Thursday, February 12, 2009

Taken (2008)

Grateful that the stultifying awards season is coming to a close, I took in Taken, the latest piece of action gimmickry from the Luc Besson factory. No whiff of Oscar-bait on this one, but possibly some mothballs. Originally released last February in France, it made its way through Europe and South America (variously titled 96 Hours, Venganza, and Busqueda Implacable) before landing in the U.S. last month (the DVD is already available at Amazon UK, in the phallic "Extended Harder Cut").

A briskly paced bit of vengeance, Taken stumbles with its shoddily edited fight scenes and Besson's penchant for sappy sentiment - without Jason Statham's bemused wit to undercut it. Neeson plays a retired spook forced back into action when his daughter is kidnapped by some Albanian sex traffickers. Revenge, rescue, etc. Director Pierre Morel is tasked with turning Neeson into a fearsome warrior, and his solution is dipping into the Bourne bag of tricks, creating force through multiple edits rather than visible punches. No battle lasts longer than a few seconds as Neeson tears through these thug straw men, with none of the improvisation of the Bourne films, in which every household item can be turned into a weapon. Here it's a flurry of impressionistic cuts, a shot of a snapped neck, and onward. There's never a sense of danger here. Neeson is a CIA superman, but Besson also adds a dash of extraodinary rendition and torture, but not enough to completely question his heroic stature. It's all a little queasy and muddled, much like The Dark Knight.

It's a shame, because Morel and Besson's influential District B13 (2004) was premised on impossible physical feats, in the parkour style imitated in the Bond films (especially the opening sequence of Casino Royale). There he captured every death-defying maneuver. Here saddled with the expressive but physically limited Neeson, he opts for sub-Bourne montage.

So while I'm still enamored with Besson's action-film factory, with his emphasis on simplicity, pace, and lucid action, they're not all winners. I sympathize with Armond White's rave, but demur when he urges that Besson win the Irving G. Thalberg award.

Maybe I'll be convinced if there's a Transporter 4. Especially if they put Cory Yuen back in the director's chair instead of his rotating roster of French hacks (Louis Leterrier, Olivier Megaton). But that's another story for another time.

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