Why am I still so scared?
The small-scale buzz that accompanied “Taken” to the theaters this week warned that it is a preposterous, formulaic thriller that is also unaffecting. Then why am I still so scared? Aren’t all thrillers preposterous? And what makes a good one? Fear is usually greatest when it is rooted in ordinary life where very bad things happen to ordinary people. To scare the collective, the audience must be ripped from its comfort. And this can’t be done with a wink; it has to be straight faced and seriously which is where Liam Neeson comes in.
Bryan (Liam Neeson) is an ex-CIA agent who has retired in order to spend time with the daughter he neglected during his covert career. Kim (Maggie Grace), at 17, lives with her mother Lenore (Famke Janssen) and step-father Stuart (Xandeer Berkeley) in the outsized luxury afforded by Stuart’s global business interests. When Maggie approaches Bryan for permission to go to Paris with a friend, Bryan’s instincts scream “no!” The movie asks, “Is he simply aware, or is he paranoid?” The answer is clear.
And so the adored daughter of divorced parents goes to Paris with her friend Amanda (Katie Cassidy) only to learn that Amanda’s cousins – who have lent their apartment to the girls – are in Spain. Within moments of their arrival, both girls are abducted from the apartment – while Amanda is talking to her father on the phone.
Bryan, who has been told he has 96 hours to find his daughter alive, gathers the tools of his trade, flies to Europe and into a hideous underworld of sex slave trafficking. Because Liam Neeson was so convincing in his understated affection for his daughter in the early frames, we are right in his pocket as the movie jumps into its over-the-top mode. Bryan is entirely credible as CIA agent until – well, you’ll see. His skill set includes spectacular driving, breaking and entering, walking window ledges, and killing by whatever means are at hand. By mid-picture, he has left seven dead and three in the hospital. To the PG-13 rating for sex, drugs, violence, and disturbing thematic material,” I would add only that no age is beyond being disturbed by this particular material.
The script is good – “Kill him quietly; I have guests.” The production itself is lavish and full of surprises. In a movie that would have been toast with a B actor, Neeson has the substance and talent and credibility to take us right along with him on his terrible hunt. This is, after all the man who taught us about Oskar Schindler. With a lesser actor it would have felt like “drop a nickel in the slot and see Bryan run and drive and kill.” With Neeson, it’s a little as if a giant talent we all respect has taken us on an awful side trip. Of course it’s preposterous; and yes, you will be scared.
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