Taken (2009)

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From Star Wars' Qui-Gon Jinn to The Transporter?

In 2004 when David Mamet tackled female human trafficking with the underrated Val Kilmer thriller Spartan (which benefited zero from the forgettable title as for years I've had to remind others, "yes, you really did see that movie"), he did so with his trademark "all talk" and very little action.

However, when you give the same premise to the gang responsible for turning Jason Statham into a critic proof walking video game character in The Transporter, anyone-- even soft-spoken Liam Neeson from Nell and Kinsey-- can go all Schwarzenegger on everybody's ass quicker than you can say "action."

The film's premise is as straightforward as its effective Death Wish era Charles Bronson-esque poster and chilling trailer. Or, for the uninitiated-- here's the Cliff's Notes-- retired CIA operative Brian Mills (Liam Neeson) who had quit his gig to make up for lost time in his daughter's life finds himself blending the two in unimaginable ways after the seventeen year old girl and her best friend disappear from Paris, shortly after their arrival when abducted by a group of Albanian sex-traffickers.

In a horrifying scene played with intense calm, Brian morphs from concerned and overprotective father to black-ops agent right before our eyes when-- while chatting on the cell phone with Kim (Maggie Grace)-- intruders invade the apartment and he instructs her to hide, asking detailed questions until he must give her the news that ultimately she will be taken.

When a different voice breathes into the phone, Mills delivers a cool warning that he will hunt him down to exact murderous revenge unless his daughter is released, to which the then unseen captor chides, "Good luck."

Realizing he has ninety-six hours to get to Paris and find her before she falls through the cracks of the international human smuggling black market, Neeson's Mills goes into stealth mode, willing to hot-wire vehicles, torture, shoot civilians to get information, until he gains enough tips for an ultimate showdown.

Perpetually missing Kim by moments in an underworld maze filled with inhumane horrors, we're led into the seedy underbelly of the City of Lights in this action-packed and fast paced thriller that doesn't bother with subplot or added complexity, just succeeding in the same Transporter-like "man on a mission" formula by strapping us in and not letting go.

Sharply edited by Frederic Thoraval who had chopped together the film's producer and co-writer Luc Besson's Angel-A and lensed by cinematographer Michel Abramowicz--Professional and La Femme Nikita writer/director Luc Besson collaborated once again with his Professional, The Fifth Element, Transporter, Kiss of the Dragon Hollywood scripter Robert Mark Kamen (who also penned A Walk in the Clouds, Lethal Weapon 3, and The Devil's Own). And in bringing everyone together once again, they graduated the cinematographer of Besson's previous Jet Li film Unleashed-- Pierre Morel-- to direct.

While it excels as an air-tight if predictable thriller thanks to a transformative turn by Neeson who will never be mistaken for a foreign art-house actor again (and definitely makes up for his involvement in the horrific new Star Wars films), Taken is also ratcheted up countless notches by its first-rate behind-the-scenes talent-- most notably the score composed by Nathaniel Mechaly which has you tapping your feet and nodding your head, elevating your blood pressure along with Neeson's as he storms through the Parisian streets to track down his daughter. Just don't attempt to get in his way... unless your name is Jason Statham.