After a career playing mainly good guys, Liam Neeson takes a step into slightly less heroic territory in Taken as a father intent on saving his daughter from sex traders regardless of the cost. Playing a former CIA operative called Bryan who lost his marriage through a single-minded work ethic in service of his country, he now works a routine detail as bodyguard for a pop singer in an effort to re-bond with his teenage daughter Kim (Maggie Grace).
His ex wife Leonore (Famke Jansen) has since married a wealthy businessman, and lives a life of affluence the solitary ex-spy can only dream of. When she takes a holiday in France and is snatched by a child prostitution ring,, the ageing spook must call upon all his black art experience in the shady world of modern espionage to save her. Directed by Pierre Morel, the film is part Hardcore – the 1980s daughter-in-peril drama with George C Scott as a Midwest father searching the porn ghettos of New York – and part Frantic, where Harrison Ford plumbed the depths of Paris in search of his abducted wife.
Written by Luc Besson, director of The Fifth Element and a slew of similar French thrillers, this one makes little pretense of what it’s all about – action all the way punctuated with moments of patchy plot development before hurtling on to the next nasty encounter. “I need you to focus” is an oft repeared phrase of Bryan’s – something the audience doesn’t need to remember after the first ten minutes of the film. The story brims with chase sequences – with Neeson’s pursuit of a suspect through the cavernous belly of Charles de Gaulle airport stands out as a prime example.
As a single operative ranged against the massed ranks of Albanian and Arab slave traders, the ex-CIA man delivers a body count not quite as high as Rambo – but still good enough to keep most action thriller fans happy. “We used to outsource torture,” he says after one such bloody encounter “but it was unreliable.”
Using that old Hollywood staple – the ticking clock – the action moves forward with Bryan constantly aware he only has a small window of opportunity to work with before his child is lost forever in the desperate netherworld of sex slavery from which few escape. The script from Besson and the swiftly increasing action from director Morel keeps a fit looking Neeson is full flight throughout the film in an array of stunts, car chases, fist-fights and shoot-outs around the City of Light as the ex-spy calls upon all his old contacts and cunning to redeem his stolen child.
The advertising poster declares Taken to have “the best action since Jason Bourne” – a boast that’s not idle as yet another car pile-up results in another dazzling sequence of action along some familiar landmarks around the French capital. Taken is not a film with a deep message – just a straight-on, no holds barred actioner with good pace, terrific set pieces, and Neeson excellent as the father forced out on the edge to protect his child.