The latest offering from Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen could be seen as a recombination of their Transporter DNA – this time it’s the daughter of an ex-special agent that’s in danger that sends the one-man army on a bone-breaking spree – but unlike the pair’s standard fluffy action fodder (The Fifth Element excepted), Taken is a brutal revenge tale with a lean storyline and no compromises on showing one man’s determination to mete out the same preventive and punishment methods used in his former day job at the CIA.
Director Pierre Morel (District 13 / Banlieue 13) also pays attention to pacing, and sets up a slow and character-centric first third before the chase begins, and the final hour consists of one man wreaking carnage across Paris to rescue his daughter from a white slavery ring before she disappears after a crucial 96 hours.
The time limit is firm, and white slavery horror is shown in ugly glimpses as dad Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) worms his way through the troughs of an Albanian-controlled prostitution ring. It’s standard exploitation material except the filmmakers don’t emphasize any sleaze, as was standard in seventies sexploitation flicks. The horror of losing one’s daughter is played as a galvanizing crisis, and as a force that Mills must reckon with when he’s aware he has the skills to reclaim daughter Kim (Lost’s Maggie Grace), and get some sweet revenge.
Mills stays professional – calm, cool, and verbally direct rather than profane – but he pushes the brutality just a little further as he discovers more disgusting facts, and faces sleazy pimps and drugged up girls head-on, including one girl who remembers meeting Kim. It’s inevitable he’ll confront his daughter’s abductor, and there’s little doubt his rage will ultimately show no mercy, but by that stage in the hunt, we’re totally on his side, and are likely to favour his methods for what the father and daughter have been put through.
Morel’s chase scenes are kinetic, and the editing is more impressionistic than straight montage, but what keeps the film focused as a human drama of desperation and revenge is Neeson’s performance, and Morel makes sure he holds on Neeson’s weary visage and disgust so as not to lose sight of the drama’s emotional framework. The bickering and dialogue between Mills and ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) is bland and predictable, although Lenore has some choice bon mots for the years of Mills’ absentee fatherism.
Nathaniel Mechaly’s score is also anchored around the characters, and there’s surprisingly little bombast or upbeat action music. The chase and combat cues are hard and mechanical, and there’s plenty of sad string material that conveys grounding anguish without veering into bathos – a problem that affected Alexandre Azaria’s otherwise fine Transporter 2 score when the marital bickering and child kidnapping subplot bled achingly laughable melodrama.
Besson and Kamen’s film also benefits from excellent casting, even though Janssen is restricted to being a bitch most of the time, Grace (who looks 17 as a brunette) is either overjoyed or terrified, and Holly Valance (Prison Break) has brief scenes as pop diva Sheerah.
Fox’ special edition DVD includes an extended cut of the film (via seamless branching) , and comes with a lot of extras packed into Disc 1, but they also detract from the image quality at times. Disc 2 contains nothing but a digital copy, and this is another example of a badly planned SE where picture quality is sacrificed for extras, and a whole second disc sports an ephemeral product. Equally inane is the decision to reproduce the cover art on a cardboard rectangle that’s glued onto the alpha case. This is a new variant on the useless cardboard O-sleeve packaging, and if one wants to remove the cardboard cover, the separation yields a circular wrinkle on the case from the glue marks. (Why remove it, you ask? More like when will it be removed, as the corners become inevitably frayed and bent.)
Packaging nonsense aside, the SE comes packed with the making-of and premiere featurettes as present on the French Region 2 DVD (most of Besson’s Euro-centric thrillers are released first in France), as well as two commentary tracks that are present on the French and North American SE DVDs and Blu-ray releases, but are absent from the British Blu-ray (which, given the storage capacity, makes absolutely no sense).
Fox has also released a single-disc edition of Taken that includes the unrated version and a trailer. (Interestingly, in place of a Taken trailer on the SE, there's merely a trailer for Notorious, which is plain daft.) The increasing existence of these split-run titles means Fox is determined to push on with their ‘rental edition’ program – since that’s essentially what the single edition is – but it would be interesting to see whether these bare bones editions are actually selling, or whether by Boxing Day 2009 we’ll see delete bins cluttered with these cheaper and quite useless platters.
The 2-disc SE is certainly the one to snatch up, but this may be one title that offers better value and quality on Blu-ray edition (UK edition excepted).
© 2009 Mark R. Hasan