Saturday, January 31, 2009

"Taken" -- a pseudo French thriller with an attitude


Well, “Taken” translates to “prendu” in French. The credits from 20th Century Fox would have us believe that this new B-thriller from Pierre Morel is a real foreign film. But it really is nothing more than popcorn genre stuff (even if the production company is EuropaCorp).

I guess Liam Neeson is the new James Bond or what-it-means-to-be-a-man, although here the fictitious name is Bryan Mills. The Irish actor is now 56, which puts him “up there.”

By now, most moviegoers have heard that there are some real issues. The main one is whether someone can do clandestine or dangerous intelligence or counter-terrorism work and keep his family safe. Mills has retired from the CIA after the job destroyed his marriage, and his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) now wants to go to Paris with her chum Amanda (the name of a key character from “Kyle XY”, an odd coincidence). Now CIA agents have to keep their work so secret – never talk about it – that the premise seems all wet. But, I guess, if you were a spy, the Russian or (here) Albanian Mafia would know who and where you (and your dependents) are at all times. The thought is scary enough. Actually, I doubt it. Hope not.

There’s some other ideas. Yes, when the girls are taken (right after checking in to the posh hotel room in Paris), they’re sold into the slave trade – that itself has been a subject of serious documentary and drama – movies like “Amazing Grace” and “Amistad” and “Meeting David Wilson”, even “Call + Response”. It’s pretty unbelievable that this could ever go on even in the “barrios” in Paris. A more interesting idea is that Kim wants to become a singer, although her father has apparently discouraged it. I’m reminded of an essay that Matt Damon wrote on the old “Project Greenlight” site advising people not to go into movies if they are making a living doing anything else.

There’s a scene where Neeson walks on narrow ledges of a hotel to break in to the hotel room (where Kim had been taken), and I thought, I want to see Damon doing this (as in the “Bourne Identity” movies). But Neeson is pretty brutal as a one-man invasion force, as he uses his "unique set of skills" apparently learned from years as a CIA "hit man".

The film brought back some deja vu from my European trips in 1999 and 2001. I would always fly from Minneapolis to Amsterdam, and then "try catch" a connection to my first destination. The movie has a chase seen at De Gaulle in Paris, and I recognized the exact ramp where I turned in my EuropaCar, the second one after having to exchange after losing the car keys in Bayeux at the "William the Conqueror" museum (with the medieval tapestry that is itself like an action movie storyboard, even with the ravaging of invasion and moral tests). I certainly remember the Bastille section (where some of LGBT Paris is) and it seemed to appear in the film. The Louvre seemed out of the picture, left for "Da Vinci", but the little streets with hostels and laundromats not so far from the Seine and the Champs Elysee came through. The overall scenery of Paris comes through in a few wide shots -- bringing back to mind the rent car drive from Caen and Roeun, the Defense District, the tunnels. You don't have to spend a lot of time in a city like this for it to stick to your mind.

The film played to a large auditorium that was about 2/3 full at a Regal in Arlington in the 9:00 PM show Saturday night. The audience did laugh at a lot of the lines and punchy action.

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