When Liam Neeson lays siege on Paris, he transforms the capital into “The City of Lights Out.”
Before his turbulent arrival in the French capital, Bryan Mills (Neeson), is a retired operative for an unnamed US agency, previously stealthily deployed for years in the world’s hot spots as an ambiguously menacing “Preventer.” Suffering from a papa’s guilt of abandonment, he has moved to Los Angeles to be closer to Kim (Maggie Grace), his just turned 17-year-old daughter, who lives in opulent splendor with her mother (Famke Janssen, sporting almost Vulcan eyebrows) and a wealthy, obliging step-father (the dependable, bearded Xander Berkeley, whose name has always evoked the Ziegfeld Follies). Neeson smartly plays these California scenes with a halting and awkward undercurrent, his fussy remonstrating about Kim’s impending European vacation with a friend smacking of overcompensation. He’s well-meaning but still smothering, and Neeson adroitly transmits Bryan’s parental rustiness.
After Kim and her buddy unpack in the friend’s family’s spacious Parisian digs which the two teens have all to themselves, she takes a call from her anxious dad in LA and the movie alights powerfully with a well-constructed sequence by director Pierre Morel where, while Mills is on the line, she views the abduction of her friend by several men across the courtyard of the horseshoe-shaped apartment. His spy muscle memory kicks in as he advises his frantic daughter with specific instructions. The editing cuts and thrusts between the two cities until, as he predicted to her, she is kidnapped, drug from the beneath a bed, the cell phone left on the floor per his orders so that he can record every detail.
And then once he lands at Charles de Gaulle, the film tears along with his furious search, rarely dallying as Mills lays waste to swarthy contingents of criminal continentals (a demographic not overly vilified by the filmmakers but, still, perhaps they could have thrown in a puffin-eating Icelander). With martial arts expertise and Grand Prix driving skills, Mills erupts in full vigilante mode — he even wounds a main character’s wife with a bullet; this is clearly a dad in a hurry to make up for lost time.
For this brogue warrior, every clue is dissected instantaneously, every scenario scanned swiftly, and every contingency deciphered immediately so that when he happens upon a table of Albanians at meal time, he knows exactly where the butter knife goes. I thought it was on the top left, resting on the bread plate; apparently it’s the larynx.
Neeson, who turns 57 this year, is an uncomplicated and dependable actor, with a bit of Burt Lancaster‘s sturdiness about him, if not his magnetism. Clearly fit and energetic, Neeson executes the countless martial arts scenes with vitality. (As a point of comparison, the craggy William Holden was 58 when “Network” premiered.) He completes the transition from put-upon dad to rugged snoop quite nicely.
Morel, who helmed the frenetic “District B13,” oversees a taut, gristle-free thriller. He’s ably assisted by cinematographer Michel Abramowicz and editor Frederic Thoraval. “Taken” is co-written and produced by Luc Besson, who has found in Morel a worthy protégé.