It's quite possible that Taken is the most surprising movie of the past decade.
It's actually a fascinating outlier in the history of modern movie making. In theory, Taken was supposed to be a quick throwaway action movie to help Liam Neeson make a later-in-life career transition from serious actor into action star in advance of The A-Team. It was shot for a low studio budget ($26.5 million reported) and given a generic one-word title. It premiered in France almost a year before the U.S. and when 20th Century Fox did finally bring it over here in 2009, they gave it the vote-of-no-confidence death slot of a Super Bowl weekend release.
But something strange happened. Taken was accidentally awesome.
It wasn't supposed to be. It was supposed to be a generic, brainless action movie... but it inadvertently transcended that. The word of mouth on the movie was, and still is, nothing short of worship. Mention Taken in front of anyone who's ever seen Taken and you will find yourself in a conversation passionately extolling the virtues of a movie that's cartoonishly violent, totally implausible... and absolutely wonderful.
I've been meaning to write about Taken for quite some time and now, with Taken 2 opening this weekend, the time is right. Here are the 11 Liam Neeson highlights Taken, ranked by memorability. Warning: SPOILERS ABOUND. So if you haven't seen Taken, go devote 91 minutes to watching it, then come back and read.
Rescuing the pop star from her mysterious knife-wielding attacker.
The subplot where Liam Neeson just so happens to be protecting a famous singer on the night when a mysterious knife-wielding maniac wants to attack her is strange for two reasons. One, the whole singer plot line feels really tacked on. And two, this movie asks the audience to suspend belief about a TON of coincidences, why waste a decent amount of that capital on the opening minor, minor, minor, minor subplot?
Still, Liam Neeson's uncanny ability to see the knife coming and take out the attacker when he definitely should NOT have seen the knife coming puts this one the list. It is a sign of the lightning fast killing reflexes to come.
Chasing down the kidnapper's airport spotter.
Liam Neeson only has a 96-hour window to track down his daughter according to the standard screenwriting ticking clock information from his ex-CIA buddy. So he's very fortunate that the same guy who targeted his daughter to be kidnapped is working as a spotter again RIGHT when he goes to the airport to look for him. (He's also fortunate that in France they have public photo machines that possess the magical CSI zoom-and-enhance feature, as I screen captured above.)
But when he does chase the spotter down he does a wonderful job teaching him a lesson. Although he probably would've wanted to get more information out of him before he forced the guy to jump off an overpass and get hit by a truck.
Surviving the one time he's captured by tearing down a pipe while handcuffed.
Throughout the entire movie, Liam Neeson is in danger exactly one time. That's when he's handcuffed to a pipe by the sex slave trafficker's henchmen. Unfortunately for them, of all the pipes they could've picked to handcuff him to, they picked the one that had loose bolts holding it to the ceiling. And Liam Neeson handcuffed to a loose pipe is CLEARLY superior to three armed henchmen with full use of their hands. They should've known that.
Managing to fly back to the U.S. on what appears to be a regular commercial flight after killing at least 30 people in 96 hours in France.
He took a private plane to France to save his daughter so it's possible he took one back too. But either way, how could Paris EVER let him leave? He killed at least 30 people, destroyed a construction site and a house, stole three cars, and, as we'll get to later, shot a high-ranking law enforcement official's wife. Still managing to stroll happily off a plane and easily clear customs at LAX might be one of Liam Neeson's top feats of the movie.
Finding the Albanians' construction site by strategically pissing off a prostitute.
For whatever reason, the car chase scene at the construction yard-slash-makeshift brothel is the least compelling action scene of the movie to me. But his method of getting to that site shows just how good he is. Liam Neeson pisses off one of the Albanians' prostitutes until the pimp comes, then plants a microphone on the pimp during their confrontation so he get some clues. It's clever how the character manages to switch from "unrelenting badass" to "pretending to be a confused, horny, old man" -- without ever really making us believe that Liam Neeson IS a confused, horny, old man.
Driving the wrong way to track down and jump onto the sheik's boat.
I remembered Liam Neeson jumping off a bridge onto the sheik's boat (I circled him in the screenshot) -- but I didn't remember that he stole a car and drove it the wrong way down a busy street to get in position to make that jump. It's like Taken's verision of Toad's Turnpike (in Extra mode).
His incredibly cool speech to the kidnappers as they take his daughter.
I thought I'd pull the quote entirely, since it's so hardcore:
"I don't know who you are. I don't know what you want. If you are looking for ransom, I can tell you I don't have money. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills -- skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you let my daughter go now, that'll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you. But if you don't, I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you."
I grabbed that straight from IMdB. While I was there, I learned Liam Neeson's character's name is Bryan. Which I find fascinating... because I watched the movie about 20 minutes ago and had no idea what his name was other than Liam Neeson.
Electrocuting the lead Albanian after getting the information he wanted.
Liam Neeson torturing the lead Albanian, getting the information he wants, then still following through and torturing him to death is just cold-blooded. This marks the end of the Albanians in the movie as we begin the transition to Liam Neeson fighting rich white and Arab guys. Liam Neeson doesn't discriminate.
Shooting the sheik in the head as soon as he says a single word.
I think Liam Neeson's final kill in the movie is executed the best. Because after everything he's been through, there needed to be an amazing punctuation mark. Unfortunately, the "final boss" (in video game terms) is just a fat, old sheik. There's no opportunity there for a long fight or even a short fight -- Liam Neeson would kill him in two punches. So what do you do?
The movie builds it perfectly. Liam Neeson stands there, pointing a gun at him. The sheik holds Liam Neeson's daughter at knifepoint. The silent tension builds for juuuust long enough. And then as soon as the sheik says a single word, Liam Neeson shoots him in the head. It's such a brilliant cherry on top of his quest, 100 percent in character, and a perfect, cathartic conclusion.
Shooting the police captain's wife.
I talked in the intro of this list about people getting into deep Taken discussions. And invariably, someone will bring up the moment where Liam Neeson shoots his friend's wife in the arm. With all the people he kills, somehow no moment in the movie is more shocking than that. It also might be the only time in cinematic history where the hero of the movie shoots a defenseless, innocent woman and comes out looking BETTER because of it.
Making the Albanians say "Good luck" then killing all of them.
After Liam Neeson's quote about finding and killing the kidnappers, one responds over the phone with "Good luck" in a heavy accent. That "good luck" drives Liam Neeson -- he listens to it over and over on his plane ride to France -- and plays a key role in his most badass moment.
When Liam Neeson finds the Albanians' headquarters-slash-yet another makeshift brothel, he goes in with a decently tight story as a police officer demanding protection money. But when he gets one of the Albanians to say "Good luck" -- and mentally matches the voice to what he heard on the phone -- he launches into his most epic piece of destruction.
He kills around 10 people, including taking on the initial group at a one-on-five disadvantage -- AND manages to keep their leader alive so he can torture him for information (as mentioned above) before he kills him too. It's around that moment that the movie switches from Liam Neeson fighting a seemingly impossible uphill battle to him taking complete command. And from that point on, you just look forward to see who he's going to nonchalantly kill or maim next.
God bless the American standard of PG-13.
This post was originally published on Friday, October 5, 2012 at 11:00:00 AM under the category Movies.