Escapist fiction at its best.
Liam Neeson kicks way more ass than he should in this film. Taken makes no pretensions about what it is - and what it is is the pinnacle of the "dumb action movie" (I don't think anyone says that in any other context without at least a small measure of condescension, but I use that term here with the utmost admiration) - and I believe that is part of its charm. With any other "dumb action movie," there would predictably be a lull in the action, possibly to tell the audience how the characters are feeling (something that should be obvious through good acting), or to explore a pointless romantic relationship. This would all serve only to remind the viewer how stupid the entire premise is. Here, there is no such pretentiousness; there is no shoehorned and juvenile symbolism, and there is no moral hand-wringing. The closest the film gets is a brief (and, most importantly, silent) moment to let Liam Neeson's acting shine before the ass-kicking begins with renewed vigor. I used to be a firm proponent of realism in films. Over the years, I have realized that "realism" is just that: that which appears real. We don't go to the movies to watch true stories. We watch films that have been constructed, in one way or the other, to tickle the imagination and amuse the senses - this is the primary goal of the filmmaker. You can argue that the fighting was unrealistic, and that Liam Neeson's character should have been hit by a dozen bullets (at least) by the end of the movie. I personally didn't notice anything particularly fantastical about the fight scenes, although I suppose if I were an expert in the field of combat I would probably be very annoyed. Point is, it was realistic enough for me, and probably for the majority of filmgoers. And what is the value of a film other than what the audience decides for it? In the end, Taken is a simple tale that realizes the revenge fantasy that all of us indubitably harbor in our hearts. As long as you can suspend your disbelief (and the producers of this film have definitely gone to great lengths to help you in this matter), you will enjoy yourself. Let the catharsis wash over you.
An 80s plot with 21st Century cynicism
Take the most risible, Reagan era action movie plot of "rescue the missing daughter" and update it to a darker and edgier 2008 setting, and you have Taken. Perhaps what I enjoy most about the whole movie is its the doggedly un-ironic and straight-faced portrayal of the kind of silly, empowerment fantasies we had grown to look back on with a smirking affection. In this movie, Liam Neeson plays a distant, yet over-protective father who must rescue his daughter after she gets kidnapped in Paris. In any other movie, he would be mocked as a paranoid and gung-ho dad; the kind who distrusts his immigrant neighbours and keeps a room full of loaded guns. In this movie though, his fears about going on holiday turn out to be 100% justified. Within minutes of setting foot in Paris, the stupid daughter hands over her name, address and bust/waist/hip sizes to a complete stranger, who just so happens to be a Albanian sex trafficker. Luckily, Liam Neeson just so happens to be some kind of ex-CIA agent, giving him the skills necessary to track down his daughter. Those skills mostly revolve around beating up France. In this action movie, the fighting is of the pragmatic and ferocious style which passes for "realistic" these days. What isn't so realistic is the way he seems to battle through armies of French, Baltic and Muslim criminals over the course of a couple of days, without ever having to stop for a breather. Whilst the gritty depiction of torture, fist fighting, and the sex trade lend the film a real-worldy feel, this movie is still locked in the 80s mindset of "dubiously American ass kicker kills hundreds of foreigners". Overall, it is an okay action movie. Amusing for its seriousness and its dated story, but with enough action and style to keep it interesting none-the-less. The dark look into sex-trafficking does put a damper on what should be a dumb-popcorn flick, but it doesn't ruin the movie.