Part of the joy of a movie like "Taken" is that it seemed to come out of nowhere. It was released earlier this year with virtually no marketing or fanfare, starring an actor, Liam Neeson, who's well-regarded by hardly a box office heavyweight, with a storyline about an ex-spy that seemed overly familiar. But its spare style and intense energy propelled it to become the sleeper hit of early 2009.
Neeson is perfectly suited to the roll of Bryan Mills, a former spook who has retired so he can be closer to his teen daughter Kim (Maggie Grace). Mills at first seems a bit of a loser, moping around a tiny apartment and crashing his daughter's birthday party at her wealthy stepdad's mansion. But when Kim is abducted by a prostitution ring while in Paris, he springs into hunter mode.
Neeson skillfully underplays, turning his character into the antithesis of the boasting, self-regarding cinematic action hero. He can take out a small army of goons by himself, but there's no bravado in the way he does it -- it's simply the job, one he's gotten very good at. He's coldly efficient, saving the life of a prostitute strung out on heroine not out of benevolence, but because it helps his quest.
There's a healthy set of DVD extras, including both the theatrical and unrated versions of the film, though I was hard-pressed to tell the difference. A making-of documentary is fairly rote; a more clever addition is a feature showing how they shot some of the more harrowing scenes, with side-by-side comparisons of the stunts and the final version. A commentary track (in French, with subtitles) by director Pierre Morel and cinematographer Michel Abramowicz gets bogged down in the technical aspects of filmmaking. But a separate (English) track by co-screenwriter Robert Mark Kamen (who also wrote the first two "Transporter" flicks) is much livelier -- including his description of an ending that was tacked on by the French backers against his wishes.
Movie: 4 Yaps Extras: 4 Yaps