In the pantheon of great (and not-so-great) action heroes, there have been some memorable names: Lee, Norris, Willis, Snipes, Seagal, Van Damme, Chan and for the most part, these guys could do action. Some were martial arts experts, some were perfectly sculpted examples of masculine physique, one was an ex-CIA operative, trained in…well, that what Pony-tail Boy would like us to believe. With few exceptions however, these ‘actors’ don’t act. They fight. And that is what we pay to see them do but wouldn’t it be nice, just once, to have someone doing the fighting who can actually ACT? Well, this week’s big release, Taken, stars not just a good actor but a bona-fide Oscar-winning actor, Liam Neeson. Granted, Neeson, in the role of retired security expert Bryan Mills, isn’t going to receive an Oscar for this work but he displays a solidity that makes hima pleasure to watch. In a stereotypical plot, he is a divorced dad trying to make up for the absent years and reconnect with his teenage daughter, played with alternating giddiness and fear by Maggie Grace. When she and a friend announce they are going to stay in Paris for a couple of weeks with cousins, Mills’ ‘spidey sense’ starts tingling (and rightly so as they actually plan to play groupie and follow U2 on their European tour). Well, daughter Kim and friend are kidnapped the day they arrive by Eurotrash sex peddlers and after a chilling cell-phone encounter with the kidnappers in which Neeson tells them what he does and what he will do, the action begins and doesn’t relent until the final minute as the self-described ex-CIA ‘preventer’ Mills, moves through Paris, kicking ass and taking names, although it’s apparent his pen is out of ink as he leaves a multitude of bodies in his wake. Now, this is truly not brain surgery and perhaps not even all parts of the brain were used to make this or are required to watch. In fact, I would go so far as to say that you should turn your brain off while viewing because the more synapses that are firing, the loweryour enjoyment level. The action is well-choreographed, from the Bourne school of hand-held camerawork and quick edits (director Pierre Morel’s only other directorial effort is the juiced-up martial arts extravaganza, District 13). The supporting cast including Famke Janssen and Xander Berkeley are adequate but Neeson, who is in virtually every frame, makes a (admittedly violent) silk purse out of a sow’s ear. This opened in Europe over a year ago and the producers intended to unceremoniously dump this in the theatre in the doldrums of February for a week then a quick video release but it struck a chord with audiences and built up speed to the tune of over 200 million dollars worldwide (much to the producer’s joy), so that now a sequel is planned. Without the emotional resonance of this one, I predict it won’t work. But it will be great to see the newest action hero again.
Addendum: I (unintentionally) saw this in the theatre on the evening of the day that Liam Neeson’s wife, Natasha Richardson, died after a skiing accident in Quebec. As Neeson spends much of the movie in emotional pain, I couldn’t help but wonder throughout if this is how he was feeling at that moment. It gave the movie a very different resonance. Just saying.