The Lady Friend and I went to see Taken on Friday. The awards-season diet of watery Christmas gruel always makes me a little blue about Hollywood, and I was pleased to see some high concept red meat in late January. The premise is a killer — simple, familiar, but no-fail. Government badass Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson, possibly on horse tranquilizers) has spent his life using “a very particular set of skills” to defend freedom and justice, but he’s sacrificed his relationship with his daughter (Lost‘s Maggie Grace) in the process. So when that daughter is kidnapped, Mills has to use his training and contacts to save her. (Fortunately, there’s a wealthy stepdad to foot the bill.)
You can’t really go wrong with this kind of thing, and, in fact, they don’t. It’s a perfectly good thriller, at its best when people don’t talk much and Neeson (or his stunt double) gets to do a lot of fast-twitch martial arts. And, no shocker, in the end he wins.
But the filmmakers are also frequently lazy, and their ideas are often half-baked. Why does Maggie Grace wear clunky shoes and run like a 5-year-old? No answer given. Also, there’s a scene where Mills goes to the baddies’ hideout and fakes his way in by pretending to be a police inspector looking for a bribe… in flat midwestern English. Now, the Lady Friend thought maybe this was supposed to be notionally French, a la The Hunt For Red October, but there was no smooth French-to-English transition or anything here. And contemporary audiences seem completely unfazed by brief spatterings of foreign languages in shows like Alias and movies like The Bourne Identity, so I’m not sure why a contemporary producer or director would be afraid of a minute’s worth of subtitles. My theory, honestly, is that the screenwriter, turned on by the admittedly cool interrogation scene, just forgot for a minute that they were in France. And no one called him on it.
On the other hand, there’s a really terrific shooting about 3/4 of the way through this movie — one that comes completely out of the blue and is seriously startling. I love it when stuff like that happens. I also always like it when Jon Gries gets work. So, you know — worth it.