In this months Film Club, Luke from the Oracle of Film chose Taken as our film of the month. It was a popular choice in the end, and one that scored higher among our members than I previously thought it would. Below are Luke’s reasons for picking Taken, followed by each members review of the film.
“Wow, there is a lot of pressure picking a film for film club. The immediate impulse is to pick a classic, something we all love and can enjoy rewatching. However I really want to switch things up and go for a bad movie. I just cannot bring myself to do it. I don’t want to be the guy that makes you sit through a painful two hours of terrible movie making.
In the end, I went down the middle with Luc Besson’s Taken, starring Liam Neeson. It is a very divisive movie and it occurred to me I have no idea how any of my blogging family feel about it. So, some of you may be cheering; some of you may be rolling your eyes, but my choice is Taken. I hope you have your particular set of skills at the ready.”
Taken is often remembered for that one scene. Liam Neeson manages to get the kidnapper on the phone and utters the immortal lines: “I have a particular set of skills.” Cynics would argue that these few lines of dialogue are the only things giving Taken that cult following. However, that entire sequence is brilliant film-making. It starts with Maggie Grace, realising someone is in the flat with her, one of her friends being brutally kidnapped in plain sight. Before this movie was drifting along pleasantly, but this is a slap in the face for the audience. What follows is a tense game of hide and seek, Liam Neeson forced to listen on the phone, as his daughter is taken. He cleverly gets Grace to plant enough clues to start an investigation and then, of course, we get the cult monologue. It is a tense, well-directed scene.
It is a shame then, that the rest of the movie doesn’t quite have that same finesse. Supporting characters like Famke Janssen, Xander Berkeley and Katie Cassidy are introduced in the first act, only to totally irrelevant for the rest of the movie. There are no prominent villains, so the movie drifts from punch-up to punch-up, the narrative not really having any purpose or direction. The movie comes to a gradual end, lacking any urgency or demand, as if it has done its job and can now pick up a paycheck and go home. Saying that, it is not quite as bad as I remember, boasting enough thrilling action and car chases to give us an excuse to keep watching. Liam Neeson does well, considering his character is a blank slate. Taken caters for the simple pleasures of seeing nasty men get their comeuppance and the joy of seeing a father’s love for his daughter, being enough to bring down an evil organisation.
What About The Twinkie?:
Taken is a film I remember thoroughly enjoying the first time I saw it. I loved the expertly filmed action scenes, I loved that it was only an hour and a half long and most of all I loved Liam Neeson. I still love all of those things about Taken, but on second viewing, the films faults become more apparent. The dialogue is awful, with some of the corniest lines I have heard delivered in a long while. The acting varies between passable to laughable, and the relationships between all involved seems as awkward as the moment someone accidentally rubs up against you on the Tube.
Taken is not a great film by any means and director Pierre Morel shows just how much, or how little, he learned while serving as a cameraman on The Transporter 2. His style is never quite defined here, but his attempt to make Taken a very serious action film sometimes falls flat, and the violence on show lingers somewhere between Bourne and Mission Impossible. Saying that, I did enjoy Taken the second time around. I did find that its faults were brought to the fore, and the techno soundtrack in the final shootout on the boat gave me a headache, but dammit seeing Liam Neeson turned into a full-blown action star is too much to resist. His charm and everyman presence have always made him an actor worth watching, but here, in Taken, he gets to show off a new set of skills (sorry) that I’m glad we got to see.
Well what can I say, so far I have been really treated in terms of the choices for Film Club. Both Star Wars and Casino Royale are easily two of my all-time favourite films. I have a new-found favourite with The Departed and whilst I didn’t enjoy Oldboy it was great to review. The good fortune just keeps coming with this week’s choice, Taken, another of my favourites.
Taken took the world by storm by just how successful it was, easily becoming a modern cult classic. However it is easy to see why as this film is just so great. However before I really get into it I want to highlight one issue; I honestly think that Taken is overlooked in terms of its genre and themes. Most see it simply as a dumb Liam Neeson action flick, although when you step back and look at the environment it is based it Taken actually becomes a dark film dealing with incredibly serious and topical themes, whilst the focus may not be necessarily directly on these themes there are still moments in the film which draw you into this world of trafficking which to me lifts the film out of the ‘dumb action’ genre. Although I have nothing wrong with that genre, as some of the films I have most fun with definitely fall under that category.
Like a 2000’s version of the classic Die Hard, Taken is the re-invention of the one man against them all set up. It pulls this off so well though, predominantly through the kick ass action sequences. I had honestly forgotten just how good the action is in this movie, it is at its best when Neeson and a foe have to resort to fists to resolve their disputes. Some scenes in this film, especially towards the end even reminded me of fight sequences from the Raid series and that is saying something as those films probably have the best fight scenes of any modern action movie. Taken doesn’t even stretch to 90 minutes but this is the perfect running time as there are no laboured plot points but at the same time it never feels lacking.
Taken pretty much created a genre for Liam Neeson in itself. Countless films have followed that have had very similar plots; Unknown, Taken 2 and Non-Stop. All of which have been highly enjoyable too. The fact that the third instalment is being released next year also shows just how solid the original was. Oh yeah and then there is THAT phone call. Despite the constant memes and references that this scene attracts it still manages to demand my full attention every time I watch it, its gripping. This is responsible solely to Neeson’s unreal delivery and presence that he brings to the scene, unreal.
Whilst the film does have cheesy bookends neither take too much time away from the main body of the film meaning that these sections simply set the scene and round things up nicely rather than detracting anything from the film. Taken is definitely a contender for the best action movie of its decade and it certainly cements itself easily into this action junkie’s collection.
Taken is one of those movies that wasn’t expected to go so big, but in spite of itself, it went out there and became popular. Liam Neeson plays Bryan Mills, a lonely man who is trying to do his best by being a better father to his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace). Now, sitting down for Taken, the movie takes a while to introduce us to Brian and his family, and then from there it just catches. It is ninety minutes of sheer badassery, no two ways about it. After watching Taken, I cannot deny that the desire to travel was somewhat tainted, but never fear, I plan to run amok abroad and I will still do it. I just think I might need to have my brother specially trained, or my other half, just to ensure that I am safe and sound when I am out there. As fun as the movie is, kicking into some highly elaborate and awesome action and some great lines from Bryan, it cannot be denied that there are flaws to the movie. Nothing that is a deal-breaker, though, but they are there. Taken is brilliant for an action-heavy movie that still retains some heart, and carries an important message, too, even if it is sort of forgotten under all the crazy cool action going down. Trafficking is an issue. While Bryan made the tracking of his daughter seem so simple, if it were that easy trafficking would not be such an issue. The camera work was gritty, following the action from the get-go, sometimes shaky cam to bring you in with the whole thing. I really liked Bryan’s friend Sam (Leland Orser). While his role was not a particularly large one, it was a good one.
Taken comes away with a soundtrack that would not be out-of-place in most action movies, but seems a little strange in this one. Not always, there are just times it did not work completely. Neeson delivered a brilliant performance as Bryan. I went from pitying him to respecting him outright, just a little scared of him, yet admiring the lengths he would go to for his family. While the movie has its imperfections, you can’t go wrong with this flick in terms of outright gunfire, car chases, fist-swinging and betrayal, either. It’s entertaining, it’s fast, but if you want to take something too seriously here, you are definitely looking at the wrong type of film and are bound to not enjoy it too much.
This is actually the first time that I’ve felt the need to rewatch a movie specifically for this column before giving my opinion for Film Club. This was actually only my 3rd viewing of Taken, the last time being in early 2009.
Liam Neeson has played bad-asses in movies before he played one here, but this movie helped establish him as a 50+/60- action hero. This story was written by Luc Besson which actually isn’t very surprising because it feels right under his pen. The plot is quite clever in the way that it shows us how Neeson’s character gathers information about the men who he hunts down.
The funny thing is the ups and downs of Neeson’s career since he moved numerous times from supporting character to leading man. I remember him as the gentle but silent giant in Suspect (1987) and then his amazing turn as Oscar Schindler in Schindler’s List (1993). After his roles in Batman Begins (2005) and The Phantom Menace (1999), I always thought that Neeson worked better as the supporting character type/ mentor, but he proved here that he could re-emerge in the leading man role “with a vengeance” because he hasn’t slowed down a bit since this movie came out in 2008.
This movie works well as a stand-alone story and the sequel actually diluted the concept because they are essentially the same story. The fact that another sequel is planned for next month makes me think that sometimes too much of a good thing might not actually be so good. I’m sure I’ll see the third one but my expectations aren’t so high. For this reason, most first movies in a series like Die Hard (for example) are usually the best and the subsequent sequels have trouble matching the story and suspensefulness of the original idea
Regardless, when only looking at this movie by itself, it is a thoroughly entertaining action movie that gets the desired suspenseful effect that this genre should provide.
It must be said that the 1980s truly represented the time of the ‘action man’ in cinema. Schwarzenegger, Stallone, and Willis reigned supreme amongst a series of star-powered action vehicles which slowly died away as the 1990s wore on as audiences suffered from a burnout of relentless unoriginal action thrillers. Now, in an era dominated by comic-book adaptations, this style of action film are few and far between, acting as throwaway entertainment that usually goes straight to DVD. The same fate was expected of Pierre Morel’s debut English language feature, Taken, which surpassed all studio expectations, becoming one of the biggest sleeper-hits of the decade. The reason for its extraordinary success? Put simply: Liam Neeson.
Placing a well-respected dramatic actor in the middle of a straight-forward action-vehicle proved to be a masterstroke as Neeson’s command of the screen gave Taken some serious credentials and instantly placed him in the everyman category as a hero whom audiences could genuinely relate to. Although Neeson is no stranger to physical roles, Taken sees him tackle a character that challenges him to be both a bruising no-nonsense CIA agent, while also delivering the emotionally charged dialogue he does so well. He well and truly delivers, lifting the film above its potential. However, this does not mean that the end result is faultless.
Although it is certain that Taken carries a dramatic epicentre absent from the majority of films within its genre, it by no means displays any originality in its approach when it comes to storytelling. When his daughter is kidnapped, ex-CIA agent Bryan Mills must become a one-man army to try to get her back. What follows is a perfectly enjoyable thriller which always remains watchable thanks to Neeson’s gravitas on-screen. However, the script does very little to surprise its audience with a weak villain and tedious family values padding out the ninety-three minute run-time. The action is suitably entertaining but never enthralling, while the character arcs could be summarized in the space of one short breath.
In short, Taken still comes recommended, although not as highly as many make it out to be. It is a solid hour-and-a-half’s entertainment, perfect for a Friday night in. Fans of Neeson will love seeing this new side of him, but other casual movie-watcher is likely to forget this ride within a couple of days.
Overall rating: 7.4/10
General consensus: A cult classic to some, and a passable nights entertainment to others. Taken remains a solid action film, with a great central performance from Liam Neeson, and with reasonable expectations Taken is a fine way to kill an hour and a half.