Short version: very good Samurai flick.
Long version: When I first walked out of the movie theater, I had thought that I had just seen a very good Western with kung and gun fu added on. But that bugged me, because it wasn’t quite right: it wasn’t until I was halfway home that I realized that this was actually a Samurai flick with a techno beat.
The agon, the central conflict of every classic Western from The Toll Road in 1920 to Unforgiven in 1992 is as follows:
- Barbarism can only be defeated with the gun.
- All those who pick up the gun are barbarians.
…then Taken doesn’t fit the criteria: the character is not relegated back to the shadows at the end of the film. But as a samurai film it works: Liam Neeson starts as ronin, masterless and with no purpose except to find some way to regain favor with his lord (in this specific case, the remains of his family). Once he finds one – which is essentially by demonstrating the exceptionally ferocious skill set that he used to keep his master safe and ungrateful – he pursues this goal with the zeal of a man who knows that his only reason for existence (his only justification for existence, really) is in service to something better than himself.
Taken is not a movie for fans of reflection on the moral ambiguities of life: once he gets started, the hero – and once you see the film, you’ll see why some people are raising an eyebrow at that designation – is absolutely indifferent to anything that is not related to his ultimate purpose. The overarching morality of the situation is likewise of no interest to him; Neeson’s character takes every opportunity offered to try to get his opponents to just give him what he wants, so that he will go away and never bother them again.
They don’t, of course, because this is an action movie, and a very technically proficient one at that. Well-paced, fast-moving, not very theatrical about the killing in the fight scenes, impressive body count. Check it out.
PS: You’ll notice that I didn’t use Neeson’s character’s name in the review, mostly because I don’t remember it. Heck, I just looked up the movie in IMDB, and I still don’t remember it. That’s because the character is aggressively defined by the film itself as Kim’s Dad, and that’s all the identification that you need.