Taken (2008)

Liam Neeson (Mills), Famke Janssen (Lenore), Leland Orser (Sam), Maggie Grace (Kim)

Directed by Pierre Morel

IMDB Summary: A former spy relies on his old skills to save his estranged daughter, who has been forced into the slave trade.

This is the last of the three films I watched during our Italian travels. I'd never heard of it, and apparently nobody else did either--when it was released. Now it's one of the most popular rentals of the year. Maybe because of Natasha Richardson's death? Maybe because it's a sleeper hit that preys on the most fundamental instincts a parent can have? Probably both.

Liam Neeson was as solemnent as ever, with his soothing voice and quiet expressions. I found the meticulousness of his character interesting: the way he wrapped a birthday present, the care he took in checking any given room. It was all there that he was a retired spy who could actually do what the plot required of him. On the other hand, he wasn't James Bond or Jason Bourne either. He rubbed his eyes when he got sleepy and couldn't chase down a dude for very long. Part of what made his character work was that he a) was frustrated that his aging body kept letting him down, and b) that he pushed through it because his goal was so overwhelmingly important.

The entire scenario of the film is pretty scary. And then the director gives us the payoff in that every time Mills had the chance to take the hard line, he did. Shoot a dude. Blown something up. Torture. It didn't matter. That gratuitous righteousness propelled the film forward. Every place where ordinary men might pull up and remember their humanity--screw that! They have my daughter!

When they found the non-virgin friend dead, however, I began to smell something a wee bit fishy. It transformed into a race against time--not just to save teenaged Kim, but to save her virginity as well. The innocence parable was laid on a mite thick.

Famke was beautiful, naturally, except her character was obviously written as a naive juxtaposition to Neeson's hard-bitten realism, a character who would see the error of her ways before the movie was out. But it worked. And I loved seeing one of my favorite character actors, Leland Orser, in a role that didn't get him killed (Alien 4), traumatized (Saving Private Ryan), or driven to madness (Se7ev). Here he was just a regular ole' retired spy, very helpful. He didn't die AND he got third billing. Yay Leland!

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