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Deadly purpose: Neeson in Taken.

A Good Bad Man

By Ann Morrow

Taken

Directed by Pierre Morel

The conversation is subtly menacing for a cookout. A group of craggy-faced guys banter about their work—Beirut was the good ol’ days—and tease their host, Bryan (Liam Neeson), about his retirement. Bryan is reluctant to reminiscence, having just been one-upped on his daughter’s birthday by her wealthy stepfather. And he’s still stinging from being reminded by his 17-year-old daughter, Kim (Maggie Grace), and his ex-wife, Lenore (Famke Janssen), that he wasn’t around for her upbringing. When Kim asks what it was that he did, Bryan, a former CIA operative, replies, “I was a preventer.”

But Bryan isn’t able to prevent Kim from an indulgent trip to Europe with an even more excitable friend, despite his paternal and professional misgivings. Sure enough, the girls are abducted on their first night in Paris, and Bryan receives a terrifying call from Kim that requires his steeliest calm. Over her cell phone he tells one of the thugs about his “special set of particular skills” in a tone of voice that could freeze blood. But as he finds out within hours, when he starts tracking Kim on the rough edges of Paris, the abductors are part of a gang of Albanians known to be the most ruthless in Europe. And they don’t want ransom—they’re sex-slave traffickers.

Directed by Pierre Morel, a Luc Besson protégé (Besson co-wrote the screenplay), Taken has the fast pace and convincing action choreography of previous Besson films, especially The Transporter. But Taken is a grimmer, more relentless piece of work, with nongratuitous glimpses of an international forced-prostitution racket that ranges from drugged girls being violated behind burlap partitions to a closed- circuit auction of the prettiest girls to billionaires. Bryan is resourceful with cell phones and pocketknives, but mostly, he uses brute strength and fatherly fearlessness to operate as a one-man special-forces unit to hunt down the traffickers. Aside from Neeson, Taken is a competent but somewhat implausible actioner, though it does show one maneuver that’s so simple and effective it’s surprising that it hasn’t been filmed before. And Neeson has a moment or two of clenched-jaw humor, telling an Albanian he’s torturing, “We used to outsource this kind of work.”

At a bruising 6-foot-4, Neeson (a boxer in his youth) is more powerfully combative than almost any action star, and his acting talent makes him even more fearsome, as he memorably displayed in Batman Begins. Taken doesn’t give him enough material to make Bryan a real character, but Neeson’s gruff baritone at full belligerence is more adrenalizing than a movie’s worth of car crashes.


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