaunt around Europe armed only with a map, a mobile phone and a moron best friend who quickly gets them earmarked for disaster by the hands of a creepy Frenchman. We follow Bryan's manic search to find his daughter; he has around 96 hours or chances are he'll never see her again.

Taken starts slowly. There's an unhealthy level of schmaltz and sentimentality around Daddy's overprotective attitude, and for about 20 minutes there were concerns that at some point during his military career, someone had done away with Bryan's testes. Luckily, once he reluctantly agrees to let Kim travel to Europe (on the proviso she calls when she lands, holds someone's hand when crossing the road etc) and she and her bubble-headed travel companion are violently snatched from their apartments, the movie really takes off.

Using his one of his cadre of super-spy friends, Mills is able to trace the gang responsible for the kidnapping to Paris and discovers they are famous for their predilection for grabbing nave tourists fresh of the plane, getting them hooked on smack and selling them to (literally) the highest bidder. He then proceeds to purposefully and brutally hunt them down, extract information about Kim's fate and dole out lumps of bloody justice like he's Jason Bourne's Dad.

While the subject matter of Taken is pretty grim and could be exploited for shock value, it's surprisingly reserved. Yes, the body count racks up, and the torture scene isn't exactly a High School Musical routine, but you don't see that much bar Bryan gunning baddies down. And the movie is much better for it. There are some plot holes and a few leaps of faith - all the hookers in Paris seem to have Algerian pimps who hang out together - but Liam Neeson as an action hero is not one of them. His performance as a boiling cauldron of barely-contained rage was pitch-perfect and he makes a fabulous middle-aged action hero.

There have been some who have dismissed Taken as xenophobic US propaganda, which is frankly absurd. Truth is, there are gangs like this out there, some are Algerian and human trafficking does exist in Paris, as much as it does in London, Oslo, or Toronto. Sure, there might not be a pissed off ex-Jedi on their tails, but that's what makes Taken such fun: it's a no-frills, guilty pleasure of an action movie par excellence.

Taken is released in the US on Friday 30th January and on DVD in the UK on Monday 9th February. Click here to buy it from Amazon.co.uk.

More:  Action  Thriller  Violence
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