To define why Taken works as a generic revenge thriller is somewhat difficult. It carries a simple story a father (Liam Neeson) trying to rescue his daughter (Maggie Grace), the father of course being a retired government agent. He beats people up, slams cars through buildings, and manages to avoid a hail of bullets fired at him by countless bad guys who apparently never went through accuracy training.
Taken does two thing differently. Despite being littered with plot holes, it moves quickly. Liam Neeson is expertly cast as a violent, brutal assassin, and it makes for some incredibly harsh kills as he slams people into various objects in his environment. His fighting style engages the audience into the action, deep enough that you’ll rarely question his (ridiculous) methods of tracking down the kidnappers.
Despite its dark, seedy undertones of drugs and sex slaves, Taken carefully works in some light-hearted comedy at a key moment that says to the audience, “Don’t take this too seriously.” Neeson sits down with Jean Claude (Olivier Rabourdin) and his wife at dinner, the latter of whom is oblivious to the situation, or the danger that Neeson knows there’s involvement in his daughter’s kidnapping through Jean Claude. It’s the right touch at the exact moment the film needs it.
On the downside, casting Maggie Grace as a 17 year old when she’s 25 doesn’t work, and she overacts the part in an attempt to convince the audience of her age. The action, despite a wildly fun, energetic cart chase, succumbs to the action movie rule of the hero taking out every machine gun-toting enemy with only a pistol. Director Pierre Morel (District B13) is able to keep the action scenes frantic, and the hand-to-hand combat increasingly violent. Cliches can be forgiven.
Taken doesn’t try to impress to with its dialogue either, which is more or less included for effect than any sense of realism. Given the nature of the film, and its rather obvious ridiculous overtones, it’s enough to get by, entertain, and probably draw a smile or two from the action fan. You come away from Taken feeling thrilled, exhausted, and enormously entertained, which is exactly the expectation going in. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Movie]
The immediate impression of Taken’s look is one of oversaturated color and blown out contrast, a style numerous modern films veer too. It also leads to the usual bronzed flesh tones that give the cast a rather sickly hue, although it’s a source issue.
As expected, the print is pristine without a flaw of note. The finest detail is typically obscured, and the transfer never rises to the level of the best discs on the market. Facial textures simply aren’t there. Black levels are excellent, as is shadow delineation. Some noise is evident at the 52 and 70-minute marks. The transfer is razor sharp, and never loses this quality. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Video]
A deep, powerful DTS-HD mix throbs on the low end consistently. Car engines roar with ferocity, the tense music shakes the room, and explosions deliver. While the surrounds nicely work into gunplay, they’re surprisingly lacking during the car chase. The stereo channels are effectively used to create movement as cars whiz by the screen, and yet the rear channels are oddly subdued. Some ambient work, including a party late in the film, is impressive. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Audio]
Two commentaries are included. The first is loaded with director Pierre Morel, cinematographer Michel Abramowicz, and Michael Julienne. The second leaves screenwriter Robert Mark Kamen by himself.
A pop-up feature called the “Black Ops Field Manual” details various things in regards to Neeson’s character. A generic making of is of the usual congratulatory quality with some minor behind-the-scenes footage. A short featurette on the film’s premiere is straightforward. Inside Action is a fun look at the shoot from the director’s seat while the finished footage appears in a split-screen. It should have been longer than 11 minutes. A trailer for Notorious marks the end of the disc. [xrr rating=2/5 label=Extras]