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TAKEN
Blu-ray Edition

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace, Leland Orser, Jon Gries, David Warshofsky, Katie Cassidy, Holly Valance, Famke Janssen
Director: Pierre Morel
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Features: See Review
Length: 91 Minutes
Release Date: May 12, 2009

“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.”

Film ***

If you want to talk about unexpected box office sensations, Taken is without question the biggest one of recent years. It’s not every day that a movie is released overseas before opening to huge numbers in the States. The last movie to get similar release treatment was 88 Minutes, and we all know how that turned out.

And who knew that such a well respected actor like Liam Neeson could draw in large audiences by headlining an action thriller? The answer to that question would be the people responsible for marketing the film, who ended up cutting together a brilliant trailer for the movie. It basically consists of Neeson delivering a riveting monologue over the phone to abductors who have just taken his daughter, and with every word Neeson has your attention.

Audiences responded hugely, and Taken became an unexpected monster of a hit in theaters. It was more of a crowd favorite than a critical one. Critics were overall mixed on the film, but I hadn’t met a single person who didn’t flat out love this movie.

As for me, while I didn’t find the film great, I had a rockin' good time with it. I find it to be the purest form of a terrifically crafted action thriller that happens to carry the added bonus of a brilliantly intense performance from Neeson. He succeeds in bringing to the screen the cinematic equivalent of Jack Bauer.

Neeson plays Bryan Mills, a former CIA operative who now works as a bodyguard for hire. Though an expert in his previous profession, it brought with it a sour effect on his personal life, most notably his marriage. Now that he has more free time in between work, he wants to get reacquainted with his daughter, Kim (Maggie Grace).

When paying her a birthday visit, he is disheartened by the news that she wants to travel to Paris with a friend of hers. Bryan, displaying an overprotected side, forbids her to go. After getting a lecture from the ex-wife (Famke Janssen) about never being there for her when he should’ve been, Bryan eventually gives his daughter the green light, though under several conditions, the first of which being that she calls him upon landing.

It is during that phone call when both Bryan and his daughter get a nasty surprised, as he listens to her get nabbed by abductors. Once he hears the captor breathe over the phone, he delivers the chillingly effective set of words that drew audiences in. He simply tells them that if they do not let her go, he will find and kill them, to which the voice says, “Good luck”, and at which point the ass kicking parade everyone came to see kicks into high gear.

And it’s a great thing the rest of the movie is so frickin’ awesome, because by comparison the first thirty minutes is kind of a drag to sit through. It’s not so much because it’s a slow point before the action kicks in, but a lot of the writing isn’t so good, particularly in the domestic disputes between Bryan and the ex-wife. Famke Janssen, as the ex-wife, is almost unbearable at points.

But when the kidnapping occurs, Taken becomes a gem of an action thriller. We see Neeson go after anyone and everyone connected to his daughter’s abduction, not even sparing the lives of those who might have a connection to the captors. He even administers a case of torture that, while somewhat echoing Jack Bauer, still sends a chill down the spine.

Bottom line, Taken is a quick 90 minutes of sheer popcorn entertainment. In a time when all of us seem to be begging for a 24 movie, this is very much the closest thing we are ever going to get to one. In the end, though, it’s Neeson that serves as the reason to see this movie. The ice cold brutal quality he brings to the role will have you saying to yourself at the end of the movie, “I will never screw with Liam Neeson”.

Video ***1/2

This high definition transfer from Fox is quite stunning, though it does have a setback in the form of far too many dark set pieces. Everything else looks fantastic, and the Paris setting is effectively captured, most notably in the dark seedy areas. And if you were ever looking for the best case scenario of guys getting their ass kicked in HD, trust me when I say this one gets the job done tremendously!

Audio ****

A hard hitting action thriller on Blu-ray; those words are all you need to know how incredible and relentless the sound quality is. The DTS HD mix is firing on all cylinders from beginning to end. Every possible sound element, which would include crowd noise, gun fire, punches to the throat, more gun fire and, lastly, more punches to the throat, sounds nothing short of spectacular.

Features ***1/2

This Blu-ray release from Fox includes two versions of the movie; a theatrical version and an extended cut (trust me, go with the latter). Two commentaries are featured, but only on the extended cut. The first one is with director Pierre Morel, cinematographer Michel Abramowicz and car stunt supervisor Michel Julienne, while the second commentary features co-screenwriter Robert Mark Kamen. Also included are three featurettes; the French based “Le Making Of”, “Avant Premiere” and  “Inside Action Side-By-Side Scene Comparisons”. Lastly, we have one feature exclusive to Blu-ray; an informational picture-in-picture option called “Black Ops Field Manual”, which is quite neat.

Summary:

Taken is a true crowd pleaser of an action thriller. Any movie that manages to reinvent Liam Neeson as fear-injecting ass kicker is more than cool in my book! This Blu-ray release from Fox is a must have for action fans!

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