Monday, 18 February 2013

Film Review | Taken (2008)

One my favourite ironic pieces of film trivia (and if you don't have favourite ironic pieces of film trivia, then you clearly lead a much fuller life than I do) is that, in 1994, Liam Neeson turned down the chance to succeed Timothy Dalton as James Bond. The producers were obviously keen on a celtic Bond (or should that be "Double O'Seven"...?) as fellow Irishman Pierce Brosnan eventually took over the role from Dalton. But the ironic part is the reason Neeson gave for declining the role: he wasn't interested in starring in action films. I wonder whether if Neeson had known then that, less than twenty years later, his filmography would include such Hollywood action fare as Unknown,  Battleship and, perhaps most famously of all, Taken, he would have so readily walked away from being Bond.

Neeson has arguably done his acting career back to front. In his thirties and forties he made his name in dramatic roles often steeped in history; now that he's just turned sixty, he's more well known for playing one-dimensional action men in roles he once shunned. The action hero is stereotypically a young man for obvious reasons of agility, looks, and not having to stop every twenty minutes to go to the toilet. That said, Neeson does fairly well in Taken, with only a few scenes in which you feel he looks to old to be doing the things he's doing, or that the bad guys look like they'd actually be able to run rings around our hero.

The baddies themselves are generally taken from the seemingly endless stock reserved for middle-of-the-road action films; neither impressive enough nor awful enough to be truly memorable. Writers Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen seemingly fall back on stereotypes with wanton abandon when it comes to their antagonists. Basically, if you're not American, you're evil, and that's all we need to know. In fact, this lack of depth can be seen across the cast: watch Famke Janssen's Lenore stubbornly contradict and undercut everything Neeson's Bryan says in the opening act simply because she's his ex-wife, and teenage daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) being painfully naïve about pretty much everything in order for her to get into a situation where estranged father Bryan has to rescue her whilst rebuilding their fractured relationship.

And yet, despite its faults and woeful first act, once things focused on the action and Neeson beating people up, I actually found myself enjoying Taken for what it is. There's imagination in the methods Bryan uses to track down his daughter, and whilst he's no Jason Bourne there's more going on upstairs that in many meatheads of movies past. Occasionally the film overstretches itself in what it attempts, but in terms of offering relatively hard-hitting action with little-to-no brain activity required, you could do worse than Taken. Considering the gritty direction the Bond franchise has been following since Daniel Craig donned the tux, if nothing else it makes you wonder what style of 007 Neeson might have brought to the screen.


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