By Morris Dean
In the 2008 French action thriller Taken, written by Luc Besson and directed by Pierre Morel, retired CIA agent Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) relies on his old skills to rescue his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) from human traffickers who have kidnapped her while she was travelling in France. At the time, it didn't occur to me that there could or would be a sequel. What, his daughter makes a career of being kidnapped?
So, when Taken 2 came out last year, directed by Olivier Megaton, I figured that Neeson might be playing a different former CIA agent...No, I see now that was a stupid idea. Of course it would be Bryan Mills again. And the plot bridge was oh, so easy. You see, in rescuing his daughter in Taken, Mills had of course killed several of the human traffickers—actually, I lost count how many, he was knocking them off so efficiently and quickly—and one of them just happened to be....
Marko, the son of a man who wants his revenge!
Taken 2 starts off with the cousins of the dead traffickers being buried in their hometown of Tropojë, Albania. Their employer Murad (Rade Šerbedžija), and Marko's father, declares emphatically that he will avenge the deaths of all their loved ones, no matter what the cost.
In a Luc Besson action thriller, you know it's going to cost them a lot. And the bad guys, which the Albanians have to be in a film with Liam Neeson, are not going to succeed....
Turns out Murad's men have little difficulty kidnapping Mills himself and his ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen, whom I'm in love with). Lenore and her daughter Kim have come to Istanbul for a brief vacation with Mills after his free-lance assignment there ended; Lenore is having trouble with her new husband and needs to get away from all that for a few days. Besides, she and Mills are still on friendly terms. Kim, hoping that maybe her mother and father can get back together, says she'll just stay in the hotel, why don't they go out and enjoy themselves?
Good thing she remained behind! The way she is able to help Mills escape is fascinating—one of the most interesting sequences I've seen in an action film. Let me just say it begins with Mills, his head inside a black hood as he and Lenore are driven away, carefully counting seconds between turns, noting sounds of bells, birdsong, and musicians. It involves his having a tiny cell phone he's able to access while handcuffed to an overhead pipe; of course, Kim isn't waiting for her cell phone to ring and isn't quite sure where she set it down, but finally Mills reaches her. Does she know where his metal suitcase is—you know the one that contains....?
And there's a twist on the car-chase scene. At least I'd never seen one in which someone who hasn't yet passed her drivers exam is able to elude the cars behind filled with bad guys shooting at her by simply following her father's shouted instructions. He'd had to jump in the car quickly and they hadn't time to switch positions before the bad guys started shooting....
And the fascinating terrain of Istanbul rooftops! Did you know there are paths up there from one building to another—only just a few places where the followed and the followers have to jump from one to another...?
And it works, it all seems real—no CGI in evidence (that I could detect). Well-motivated. You know how vengeful those Middle Europeans can be. You know how dedicated a loving father can be to rescue his beloved ex-wife and daughter. You know how efficient a killer an ex-CIA operative would be. Right? Well, maybe not really, but you'd want him to be, right? He's one of yours.
I've watched a few films that ended up taking me in after all my futile hoping they'd eventually prove themselves. I wasn't taken in by either Taken or Taken 2. You won't be either if you like a well-motivated, well written, well-edited action thriller. Especially if you like Liam Neeson or are in love with Famke Janssen.
Very few subtitles either; "French film" doesn't necessarily mean it's in French. Only the Albanians speak a foreign language.
Afterthought: When I scheduled this review for publication last night, I realized that its title is significantly ambiguous, and the review's next-to-last paragraph doesn't entirely remove it. As that penultimate paragraph indicates, I meant by "not taken in" that the two Taken films didn't disappoint me; I enjoyed and even admired them.
But there's another interpretation. What if I'd been "taken in" because I liked the films? What if, being mere action thrillers—and therefore not deserving of serious attention—they had succeeded in overcoming my critical discrimination and seducing me into the illusion that I had spent a profitable couple of hours each being entertained?
Okay, fine, theoretically. I'm willing to have been both not taken in (in the first sense) and taken in (in the second). That's the best of both worlds, the serious one I live in at times and the frivolous one I inhabit at others.
Copyright © 2013 by Morris Dean