Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Movie Review: Taken

We all know the famous Klingon proverb quoted by Khan in Star Trek II: "Revenge is a dish best served...cold." I remember seeing that quote on a marquee for Kill Bill. I think it was for Volume 1 because it was quoted during the film. The Bride seemed to think she was dealing cold-hearted revenge on the people who messed up her wedding day. She didn't seem particularly cold as she went about killing a ridiculous amount of people in Vol. 1 or not killing them in Vol. 2. She was fueled by rage and anger and she let it show. And she was hot in Bruce Lee's yellow jumpsuit, no doubt. All the flash and style of Kill Bill seems to be the total opposite of what the Klingons meant.

On the other hand, Taken would make a Klingon proud. In it, Liam Neeson's somewhat estranged 17-year old daughter wants to go to Paris for the summer with a friend to drink in the culture. Neeson's character is an ex-military special ops type who is totally paranoid about her safety. In order to make the story interesting of course, he decides to let her go even though he doesn't think it's safe for two teenage girls to go to a foreign country. They get kidnapped. His daughter is on the phone with him when she is caught, so he gets his first clues and makes his speech about how he is going to get the kidnappers. The story then follows him as he finds more clues and kills whoever he gets the clues from. Some people he just kills because they are in the way or happen to be in the area. The more innocent bystanders only sustain flesh wounds.

Neeson's character and performance are anything but hot. He runs around in a suit most of the time and has a bad haircut throughout. He is definitely not the male counterpart of the Bride. Like her, he is motivated rage and anger at the loss of his daughter, but he isn't vindictive or stylish in offing the bad guys. He just kills 'em dead and moves on. Neeson does no substantial emoting (either negative against the bad guys or positive with his daughter) and is mostly deadpan. Maybe the performance was intentionally that way. It sort of fits the character but doesn't attract any acting accolades.

Also, he is completely indifferent to the fate of other girls who have been kidnapped (including his daughter's friend). He only helps people who can put him closer to his daughter. He becomes a very unlikeable hero. Sure he loves his daughter and will do anything to get her back. But he has absolutely no other redeeming qualities.

The filming style of the movies is also very toned down and bare bones. No flashy or slick editing of scenes. No exotic or imaginative locations. In spite of being set in Paris, no obligatory iconic scenery (Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, etc.) is shown or incorporated into the story. The action is pretty straightforward and enjoyable if unimaginative and cliched (he hits every one he shoots at while the bad guys can only hit the walls/car/other bad guys around him). So that leaves the viewer pretty cold too.

I do have to say in its defense, I prefer the bare bones grittiness of Taken as compared with the stylish emptiness of Kill Bill or Man on Fire. Neeson's character is an immoral man bent on one thing. There are no distracting visuals or editing or fancy dialogue or acting trying to cover up the near soullessness of the lead character. I appreciate the honesty, but can I honestly say I enjoy it?

What can I say? I would really like this movie, if only I was a Klingon.

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