When one thinks "action", there are a few names that immediately spring to mind, and Liam Neeson definitely isn't one of them. The soft-spoken, fifty-something Irish actor known for meaty, "respectable" roles like Oskar Schindler and Alfred Kinsey, has certainly been in his share of action-oriented (doesn't anybody remember Next of Kin), but usually in the capacity of a wizened teacher or diabolical villain (or, in the case of Batman Begins, both), leaving the fisticuffs to his students or minions. Apparently, French writer/producer/action-whizz, Luc Besson, saw something in Neeson no one else did when casting him in the international box-office phenom, Taken, resulting in nothing less than a slam-bang action masterpiece.
Neeson stars as Bryan Mills, an ex-Black-ops agent currently eking out an existence in suburbia so he can be close to his semi-estranged teenage daughter, Kim (the ridiculously attractive Maggie Grace). When Kim and Bryan's ex-wife, Lenore (the even-more-ridiculously attractive Famke Jannssen), pressure him to sign a permission slip so that Kim and her friend can go on an unaccompanied trip to Paris, Bryan reluctantly caves in, despite his gut-feeling that it's a bad idea. Almost as soon as Kim arrives in France, she and her friend are abducted, and, in one of the coolest exchanges of dialogue I've ever seen in an action flick, Bryan let's Kim's kidnappers know that they have fucked with the wrong little girl.
Taken is a brutal and exhilarating action spectacle that's equal parts Bourne, Bond, and Bronson. Neeson lends the film a sense of gravitas rarely seen in the genre, significantly classing up what would otherwise be fairly typical action fare. When we first meet Bryan Mills, he is a man apart, bored and obviously uncomfortable adapting to his new, uneventful life away from "the job", but soldiering on for all the right reasons. He loves his daughter, and wants to make up for the sixteen years of her life that he's missed out on. To do this, he must put his dark past behind him. In this life, he seems helpless, hopeless, and positively lost, but as soon as Kim is taken it's as if a switch goes off in Bryan's head; he is in his element. He knows this shit. He's good at this shit. And it's these skills, learned from the very job that's kept him away from his daughter for all of these years, that he will need to employ to save her.
Taken comes to Blu-ray sporting a crisp, vivid image that just looks "big". It's got that larger-than-life cinematic look to it that is the hallmark of a great BD transfer, with wonderful depth and clarity, and a stunning level of detail. It's also the rare modern action film to actually use a comparably normal color palette (rather than the desaturated/rough look of the Bourne films) and the colors on display are quite vibrant and appealing.
The DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack is simply outstanding, launching a full-on sonic assault at the viewer. Explosions rattle the windows, gunshots are percussive and jarring, and the multitude of fists connecting with flesh resound in rich and meaty thumps that fill the room. Dialogue is upfront and perfectly mixed, while expertly integrated and richly atmospheric surround effects fill the sound field.
The two-disc Blu-ray features both the theatrical and unrated editions of the film, as well as a small sampling of supplementary material. We get a pair of commentary tracks that accompany the unrated version, a short making-of called, appropriately enough, Le Making Of (SD), and two HD features; Avant Premiere, which offers up some interviews and reactions from the film's premiere, and Inside Action: Side by Side, which offers comparisons between scenes as filmed and the finished results.
Black-Ops Manual is a Blu-ray exclusive feature that boasts PiP data about "the mission", including maps, dossiers about contacts, and a nifty body count feature. Rounding out the extras are HD trailers and the ubiquitous Digital Copy of the film (on disc two) for playback on portable media devices.
One of the biggest surprises of 2009 (despite being released back in early 2008 virtually everywhere else), Taken is a richly satisfying shoot-em-up, filled with expertly orchestrated fight sequences, intense action, and a startling amount of depth and humanity not often seen in this type of film. Fox's Blu-ray presentation nearly kicks as much ass as Neeson does in the film, making this reference quality disc one worth adding to your collection.