by HELEN GEIB
Taken is an effective thriller starring Liam Neeson as a retired CIA operative who must call on all his professional skills to rescue his kidnapped daughter.
The set-up: pretty teenaged girls kidnapped by persons unknown in a European capital. The screenwriter: Luc Besson. What else could this equation add up to but a white slavery story? The film begins with some establishing scenes sketching in Bryan Mills’ background and showing his solicitous love for his 17 year old daughter. The scene soon shifts to Paris as the kidnapping sets in motion the rescue plot that is the main part of Taken. Before it’s over, many men– principals, agents, and clients in human trafficking– will discover they abetted the abduction of the wrong man’s girl.
As in most of Besson’s films, the plot of Taken is a race against time. Bryan is advised he has a 96 hour window before his daughter becomes untraceable. The ever more closely approaching deadline heightens the sense of urgency implicit in the father’s rescue effort.
Casting is not everything in Taken, but it is an awful lot. Neeson’s performance is exactly what the film calls for. He is engaging and sympathetic in the domestic scenes, easily earning the audience’s emotional investment in Bryan’s desperate, relentless drive to recover his daughter. He is equally convincing as a highly skilled professional who outmatches the opposition’s hired guns and corrupt accomplices. This is a rare and welcome opportunity to see him in a leading role. I hope it won’t be another decade until the next chance.
Taken is the sophomore directing effort of Besson protégé Pierre Morel. Morel has worked on a number of Besson’s productions, including as cinematographer of The Transporter and Unleashed; his first film as director was Besson’s homage to free-running, District B13. That title showed Morel to be a capable and, thankfully, not overly flashy director of action sequences. The action is again well-executed in Taken, though this time as one integrated element of the film rather than its principal focus.
Taken is a good movie, but I wish Luc Besson would give up screenwriting and go back to directing. I have a love-hate relationship with the prolific filmmaker. I almost always enjoy his films, but I hate his circumscribed representation of women and in particular, his fixation on female degradation.
Love predominates over hate in my feelings about Taken because that fixation is largely channeled into making a responsible social statement about the terrible toll of prostitution. Bryan comes across many brutalized, pitiable victims of the sex trade in his search for his daughter; the women’s plight is neither eroticized nor glamorized, and there is no pretense that they will find a similar rescue.
However, hate, though minimized in this case, is seemingly inescapable when it comes to a Besson film. The cause in Taken is the characters of Bryan’s daughter and her mother, the film’s only significant women characters. Like all Besson’s women, they are passive actors in their own story. The daughter is one of his pure innocents, a frequently recurring type in his films and as always, played by an actress with a model’s body. The mother- petty, spiteful, gratuitously trashy, and played by the very thin Famke Janssen- is another familiar construct, fallen woman redeemed by emotional suffering. Taken falls on the low end of the objectionable scale, in good company with The Fifth Element and Unleashed, but it is still unmistakably a Besson film.