The new movie Taken, starring Liam Neeson, offers something we don't see much of from Hollywood lately: an action hero willing to put his life on the line and use his mind to achieve what's most important.

It’s no surprise that Taken scored number one at the box office in its opening weekend.

What is surprising is how an action film with all the accoutrements of a conventional vigilante thriller — shot through (no pun intended) with dizzying gunplay and dazzling car chases — is both unconventional and timely.

This is partly because of canny casting. Critically acclaimed actor Liam Neeson brings considerable depth and dimension to his role as a retired unhappily divorced secret operative who, as one ex-CIA buddy puts it, never “lost his edge” — and who, as the doting father of a teenager, must unleash his moribund skills when his virginal daughter is kidnapped by Paris-based Albanians in the sex slave trade.

Cinematographer-turned-director Pierre Morel contributed mightily to the film’s unconventionality by infusing his pure-action scenes through the cobblestoned streets of Paris with disciplined purposefulness.

Not only does he force us to suspend disbelief as he puts Neeson through his James Bondian paces with great panache, but he eschews action for action’s sake, ensuring that our focus remains, not on car chases and karate moves, but on emotions we can relate to: a loving father’s pain, fear, and rage.

And writer-producer Luc Besson’s literate script should give conventional thriller-oriented filmmakers pause. What makes Taken so refreshingly unusual is that even though the rescue attempt unfolds at breakneck speed, the aggrieved father lets his mind dictate his moves. He doesn’t just break bones, he psyches out the bad guys. Hence the cool efficacy with which he finesses every foray into enemy territory.

Top this off with the guts it takes for him to periodically replay imagined images of his daughter’s horror — thus stoking his own — in order to fuel his resolve, to overcome all odds, and you have a movie that appeals to all ages.

But what explains its timeliness and why it opened at $24.6 million — giving an unprecedented boost to the first “$1 billion January” in Hollywood history — is the protagonist’s no-holds-barred unapologetic sense of justice.

In today’s cultural and political landscape, bombarded as we are with brazen accounts of corruption and cowardice, we need a respite. There’s a good reason why Taken’s distributor is calling it an “all-audience movie” and predicting a long life — or, in Hollywood parlance, “play time.” There’s a good reason why this reviewer gives the movie five stars.

In my book about my mentor-protégé relationship with Ayn Rand, I wrote that people have “a fundamental need, an aesthetic yearning, if you will, for the larger-than-life in their life” — for an antidote to “the dull, the grim and the ugly.” For heroes. And by heroes, I meant “...men and women who are unusual or efficacious or uncompromising or committed to some just cause and willing to take a stand or put their lives on the line for it....”

Liam Neeson’s CIA operative is all of this, and moviegoers will almost viscerally recognize and root for such a man. They instinctively grasp that he is no mere “protagonist” with the usual mixed premises or feet of clay. In thought and in deed, he is a hero.

Erika Holzer’s vigilante suspense thriller Eye for an Eye was a Paramount feature film directed by John Schlesinger and starring Kiefer Sutherland and Sally Field. For more about her other books, fiction and non-fiction, and her most recent book, Ayn Rand: My Fiction-Writing Teacher, see www.ErikaHolzer.com.

8 comments from readers  

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Enjoy Neeson's work immensley and didn't know about this film.
Reminds me of Sullenberger's amazing glide into the Hudson River. A hero is as a hero does.
A brilliant review by a brilliant - and compassionate - writer. Thank you, Erika!
I saw the trailer for "Taken" when I went to see "Gran Torino". The contrasts between the concepts of these two movies could not be greater.

Clint Eastwood is excellent as an aging widower who sees his world and family disintegrating around him. He befriends a young boy and tries to instill in him some proven skills to make his way in the world and develop ambition to improve his life.

He also displays personal courage and skill with weapons to back down the mindless thugs terrorizing the innocent Hmong immigrants in his neighborhood.

In the end, when we expect him to take on the gang that raped the young girl, he steps onto the hooligans' lawn and allows them to shoot him to death.

The message seems to be that confronting evil with the only language evil understands is wrong. Leave it up to the constituted authorities, although, as anyone familiar with the "justice" system knows, the punks in this scenario would like walk free when the intimidated witnesses refused to testify.

The people I have talked to all saw Clint Eastwood's performance as outstanding, but the ending a total disappointment. It's almost as though he's trying to apologize for the Dirty Harry movies, a series in which the lead character refused to compromise with evildoers, but gave them what they really deserved. I predict the box office of Gran Torino will fall off quickly, after the folks who saw it, based on misleading TV ads, spread the word.

This only confirms what Medved and others have said, that not all Hollywood films are primarily made to make money, but rather to promote an agenda, or, if you will, a philosophy. Otherwise the climax would have shown Clint with his rifle picking off punks from a block away to the cheers of the neighbors and the theater audience.

By the way, I really enjoyed "Eye for an Eye". Thanks for this review of "Taken". I'll have to see it for sure, now.
We need more reviews of new movie DVDs by Ms. Holzer. My wife and I use reviews like this one to decide what we shall rent from Netflix. As a result, we shall add "Taken" to our list.

Thank you.
My son and I went to see "Taken" tonight. The movie was brilliant and entertaining. I can only second Erika Holzer's review.
I really enjoyed this movie and now it is even more crystal clear for me as why I thought it was so good. Thanks for your review!
Saw the movie last weekend. Great, fast-paced action. But, what would have been better would be a character and situation ordinary people could identify with. That's why "Gran Torino" started with such promise. Clint Eastwood's Walt was a man you could meet anywhere, and the thugs he confronts are hanging out on every street corner in the country.

By the conventions of society, as promulgated by the motion picture industries, it's acceptable for a CIA (Government) agent to to kill dozens of strangers, flunkies, and villains of various sorts without remorse or even official review of his actions. But it is not acceptable for an average man who is not affiliated with the power structure to act. Why does one have license to act and the other does not?

That's what made "Eye for and Eye", and the first "Death Wish" movies so appealing. The characters were normal citizens whose primary jobs were their jobs, but who stepped outside the artificial bounds to achieve justice, using the skills anyone could acquire. See also Jody Foster in "The Brave One", basically a remake of "Death Wish".
To post comments, please log in first. The Atlasphere is a social networking site for admirers of Ayn Rand's novels, most notably The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. In addition to our online magazine, we offer a member directory and a dating service. If you share our enjoyment of Ayn Rand's novels, please sign up or log in to post comments.