***/**** Image A- Sound A Extras B
starring Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace, Leland Orser, Famke Janssen
screenplay by Luc Besson & Robert Mark Kamen
directed by Pierre Morel
by Ian Pugh Director Pierre Morel's last film was that cookie-cutter nonsense District B13, while co-writers Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen have in recent times mainly presided over the Transporter series. So what surprises most about the trio's Taken is that, given its pedigree of orgiastic excess, every single one of its attributes is delivered in quantities that are just enough. All of its action sequences are just tightly edited enough to be exciting without becoming hyperactive; all of its characters are just developed enough to warrant analysis without interfering with the thrills; and its screaming misanthropy is just equal-opportunity enough to not feel like xenophobia. There's certainly a pathetic loneliness to ex-Black Ops agent Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson), still taking ersatz family photos with a disposable camera and struggling to direct the attention of his teenaged daughter Kim (25-year-old Maggie Grace, in a borderline grotesque woman-child performance) away from the rich asshole (Xander Berkeley) now married to his ex-wife (Famke Janssen). But when Kim is kidnapped by sex traffickers in Paris, it's a chance to utilize his training and indulge in wish-fulfillment of the most literal variety. Blowing past government procedure and busting up prostitution rings run by the upper class, Bryan's search eventually culminates in a violent showdown with a Middle Eastern sheikh.
Taken sees something downright impotent about this quest for justice, given how easily the vengeance corresponds with the humiliation at the hands of those bourgeois motherfuckers who have made Bryan's life so difficult to live. (The first ten minutes neatly encapsulates the film, as Bryan is charged with protecting/deflating a pompous pop star (Holly Valance).) One of two pictures released in the United States during the past year to invoke Sam Raimi's Neeson-starring Darkman (preceding Raimi's own Drag Me to Hell), Taken finds Neeson once again obsessively playing an audio recording to commit his quarries' voices to memory, and his holy wrath is set off by a series of harrowed flashbacks. The comparison invites a very specific discussion about irresponsible anger dictating the motives at play. "It was always personal to me," Bryan offers as a kiss-off to one of his victims before perforating him...but exactly how personal? How much of a factor does Kim really represent in his mad journey? Taken doesn't shy away from the essential selfishness of its premise: Bryan's obsession smacks of an attempt to make up for lost time, his penitence for being an absentee father in Kim's formative years. Reaching back to and followed by the "96-hour window" in which Bryan must recover her, the entire film is haunted by the vague hope that it's not too late for Bryan to save her from the big bad world and keep her all to himself.
It's the logical continuation of Besson's fascination with inappropriate parental figures. A fair enough criticism that Taken trivializes sex trafficking in the name of a few cheap thrills, but the point is that everything has been trivialized on Bryan's quest. Looking for information, he coerces a friend in the French government (Olivier Rabourdin) by putting a bullet in his wife's shoulder and threatening to do worse. "My salary is X, my expenses are Y," the Frenchman protests. "As long as my family is provided for, I do not care where the difference comes from." In this scenario, however, no one's family is more important than Bryan's. When push comes to shove, his tactics operate by the same blind eye--it's simply easier to side with him because we know everything of his stakes and nothing of anyone else's. It's not nearly as devastating as similar themes in Dirty Harry (mostly because it never actively throws us under the bus, or into the line of fire), yet it nonetheless raises the same problems about what we're willing to do and ignore when personal rage bubbles to a boiling point. Torture? Why, it's not even a question. Taken hardly stops to ponder the implications of its sadism, and since this is a will-o'-the-wisp fantasy of the most obvious order, the ends are tailored to justify the means. Still, it's no mean feat that it should engage in a fairly intelligent conversation while caught up in the heat of the moment.
THE BLU-RAY DISC
Taken arrives on Blu-ray from Fox in a "2-Disc Extended Cut" that gives you the option, via seamless branching, of watching the theatrical or unrated version of the film--the most obvious variation between the two a couple of extended shots in which Bryan fires a few more bullets at some assholes in tuxedos in what can only be described as a miniature tantrum. It's mentioned in the commentaries section that the first half-hour of cinematography was crafted to look like "American comedies," i.e., light, bright, and bouncy--which holds true for the 2.40:1, 1080p transfer, though I found the nicely-grainy image a tad blown-out/washed-out. The situation improves when the tone of the piece gets darker, however, the grimy-yet-glossy Parisian nights that constitute the rest of it reminding a bit of the sulphuric European backdrops of Hostel Part II. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio soundtrack is nicely balanced; a scene in which Kim and her friend Amanda (Katie Cassidy) crank the volume on their stereo to its deafening maximum exemplifies pretty well that the mix knows "loud" from "too loud."
Director Pierre Morel joins cinematographer Michel Abramowicz and stunt coordinator Michel Julienne for a feature-length yak-track in French with English subtitles. (The film itself has the French dub playing underneath them.) Spoken in hushed tones, there's not a lot to the conversation beyond the very technical generalities of the script and special effects, but the constant admiration for Neeson yields the occasional intriguing anecdote about his method and collaboration with the crew. (He is, apparently, well aware of his piercing blue eyes.) While an English-language yakker with Kamen demonstrates the co-writer's comprehensive understanding of the basic drive behind Taken's high concept, by the same token he tends to regurgitate popular action tropes and merely fills in the blanks for plot and motivation. That said, considering his constant reiteration of how awesome it is to work with Besson and his "director's eye," I suspect we're missing a crucial part of a dynamic and that a commentary with Kamen and Besson would actually be quite interesting.
The centrepiece of the supplementary material, a "Black Ops Field Manual" superimposes a running tally of the casualties (it maintains such fidelity to context that the "injured" count is lowered after the corresponding character is "killed"), including intermittent freeze-frame analysis that describes relevant traumas; the 96 hours from Kim's kidnapping (ending at "00:01"--the moment she is rescued from total ravagement--in true movie-countdown tradition) and the distance Bryan travels throughout the film in miles and kilometres (beginning with his treks around Los Angeles, before the plot is set into motion!) are likewise monitored. Complete with running fact-track about black ops training, it's an exhaustive--and exhausting--catalogue of the beloved cinematic conventions and globetrotting wish-fulfillment that would theoretically bring you to watch Taken in the first place. It's a little vulgar to spell it out in concrete terms like this, perhaps, but endearing just the same.
Unfortunately, the remaining extras are comparatively by-the-numbers, your standard EPK fare. The Frenglish-titled "Le Making-Of" (20 mins., HD) is a prime example of that: some interview snippets, some B-roll, although Neeson himself reveals enough insight into his character and the filmmaking process in general to make you want to sit down and talk to the guy without any distractions. "Avant Premiere" (4 mins., HD) is a quick overview of Taken's Parisian premiere in February 2008, featuring feather-light interviews with the major players and a few kind words from the locals post screening. Finally, "Inside Action: Side by Side Comparisons" (11 mins., HD) offers behind-the-scenes footage of the more adrenalized sequences, presented in split-screen alongside the final product. Upon insertion of the disc, a promo for digital files prefaces HiDef trailers for X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li, and 12 Rounds; a trailer for Notorious is located under a separate menu. The requisite Digital Copy of Taken resides on a DVD inside the keepcase. Originally published: June 22, 2009.