If they gave out Oscars for Best Poster and Best Telephone Monologue, "Taken" would be the first contender of 2009 in both categories.
If you've seen the trailers or the TV ads, you have already seen the best moment in this film. Speaking on the phone to an unknown bad guy who has kidnapped his daughter, Neeson says, and I quote:
"I don't know who you are. I don't know what you want. If you're looking for a ransom, I can tell you, I don't have any money. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills acquired over a very long career in the shadows, skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you let my daughter go now, that will 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."
But wait. If you DO have such skills and someone overseas HAS taken your daughter and you ARE going to find him and kill him, do you tell him all that? Unless your goal is to scare him off, which hardly seems likely, why go all Dirty Liam on him?
That quibble is about the 467th most implausible thing about "Taken," an extremely well made and wildly, jaw-droppingly, astonishingly unbelievable thriller from producer Luc Besson, who specializes in this sort of picture. (He directed "The Professional," one of the weirdest and one of the best hitman movies ever made.) Neeson gives this picture more weight than it deserves with a first-rate performance as Bryan Mills, a former CIA operative who has retired so he move to Los Angeles and be near his 17-year-old daughter. Nice timing there, as 17 is just about the age when kids are pining for college and want to spend as little time as possible with their parents.
Maggie Grace is Kim, Famke Janssen is the obligatory ex-wife who keeps reminding Bryan he was NEVER AROUND FOR ANYTHING EVER, and Xander Berkeley is her new husband, an obscenely wealthy guy who gives Kimmy a horse that looks like Secretariat in his prime for her birthday party, which looks like something out of "The Girls Next Door." (Clueless Bryan shows up with a cheap karaoke machine.)
Against Bryan's better wishes, Kim and her girlfriend go off to Paris----and within about 45 minutes of their arrival, they've been kidnapped by an evil cabal of Albanians who want to turn them into drug-addicted sex slaves.
From one single recorded phone call with his daughter that transpired as the kidnappers close in on her, Bryan and his CIA friends are able to determine the identities of the kidnappers, the region in Albania where they're from, and much more. He's even told he has just 96 hours to find her, "or she'll be gone forever." (Apparently Albanian sex-slave kidnapping rings have a deadline.)
The rest of the film is Bryan tracking down the bad guys and causing mayhem all over Paris. He wrecks cars, he blows up buildings, he kills countless criminals and he uncovers massive corruption in the Paris police department, even as he systematically makes his way to the villain behind the villains. How did the CIA ever let this guy retire? If they'd given him a cell phone, a compass and gun, he could have assassinated Hussein, captured bin Laden and given Kim Jong-il a wedgie in about 30 days.
Talk about a daddy-redemption film. Thanks to this crisis, Bryan goes from pathetic afterthought to Mighty Mouse--"Here I come to saaaaaaave the day!" There's got to be a part of him that's almost grateful his daughter was kidnapped, just so he can make up for that whole karaoke machine debacle.
There are multiple shootings in this film, and some fairly intense scenes showing young girls who are forcibly addicted to drugs before they're auctioned off like cattle. In one sequence, Bryan casually tortures one of the bad guys. In another, he pulls out a gun and shoots someone you do not expect to be shot. It seems like a completely unnecessary move and makes us wonder if super dad has completely lost it.
With all that violence and all that intensity, "Taken" still manages to snare a PG-13 rating. The MPAA is nothing if not consistent. If Maggie Grace (who's 25 and looks way too old to be playing the teen daughter) had done a topless scene, if we had seen more blood, if Bryan had resorted to the f-word, "Taken" would have been hit with an R. But this is just slick, loony, escapist violence. No harm in that, right?