Liam Neeson in ‘Taken’: A Study of a Modern Action Hero
Hell Hath No Fury Like Liam Neeson in ‘Taken’ (2008).
“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.”
If you didn’t A) read that in a Northern Irish accent and B) get goose bumps coursing up and down your skin, you obviously have never seen the 2008 action thriller Taken. I loved this movie so much that the phrase “particular set of skills” is permanently etched on my work profile. Pop open a Guinness and read all about it …
Liam Neeson Hits His Marks
Taken is a cinematic tale seemingly as old as the genre itself: a military operative (Liam Neeson’s Bryan Mills) retires to try to recapture what little time he has with his child before s/he grows up. Said retired military operative is all too happy to live a simple life in suburbia, but circumstances beyond his control force his hand and bring him back to the former life he excelled in, knew too well, but wished to never return. In this case, his only daughter (Kim) is taken hostage by a sex slavery ring in Europe. Mills uses every trick in his arsenal — getting back in touch with his CIA buddies to help locate her; purchasing disposable cameras and phones to travel anonymously; fake names; identity theft; and perhaps the greatest hand-to-hand combat you’ll ever see from a man of his age (Neeson was 56 at the time).
Action at First Site
There are milestone moments in a man’s life when he “just knows”: when he meets the person he will marry; the time he aced the job interview for his dream gig; witnessing his son’s blossoming athletic prowess, etc. You can add “the time when you’re sitting in a movie theater and just know you’re watching a masterpiece.” That happened for me when I saw Taken in a theater for the first time.
The movie takes a somewhat atypical approach: whereas most action heroes are relatively young, this film dips into the well dug by Charles Bronson, Sylvester Stallone, Chuck Norris and Clint Eastwood and highlights a protagonist who is closer to old age than youth. However, just because he’s in his mid-50s does not mean he can’t or doesn’t move well. It’s just the opposite: Neeson, a former boxer, displays an athletic ability usually reserved for much younger actors. (According to IMDB, the martial art style used by Neeson in Taken is Nagasu Do, a hybrid style that borrows from Judo, Aikido and Jiu Jitsu.)
It’s not just his athleticism that sells an audience on Mills’ heroic capabilities. Neeson’s 6’4” build and thick Irish accent bode well to help distinguish him among everyone else in the movie — generic sleazy European bad guys; American family members (both Maggie Grace’s Kim and Famke Janssen’s Lenore, Bryan’s ex-wife); and even double-crossing French operative Jean-Claude, played by Olivier Rabourdin).
A Genuine Action Hero
There have been scores of “one hero against everybody” action movies over the years featuring rogue cops, soldiers, vigilantes, scorned women, etc. Touting a kill count of 35, this movie toes the line between a believable number of bad guys killed and audience enjoyment seeing the amount of collateral damage done throughout the film’s duration. I say that because had Mills notched a Rambo-esque body count, it would have moved the film toward a level of unbelievability. As an audience member, I genuinely believed Bryan Mills could kill 35 men capable of kidnapping his daughter, especially when I saw his John McClane-like vulnerability: he gets tired, battered and bruised; knows he’s running out of time, money, resources, allies, etc.
How many action movies get written, produced, filmed, watched and then forgotten about? Taken not only benefits from being extremely memorable, but Neeson’s performance was so electric that it was eventually proceeded by two sequels (Taken 2 ; Taken 3 ; and a made-for-Netflix prequel series (2017). You could even argue that Neeson’s roles in 2014’s Non-Stop and 2017’s Daddy’s Home 2 are homages to the Bryan Mills character.
Not bad for a 56-year old Irishman, huh?
If you watch this movie and try not to enjoy it, I have two words for you: “Good luck.”
Part Tony Manero, part Rocky Balboa, John Acquavita is a N.Y.-area transplant currently living in Ohio. He uses his “particular set of skills” to contribute to various websites covering 1980s-era action movies.
Let us know what you what you think in the comments or on our Facebook page!