My Favorite Movie: Taken (2008)

I don’t know who you are. I don’t know what you want. If you are looking for ransom, I can tell you I don’t have money. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills; skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you let my daughter go now, that’ll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you. But if you don’t, I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you.”

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This is the iconic speech made by Liam Neeson in my favorite action film: Taken. This speech is be said by Brian Mills (Neeson) on the phone to the Albanian gang member who has kidnapped his daughter in Paris. By the time we get to this point in the film we already know that Brian is an ex-CIA “Preventor” who gave up his job to become closer to his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace). We also know that Brian is very good at what he does and that he would do anything for his daughter. And he does just that.

Taken is my favorite action movie for three reasons: 1) the story, pacing and editing are straight forward and perfect, 2) the action is exciting, realistic and without ridiculous moralistic conventions, and 3) Liam Neeson’s acting and intensity.

The story, by Luc Bresson (Transporter, Le Femme Nikita, etc.) is both simple and compelling. Bresson taps into our gut reactions when a family member is put into harm’s way. In the first 10 minutes of the film we learn that Brian Mills is a divorced dad who gave up is job at the CIA to try to get closer to his daughter. He is trying to make up for not being around as much as he should have when she was growing up. We also learn that Brian is very good at “preventing” bad things from happening.

Kim and her friend are taking a trip alone to Paris and Brian is very reluctant to let his 17 year old daughter take this risky trip. Brian eventually relents, after some drama by the ex-wife/mom (Famke Jenssen), and the promise that Kim keep in touch via a phone Brian provides. We then see how the kidnappers spot the two teenagers at the Paris airport and the kidnapping in an apartment in Paris.

taken_maggie_graceIt is at this point that Bresson creates the pivotal convention of the movie. Brian is actually talking to Kim on the phone during the kidnapping. We see and hear the horror what is going on along with Brian. Brian reacts like I would hope I would (but probably wouldn’t) under similar circumstances. He does not reproach his daughter, but calms her and give her clear instructions that will eventually lead him to the first step in tracking down the kidnappers. At this point Brian hears that Kim is being captured that he also hears that someone is listening on the phone. This is where Brian delivers his iconic speech.

The Taken speech has become iconic because of its simple clarity of expressing the character’s (Brian) motivation and intent. He tells the kidnappers (Marko) what he will do if his daughter is not returned to him. And because Marko does not return Kim (of course) the rest of the film follows the pattern Brian had spelled out in the speech. If at this point you are not already hooked by this film, then the speech will do it.

For the rest of the film the director (Pierre Morel) and editor (Frédéric Thoraval) build a film where the pacing is quick but with welcome pauses to build on the story. The editing is logical, clear, and does not include one second of film that is not needed, without filling spare.

As compared to many other action movies, Taken has almost a restrained feel to it. It is not a non-stop orgy of fights, car chases and explosions. In Taken the action is very intense and realistic, but made more effective by being alternated with scenes that continue to move the story along and emphasis the characters motivations. And Liam Neeson has the acting chops and physicality to bring off the action sequences believably. So much so that some fans have wondered if Liam has actual martial art training (he doesn’t).

And for me there is one very important part of the action in this movie that I have rarely seen before. There are no superfluous, moralistic “good-guy” warnings to the bad guys from Brian.

taken-00We already know that the kidnappers take helpless, young women, hook them on drugs and either sell them or turn them out as hookers. They are below contempt! We have already heard Brian warn them what he was going to do if they did not return his daughter. So for the rest of the film he has no reason to say “freeze” when approaching an enemy, or to use his fists when he has a gun available. Brian is not “fighting fair” he is fighting for his daughter. At one point when Brian is fighting his way out of Marko’s hideout he shoots someone in the back. He doesn’t do this out of revenge but because in the circumstances it would have been stupid to let the guy get away or to be “fair” and wait for the guy to turn to face him before shooting. I actually cheered at this scene.

And no less than the story and the action, the acting of Liam Neeson makes this film. Neeson has range that is almost unmatched in films today. He can play the big teddy-bear of a dad one minute and a steely unstoppable force the next. And he can do this without losing his humanity. Unlike other action film actors (Stallone, Willis, Schwarzenegger, etc.) we can relate to him. And in Taken even though Neeson is an unstoppable force, we see the sweat, the limp, and he does get out of breath and is shot. But he is still unstoppable.

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During the scene where Brian is hearing over the phone his daughter being taken, we see in Neeson’s eyes the trip his character is taking and will take over the course of the film. We see the despair, a hint of tears, then the resolution building in a man that knows that it will be up to him to do whatever necessary to get his daughter back. Then he delivers the speech, and we believe every word. Too bad Marko didn’t believe him.

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Taken 3 coming to theaters January 9th

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