‘Taken’ – an exercise in simple execution

Taken is one of the rare films to receive the prestigious 10/10 from me. To put that in perspective, that’s 1% of everything I’ve ever seen. (Yes, it’s sad that I know that.) Given what Taken essentially is when examined, it would seem like an anomaly in my ratings; it doesn’t feature epic carnage like Mad Max, or contain the narrative scope and depth of The Godfather, nor the extraordinarily filmed visual thrills of Gravity. But I’ll explain why it’s one of my favourite films and how it earned that often elusive perfect score.

Liam Neeson in Taken

So, Taken can easily be summed up as this: simple and effective. Simple denotes it’s not intellectually demanding, but films don’t have to in order to ascend into the higher scoring tiers. Taken succeeds on everything it sets out to do and, sometimes, like in this case, that’s enough. It stars Liam Neeson in what was back then a rare foray into straight up action films for the Oscar-nominee. The film had a limited release before releasing on DVD to which it skyrocketed in popularity while making an action star out of Neeson. He plays Brian Mills, a retired CIA agent whose daughter is kidnapped by European sex traffickers, forcing him to rely on his past skills to search, find and kill those responsible. In a sense, Taken is very formulaic, and it adheres to conventions as expected, yet it somehow gravitates beyond those B-Movie trappings and becomes a film dedicated to exposing the audience to a dark underworld of perverse criminals while being devastatingly effective at each beat of the narrative. Every antagonist is a depraved human being which makes the violence even more satisfying once it arrives and, more importantly, the story is rife with tension and dialogue to match, hooking you in a vice-like hold that only lets you go once the cathartic bloodletting comes to a close (AKA, there’s no one left to torture and kill).

Some action films try too hard with action, and the result can be bombastic, superfluous or empty, devoid of the thrills you seek or what the plot warrants. Combine that with poor editing which disorientates the audience when it should titillate and there’s an issue. The action in Taken is basic with small-scale set-pieces, but each scene arrives in short bursts and executed in a slick manner that belies the generic setup, with violence dished out in crowd-pleasing fashion via hand-to-hand takedowns or gunplay. As the viewer, you want to see no one spared punishment who is deserving of Neeson’s wrath, and ultimately, gratifying kills + crackling one-liners + good editing = welcome formula… so repeat, repeat, repeat.

“I told you I’d find you”

In the hands of another director, the result could have been different; with a different actor leading the path of vengeance, the investment with the protagonist could have been weak. Thankfully, it’s a film that came together perfectly with the right people in place. It’s a tautly paced thriller that makes smart use of the main character’s skill set, demonstrates superb control of its gunplay action, and excuses no one from a suitable demise. Taken is a reminder of the dangerous people that exist in the world, but a prime example of what should happen to them. As someone who delights in witnessing the expulsion of evil, I confess that revenge-themed films garner a certain kind of thrill that others perhaps can’t. But still, Taken is undeniably well made, making impressive use of its small budget, and confidently delivers on its promises, defeating many films in the genre that try-and-fail with simple ingredients. To me, this film is flawless, therefore it gets a rating that reflects that.

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