Rated PG-13, 94 min. Directed by Pierre Morel. Starring Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace, Famke Janssen, Holly Valance, Leland Orser, Jon Gries, David Warshofsky.
REVIEWED By Josh Rosenblatt, Fri., Feb. 6, 2009
Taken begins with an act of violence against an American. Ninety minutes and dozens of fights, chases, and explosions later, it ends with a sheik assassinated, at least 50 people murdered, a couple of swarthy foreigners tortured, and France pretty well knocked about. Call it the last cinematic gasp of the Bush era, with a Hollywood hero even Bill O’Reilly could love. No wonder it’s No. 1 at the box office. With a new, less bellicose president in the White House, but all the same old fears lurking in our collective consciousness, Americans may be feeling nostalgic for a time when they could entertain the desire for swift justice meted out through violent means without feeling guilty about it. The embodiment of that desire is Bryan (Neeson), a former U.S. spy who goes on a vigilante rampage when his daughter (Grace) is kidnapped by a gang of Albanian sex traffickers after she goes to Paris to attend a U2 concert (which should be a lesson to teenagers everywhere: Be careful which bands you fall in love with; choose wrong, and you could end up a heroin-addicted prostitute … or having to listen to “Vertigo” all the time). It’s a brilliantly devious setup: Co-writers Luc Besson (The Professional) and Robert Mark Kamen know that moviegoers will give a wide ethical berth to any father fighting to save his daughter’s life, and they know they can drive a righteous, raging, unapologetic, knife-wielding, CIA-trained Mack truck straight through that berth and get away with it, kicking feeble notions such as plausibility and morality out the window as they go. Which they do, with glee and relish, resulting in the kind of adrenaline-fueled amoral thrill ride you almost – almost – feel guilty for enjoying, the same way our ancestors might have felt guilty seeing Mussolini strung upside down in the public square or Jezebel thrown to the dogs. So what if Bryan electrocutes people from time to time in order to get information; so what if he occasionally shoots his friends’ wives when they get in his way; so what if he’d probably blow up the Louvre with every orphan in Paris trapped inside if it meant getting what he wanted? Taken moves so fast and with such single-minded, vindictive energy, there’s no time for moral ambivalence. There’s only time to bask in the reflected glow of a hero willing to use every means at his disposal to get revenge, a hero who may be tormented, miserable, and driven by desperation but who’s also not above getting off on the thrill of a good car chase.