Saturday, January 31, 2009

Taken: a thinking man's action flick

New to the screen is the Liam Nelson fueled Taken, which pits a retired "preventer" (read: bad mother) against ethnic mobsters who have stolen his daughter to sell into prostitution.

Sort of Daddy Knows Best meets Man on Fire, Taken starts out slow and picks up pace. Brian Mills retired to connect with his Californian daughter, who he barely gets to see at her birthday before the shrewish ex-wife starts busting his chops. Husband number two is a rich Nancy-boy that trots out the pony birthday gift making Mills' carefully chosen and wrapped gift a quickly forgotten trinket. All this middle-aged divorcee's issues nicely setups up Mills' character, skills, and emotional state. He will do anything for his daughter, even take a security job for a pop star just to ask her how his little princess can break into the singing business. Even letting himself be manipulated into agreeing to her trip to Paris.

So, said princess is taken by Albanian mobsters while on the phone with the father. He springs into intelligent action collecting evidence, reaching out to contacts, doing his homework. This is a prudent older gentleman, who doesn't even yell that much--and he barely repeats himself. Some leads don't work out, but quickly his efforts lead him to the grittiest levels a PG-13 rating should allow.

The skill craft is good. He's not superhuman, he's not a daredevil, his combat is subtle and realistic by movie standards. Car chases are practical if not a little fanciful, and the big stunt is what appears to be a live stuntman falling what must be the absolute distance limit. Sometimes he's lucky, sometimes he's quick, but Mills' eyes are always one step ahead of the viewer--watching who gives the order, noting who's got the key, measuring the distance to the next bridge.

Mills' says, "no," at first, to a 17 year old going to Paris without adults because he's not an idiot. But also, he's not the cool dad; in a word, he's kind of conservative.

And the negative characters in this film are kind of a conservative hit-list: the poor parent/mean ex-wife, the bitchy pop star, the pampered slutty influence on the daughter, the corrupt bureaucrat that enables crimes, the illegal immigrant gang, the French, and the evil, decadent Arab sheik. And oddly, it is the daughter's own values that seem to give her the few breaks she gets.

Taken doesn't have that "hero moment", it has cold blood and a warm heart. Not flashy, not abig popcorn movie, but way more refined than you'll get in most genre flicks.

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