Liam Neeson: 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.

Voice on other end of phone: Good Luck. (click)

That’s the set-up for Taken, an excellent action-revenge thriller about an ex-operative whose daughter gets kidnapped abroad. Liam Neeson is the father, Famke Janssen is his ex, and Maggie Grace (The Jane Austen Book Club) is his daughter, who he’s fighting to stay involved with. It sounds typical, but the writing is taut and the actors subtle enough to portray history without overdoing it. And as you’d expect from the director of Danny the Dog and District-B13, the action is top-notch.
The movie spends a good 30 minutes setting things up, but from then on it’s a gripping thriller. The story takes us to director Pierre Morel’s familiar Paris, where it’s only been grittier in Irreversible. Brian Wills, a retired operative who sometimes does security detail work with old pals for celebs, still has the edge. We see that in an early scene where he protects a pop singer. But he’s a bit of a control freak; he’s seen the worst of the world, and he’s overprotective. And his spoiled daughter is still interested in karaoke and ponies at 17. The kind of morsel that gets eaten up if not well guarded in the big city.

Once Brian hits Paris, he’s a ruthless machine. He traces down the kidnappers with the expertise and zeal he warned them about, using his old contacts and a lifetime of working with international scumbags. What do kidnappers want with a pretty young thing like Kim? Well, there’s still plenty of trafficking in young women in the world, and it’s not just young Russian girls like in Eastern Promises. He only has so much time before she’s hooked on heroin and sold off someplace where women are still chattel. 96 hours, a friend tells him. So he wastes no time.
This is to our benefit, because the pacing keeps us from noticing just how damn good an operative Brian is. Like another guy named Jack Bauer who has a hapless daughter named Kim. But let’s face it, Liam Neeson may have been suckered into playing Qui-Gon Jinn, but he can act the pants off Queefer Sutherland even if he’s stuck in a Jedi robe. Here the only willful suspension of disbelief you’ll need is the usual bad marksmanship attributed to the bad guys in movies, which we’ve come to expect. The hand-to-hand fighting is much more exciting anyway, and Pierre Morel manages to make Liam look as bad-ass as Jet Li did in his last film (also known as Unleashed).
This is up there with Man on Fire and Spartan for tops in the kidnap thriller genre, and will please action fans who want something gritty and grounded somewhat in reality. Famke Janssen has the thankless role of the bitch ex-wife but looks hot as usual; Maggie Grace also doesn’t get much to do except be an excitable American teen wench, but she certainly looks scared enough to fit the bill. Taken isn’t a great movie but it delivers both action, thrills and emotional involvement in spades. A notch above your average thriller, it shows that Pierre Morel is a director to be reckoned with, and hopefully this will do well enough in the States to give him the recognition he deserves.

3.5 broken arms out of 5