I'm still not sure what it is with Americans and vigilante movies. I can get why the genre was so popular during its heyday in the '70s -- a fractured country still torn from Vietnam, and infused with Watergate-era cynicism, likely needed the jolt of reassurance that only outlaw justice could provide, as evidenced by the box office successes of such hits as 'Dirty Harry,' 'Death Wish' and 'Billy Jack.' But here we are in a new millennium, and still moviegoers seem taken with movies like 'Taken,' where an everyday man sees his world torn apart by violence and failed by the legal system, and must take matters into his own hands to right the wrongs done to him and his family. Are we, as a culture, still so afraid that we need this kind of knee-jerk reactionism to quench our appetite for justice?
The story of 'Taken' is quite straightforward. Liam Neeson stars as Bryan Mills, an ex-CIA operative who gave up his career to care for his 17 year-old daughter Kim (Maggie Grace). The plot then wastes no time in kicking into high gear. After Bryan allows Kim to take a trip to Europe with her best friend Amanda (Katie Cassidy), the pair are captured by human traffickers, and set to be sold into sexual slavery. With only 96 hours on his side, Bryan takes off in pursuit, and with the help of his ex-wife (and Kim's mother) Lenore (Famke Janssen), will do anything -- no matter how violent -- to rescue Kim and bring her kidnappers to justice.
'Taken' greatest asset is also it's greatest liability. It's so to-the-point and streamlined that it moves like a bullet but lacks much depth. Ethics are decided right upfront -- the good guy is good, the bad guys are bad, and violence is justified because the words and promises of ineffectual law enforcement mean nothing. The subject of human trafficking is potentially intriguing, but it's just a marketing hook to string along the action sequences. This is purely a man-on-a-mission movie, but one well-crafted and suspenseful enough that it diverts our attention away from the fact that it isn't really about anything.
The film is held together by Neeson. His towering, 6' 4" presence is commanding. We know he is ex-CIA, so his threats carry weight, and his execution quickly obliterates any doubts. He's one mean-ass mofo, and like all good vigilante flicks, the "enjoyment" (if that is your cup of tea) comes from watching our hero kick the asses of all the grungy low-lifes. The rest is window dressing. Little time is spent fleshing out the villains beyond plot details, while Grace and Janssen have little to do in one-dimensional roles. It's only Neeson, and his commitment to such a single-minded character, that sells 'Taken.'
Was I offended by 'Taken?' A little bit. The film, as presented here in a two-minute longer, unrated cut, is pretty mean-spirited in its violence. The theatrical version already skirted the boundaries of its PG-13 rating, and the film seems to revel at times in depicting the punishments that Bryan inflicts on his victims. Yeah, they're scum, but the movie so almost falls into the abyss of sadistic exploitation that one questions how it can condemn the actions of its villains when it seems to be pandering to the same basic instincts. Troubling? Possibly. Purely as a taut thriller, 'Taken' works. Just don't look under the hood.
Fox presents 'Taken' in 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 video (2.35:1). It's a good-looking transfer, if a somewhat too rough around the edges. (Note that the original 91-minute, PG-13-rated theatrical cut and an unrated version that runs about 2 minutes longer are both provided on this BD-50 dual-layer disc via seamless branching.)
'Taken' attempts to be "gritty," and achieves it with a somewhat grainy and crushed-down image. Bright scenes fair best -- colors are nicely saturated, contrast is healthy and there is pleasing depth and detail. Darker scenes suffer somewhat from instances of noticeably increased grain, and a lack of fine detail that gets lost in the murk. Fleshtones can also feel a little cold. The image remains sharp, if perhaps too much so -- I noticed edge halos which, if slight, could be distracting. The encode is solid, with no major artifacting.
The provided DTS-HD Lossless Master Audio 5.1 Surround track (48kHz/24-bit) is a winner. This is an aggressive, immersive mix that is sure to please.
There is much action and gunplay throughout 'Taken,' and it's rendered quite precisely on Blu-ray. Discrete sounds are strong and supple, with smooth pans between channels and excellent score bleed. The rears are rarely not engaged even for minor ambiance, and the effect is enveloping. Dynamic range is expansive, with great low bass and a real sense of depth and warmth to the score. Dialogue is also well balanced. No complaints here -- 'Taken' sounds great.
A surprise box office hit (grossing over $100 million in the US alone), 'Taken' gets surprisingly thin treatment on Blu-ray. The extras are a bit too lightweight -- perhaps Fox is planning a double dip in our future?
'Taken' is a taut thriller, mixing vigilante conventions with the topical theme of sex trafficking. I found it a bit too one-note to serve beyond a solid Saturday night time-waster, but apparently most audiences were more taken with 'Taken' then me. This Blu-ray is a pretty good, however, with fine video, better audio, and just-decent supplements. Fans can pick up this Blu-ray with ease, and it's certainly worth a rental if you haven't seen it.