Taken was a theatrical phenomenon. Coming out Superbowl weekend, it did good business for an action film ($24 Million), but then it kept playing. And playing. And it finally topped out at $144. Which is all the more odd because the film opened internationally months previous. When films like this do well, it feels like it comes out of nowhere. Especially for what looks to be a 90 minute actioner from the Luc Besson factory, where a film like Transporter 2 is considered successful for doing $43 Million. What happened?
Well, word of mouth. The film stars Liam Neeson as Bryan Mills, a retired divorcee who pines to have a relationship with his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace). His ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) is remarried to a rich guy and wants little to do with Bryan, while he seemingly spends most of his time with his old cronies. They’re all ex-spies, with great military training. His buddies get him a job doing bodyguard work for a pop star Sheerah (Holly Vallance), and when he saves her life, she tells him that she might help his daughter get a singing career. Seeing his line in, he meets with his daughter for lunch, only to find out that she wants to go to Europe for the summer. He’s reticent, mostly because he knows how bad the neighborhoods can be, but eventually relents.
When he finally talks to his daughter after she lands, he calls just as some men rush in to kidnap Kim and her best friend. One of the kidnappers picks up the phone and Bryan tells him that he will find him, and he will kill him. The rest of the film is about Bryan fulfilling that promise.
I can see why audiences responded to this movie. It’s got a simple premise and then the film delivers on it. There’s no Hardcore-esque moralizing, though the journey is roughly the same. Here, Neeson is just an ass-kicker who will do anything to get his daughter back, and that gives the film a ticking clock and a drive. And the film keeps escalating, and the action set pieces are well put together. There’s not a lot of mucking about, it barrels forward after the first reel of set up, and it spends the rest of the movie sprinting. As such, when the film is over, you feel you got what you paid for and maybe a little more.
The problems are around the edges. The stuff where people are talking in America is awkward and director Pierre Morrel treats the American cast with the sort of talents one expects of someone ESL. Though there are moments of chemistry that pop up here and there, when the film isn’t on its driven narrative, there little in terms of character to latch on to, as most everyone exists to deliver some form of exposition. But as a narrative model, the film is good about not wasting time. Neeson goes on the hunt, and there’s a set piece every couple of minutes once he hits the ground in France. The film sets him up as proficient, and he shows that every step of the way. Some of the fight scenes don’t have the world’s best choreography (I found the boat fight to not very well show how much Neeson’s character gets shot, it feels like four times, but then at the end he’s got a sling on), but they still have a velocity. And the film is winningly mindless. It’s the sort of candy that manages to be satisfying without offering anything of substance. But you want Neeson to get his daughter, but not until after he’s laid down some smack. He does lay down smack, and he does it fairly well.
Twentieth Century Fox presents the film in both the theatrical PG-13 cut and unrated cut (91 versus 93 minutes) in widescreen (2.35:1) and in 5.1 DTS-HD. The mix is fun, it’s an action movie and it plays nice and loud when necessary. The film comes with two commentaries for the unrated cut, one by director Pierre Morel, cinematographer Michel Abramowicz and Michel Juilienne in French with English subs (and a French background audio). There’s a second commentary with writer Robert Mark Kamen in English. There’s a trivia track called a black ops field manual (for the urated cut only) that lists the injured, killed, time remaining and distance travelled. There’s also a making of (18 min.) and a scene from the premiere (5 min.) with intro comments by Morrell and Neeson. Rounding out the disc are side by side action comparisons for six of the set pieces (11 min.) showing the shooting and the film footage, and a bonus trailer for Notorious. The film also comes with a digital copy.