I have to admit, when Luc Besson sits down to invest in an offering of buttery popcorn entertainment, it's an occasion to celebrate. Flipping through the likes of "District B13," "High Tension," "The Transporter," and "Kiss of the Dragon," it's obvious Besson has a skill for picking out tight, twisted, lovable distractions, and "Taken" takes a welcome spot on his mantle of achievements. It's an inconsequential action diversion, but damn does it pack a wallop over 90 taut, tempting Liam Neesony minutes.
Bryan (Liam Neeson) is a father trying to stay invested in his estranged teen daughter's (Maggie Grace, 25 unconvincingly playing 17) lush life, putting aside his covert work for the government to make nice with his ex (Famke Janssen) and rebuild relationships. Reluctantly agreeing to send his child off to Paris for a summer trip, Bryan is confronted with his worst fear when the girl is kidnapped by Albanian thugs. Shedding his suburban exterior, Bryan launches into offensive mode, traveling to France with his only goal being the retrieval of his daughter. Stepping into the human trafficking underworld, Bryan is confronted with absolute horror and Euro threat, but nothing can stop his frantic hunt.
The one quality that defines the "Taken" experience is simplicity. Glorious simplicity. Besson and co-writer Robert Mark Kamen script a revenge story that's built entirely from nuts of aggression and bolts of panic, developing a tale of parental love that stays the course of suspense to the very end. "Taken" is a low-cal dream thrill ride, best appreciated after years of explosion-happy Hollywood blunders, traditionally cluttered with superfluous subplots and unnecessary build up to flaccid finales. "Taken" certainly doesn't reinvent the wheel, but it's delightfully agile and bullet-ready determined, aiming to cram all the rage it possibly can into 90 minutes without taking its eyes off of Neeson and his beautifully intimidating performance.
The director of "Taken" is Pierre Morel, the filmmaker behind "District B13" and a man who prefers to keep his havoc blunt. Following Besson and Kamen's broad lead, Morel dreams up an obstacle course for Bryan as he works his way from the initial interpretation of the crime (through a cell phone recording and help from C.I.A. friends) to the lawless streets of Paris, where Albanian criminal slime rule the streets with their alarming human trafficking scheme. Chasing a sublime Charles Bronson tone (albeit crossbred with Jason Bourne), Morel turns in an exquisitely lean motion picture, nimbly jumping from location to location without the natural hum of the piece interrupted. Morel understands "Taken" is the Liam Neeson show and adjusts accordingly, keeping Bryan's worry as fine tuned as his wrath, giving the actor plenty of room to play as he maneuvers around clichés and stock villain characters.
For its DVD release, "Taken" is offered in two forms: an "Unrated Cut" (93:18), and the "Theatrical Version" (90:48). The difference between the two cuts is hardly drastic, with the Unrated Cut restoring the violence that would've jeopardized the softer American rating. For example, during the electrocution sequence where Bryan interrogates a brute, the Theatrical Version has our hero attaching cables to a chair to help fry the suspect. In the Unrated Cut, Bryan drives spikes into the criminal's thighs to speed up the cooking process. For "Taken" purists, stick with the Unrated Cut. Watching this with grandma in the room? PG-13 all the way.
Fox provided DVD Talk with only a miserable DVD-R screener of "Taken." While containing an anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1 aspect ratio) transfer, the image was riddled with compression problems and watermarks.
Again, while in screener form, the 5.1 Dolby Digital mix appeared thin and unpleasant. French and Spanish 2.0 tracks are also available.
English and Spanish subtitles are included.
The feature-length audio commentary with director Pierre Morel, and cinematographers Michel Abramowicz and Michel Julienne (Unrated Cut only) is a subtitled chat about "Taken," focusing almost entirely on the technical aspects of the filmmaking. The participants attempt to keep the mood light and educational, but they tend to lose their focus easily. Still, the track is a swell experience for those more patient with subtitled affairs, offering a bounty of BTS secrets and anecdotes.
A second audio commentary with writer Robert Mark Kamen (Unrated Cut only) is far more verbose. Kamen opens up the track with a quick history of his work with Luc Besson, explaining how to the two met and decided to take over the global film market through reliable action entertainment. From there, the writer moves on to praise the professionals and Besson even more; Kamen seems fully enchanted by these men and how they put together an outstanding collection of mayhem. The commentary has a few too many moments of play-by-play narration, but Kamen manages to stay on target, providing an informative track comprised of recollections and explanation of intent.
"The Making of 'Taken'" (18:22) interviews cast and crew on-set for thoughts on the making of the motion picture. It's a standard BTS featurette allowing the actors a forum to explore their motivations, while the filmmakers chat up the various locations. While the content isn't fresh (it was created for the European release over a year ago), the B-roll footage showcasing the professionals at work is a highlight.
"Avant Premiere" (4:37) is a recap piece on the big screen debut of "Taken," held in Paris on 2/16/08. A subtitled featurette on the celebration, the mood at the time was upbeat and intensely promotional, yet this snapshot of merriment is rendered somewhat bittersweet a year later, as Neeson is shown accompanied by his late wife, actress Natasha Richardson.
"Inside Action: Side by Side Comparisons" (11:05) is a tribute to the magic of movies, showcasing the stunt work and special effects that brought "Taken" to life. Displaying final product alongside BTS footage for six key sequences, the featurette captures the amazing effort of the production to give the audience a white-knuckled ride of suspense and brutality.
A Theatrical Trailer has not been included.
After a 30 minute introductory period, "Taken" tears off into an investigative fury, following Bryan as he inches closer to his daughter's whereabouts, using and abusing local cops and robbers as he sees fit. Again, "Taken" is not high-art, not especially logical, and doesn't contain an overscripted orgy of afterthought to blanket the carnage. It's a simple genre beat down with an outstanding vision for aggression; a convincing cartoon for those who like their revenge served cold and their parental responsibility depicted as nothing short of absolute.
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