Taken (UK - DVD R2)
Scott McKenzie has a special set of skills and he will kill you if he finds you...
Liam Neeson plays former spy Bryan Mills, who quit his job to spend more time with his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace), who he rarely saw when she was growing up. When Kim heads off to Europe to with a friend, the over-protective Bryan finds his fears realised when they are both kidnapped. He then turns into the Bryan of old, heading off to Paris to track down the people who took his daughter and take his revenge if he finds that anything has happened to her.
The paragraph above is one way of summarising the plot of Taken. An easier way is just to say 'Liam Neeson goes to Europe and kills everyone'. If I wasn't reviewing this movie, I could easily write up a Guilty Pleasures article about it. Anyone sitting down to watch Taken probably knows what to expect from a Luc Besson-produced action movie—a fast-moving plot, giant leaps of faith and plenty of choreographed fight sequences. However, Taken is a little more brutal than you might expect (apparently this is the extended harder cut), which gives this movie a bit of an edge over the likes of The Transporter.
Taken opens as a story of a fractured family trying to comes to terms with their separation. Bryan desperately wants to be part of his daughter's life again but can't help treating her like a child, even though she's twenty-five... erm I mean a seventeen year-old played by a twenty-five year-old. There's a bit of a detour via Holly Valance's Britney Spears-a-like singer that points towards the ultimate resolution and finally we get into the main story. Kim tricks her dad into letting her go to Europe to follow U2 on tour, but of course it all goes wrong from there and that's when Bryan laces up his ass-kicking boots.
Before I go any further, I'd like to point out that you did read that correctly. This seventeen year-old (played by a twenty-five year-old) and her friend are following U2 round Europe on tour. Come on—U2? This is just one of the many points in the story where I was left scratching my head. While the plot moves along quickly and has the general feel of a pulpy thriller novel, the way Bryan gets from one scene to another within the allotted running time does mean there are a few clunkers and leaps of faith. That's on top of the fact that everyone in Europe appears to be evil and apparently the only way French director Pierre Morel could enforce a certain character's Frenchness (and therefore telling us he can't be trusted) is to have him carry a baguette around with him.
Liam Neeson pretty much phones in his performance, but this is not a movie where method acting would reap great rewards. I can't remember seeing him in such a pure action movie before, which is maybe why he chose to give it a go, but he does look a bit awkward from time to time, especially when he's running through the streets of Paris or doling out dodgy dialogue. It's always nice to see Famke Janssen, but once Kim goes missing she doesn't have much to do. Even though I've pretty much complained about the movie throughout this review, I have to say it is very good fun. Taken is a definite 18-rated action movie and while it may not rank up there with Crank as a completely mental masterpiece, it's definitely worth a go if you're in the mood for some mindless violence.
Taken is presented in 2.35:1 and given that I've been mainly reviewing high definition releases recently, I was relatively impressed with the quality on show here. The movie features a lot of scenes in the dark, and I failed to notice significant compression problems in the picture. The black level is good and the colours during the lighter scenes are suitably strong. There is a decent level of detail here as well so fans of the movie will be happy with the picture quality of this release.
The movie comes with a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track and the standard is pretty much up there with the video quality. Music, dialogue and effects all have their place in the soundtrack and the volume of each doesn't interfere with the rest. As expected, the surround channels are given more of a workout in the action scenes but I did notice something that may or may not be a problem. During some scenes, gunshot effects are followed by a very quiet point in the soundtrack. I assume this is intentional to hammer home the emotional effect of the gunshots but it did take me out of the movie from time to time.
Not much excitement to be had here. The disc opens with trailers for Quantum of Solace, Max Payne and The Day the Earth Stood Still. The Making of featurette shows behind the scenes footage and plenty of interviews with the cast and crew, however when Liam Neeson tells us how much he likes the movie, it feels like he's trying to convince himself he's made the right decision to star in it. It's worth noting that there are no automatic English subtitles for the interviews with the French director, but there are French subtitles for some clips with English language.
The same goes for the next extra feature, which is called 'Avant Premiere'. It's a bit of a misnomer because we get clips from before, during and after the premiere in Paris. It's another puff piece including interviews with Liam Neeson, Pierre Morel, Luc Besson and members of the audience gushing about the movie. Finally we get 'Inside Action' which shows side-by-side comparisons of behind the scenes footage and the final edit of six key scenes.
Taken is pretty much Man On Fire for people who only have a spare ninety minutes available in their lives. The plot chugs along from one action scene to another and with your brain turned off there is a lot of fun to be had. The DVD presentation is pretty good but the slim set of extras isn't. I guess there just wasn't much left to say—everyone who made the movie is probably secretly pleased with themselves, but publicly ashamed just to keep up appearances. If you do sit down to watch this movie, follow BBC Radio Five Live's movie critic Mark Kermode's advice and ask yourself—in the final showdown, who's driving the boat?
Review by Scott McKenzie
Suitable only for persons of 18 years and over
Release Date: 9th February 2009
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English
Extras: Making of, The Premier Launch, Inside Action
Easter Egg: No
Director: Pierre Morel
Cast: Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace, Famke Janssen, Xander Berkeley, Holly Valance
Genre: Action and Thriller
Length: 89 minutes
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