On paper, Taken sounds like a dreadful idea. Liam Neeson as an action hero? Liam Neeson, that guy from Schindler’s List? At the time there was a distinct amount of scepticism about whether or not this would work, despite previous turns as more action-oriented characters in Batman Begins, Rob Roy and Gangs of New York, Neeson simply wasn’t considered to be an action movie kind of guy.
Taken was then released, we got to meet Bryan Mills and his “particular set of skills”, and the audience sat up and took notice.
Taken is a fairly simple premise at its core. Liam Neeson plays the aforementioned Bryan Mills, a retired CIA agent who now works in security. His daughter, Kim, goes to Europe with her friend Amanda to follow U2’s concert tour and while there men burst into her apartment and kidnap them both. Before she is taken (see what we did there?) she manages to call her father and give him a rough description of the attackers. One of the abductors picks up the phone and Neeson delivers what is now an iconic speech.
“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.“Bryan Mills in Taken (2008)
This particular set of skills turns out to be the ability to kill people quite efficiently as Mills travels in search of his daughter and proceeds to beat, shoot and otherwise brutalise his way through everyone who gets in his way to save Kim from what he has established is actually an Albanian sex trafficking ring, and if he doesn’t find her within 96 hours the chances are good that she will be sold and spirited away to who-knows-where.
Taken‘s plot is simple and straightforward – father out to save his daughter – but is executed with slick precision, carried along by the relentless fists of Liam Neeson punching gangsters in the face forever. Neeson had, apparently, expressed a desire to do a more action heavy film so had signed on with Taken, expecting it to be a nothing movie for him to hone his skills on, a direct to video blip on his resume, but the end product was something special and the majority of that is down to him.
Bryan Mills is no flashy martial artist (Neeson was 56 when he filmed this) but he is brutally efficient at taking his opponents down, Neeson displaying a physicality that surprised everyone when the movie was released. He also did the majority of his own stunts for the film and was trained in a martial art called “Nagasu Do” and the training shows, Bryan Mills coming across as a man you do not want to mess with.
The acting is fine if unremarkable, the story (written by the superb Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen) is similarly fine with no particular stand-out moments beyond the now-iconic speech, but any action movie is raised up or dragged down by the quality of its action scenes and in that department Taken delivers in spades, standing as a great example of the genre with brutally choreographed action. From a family dinner that turns brutal to comments on third world electrical grids to the final shootout on a luxury boat, once Bryan Mills lands in France and sets out in pursuit of his daughter the film only occasionally pauses for breath before diving into the next set piece.
Taken marked a turning point in Liam Neeson’s career, where people began to look at him as an action hero and not just a “serious” actor who occasionally dabbled in action films. Taken was followed by two sequels, and even spawned a TV series while Neeson went on to do further action oriented roles in The A-Team, Unknown and The Grey to name but a few.
While the sequels are of varying quality (seriously, skip Taken 3, it’s really not very good) the original is more than worth your time.
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