Taken: ** 1/2 (out of 4)
Taken is a spy revenge movie, with an emphasis on the "revenge". Is it really fair to analyze a movie like this? Perhaps not, but that's what I spent a lot of the movie doing.
As with all revenge movies, the first fifteen minutes are spent setting up the characters, so you've got a reason to care when the bad things start happening; but for some reason, things came off as somewhat nuanced. As per normal, the estranged ex-spy father (Liam Neeson, in this case) doesn't really have his life together; but unlike many movies, this time he at least know what he wants to do and is doing it. His ex-wife is bitchy, her new husband a bit of a jerk, their daughter a self-centered 17-year-old; but unlike other usual, the tension comes off as somewhat genuine. It's an odd opening, which comes across as somewhat less forced and weird than usual, but also leaves us less set-up than you would expect.
The main tense part of the movie is what was shown in the trailers - the daughter's capture. It was well set up for the commercials, and it was well set up in the movie. From there, the spying and the revenge begin, and we are put into a weird Paris-based 24, but over 96 hours instead.
There's not too much more to say about the plot, really - Neeson finds a lot of bad people and tortures and kills them in various efficient ways, and he eventually finds what he's looking for. The end. The actual ending comes a bit too pat (how did he get back out of Paris after all the mayhem he caused?), but that's not really that much of a surprise. I didn't stick around for the credits.
But that's not really what I spent my time analyzing. No, what was interesting was that this was a PG-13 movie, and specifically a PG-13 movie about the sex slave trade. This made for some really odd decisions as to what could be shown and what couldn't. For the most part, it was a bloodless movie; and the victims were shrouded where possible, for fear of showing too much flesh or too many track marks. But somehow, this sanitization didn't actually hurt the movie much. The characters seemed to fit the rating - they didn't want blood, they just wanted to do their job. It made for an interesting portrayal of various grades of evil, because they all looked fundamentally the same. I don't know how much of that was intentional, but it was an odd effect.
Still - it was not high art, and I'll forget about it before too long, but it also did not suck. If you liked the trailer, this is probably worth seeing.