Fifteen years have passed since Hollywood suddenly rebranded Liam Neeson as a bonafide action star in Pierre Morel’s revenge thriller Taken. At the time, Neeson was known as a prestigious actor who occasionally ventured into genre territory (such a Darkman, Star Wars, and Batman Begins) but had never carried his own franchise. Not only did Taken prove Neeson could lay down the pain as good as the next man, but it also repurposed him as a billable star, paving the way for a slew of action films and big-budget features over the next decade.
While the aura surrounding Neeson has cooled in recent years — his last big hit was 2018’s The Commuter — Taken breathed new life into the Academy Award-nominated actor’s storied career and allowed him to linger far longer than most in the public gaze.
As such, it’s only fitting to celebrate Taken’s 15th Anniversary by highlighting our favorite moments from the flick. So, grab your service weapon, mix yourself a cocktail, and enjoy this speed run through one of the most surprising action films of the last two decades.
For all its casting originality, Taken is fairly rudimentary in its plotting. The film presents Neeson’s Bryan Mills as a well-to-do divorcee who dotes over his daughter, fights with his ex-wife, and spends his evening with his old assassin buddies. These early scenes give us a peek inside Mills’ brain. We learn that he’s stubborn, a tad arrogant, remorseful, and one helluva cook. Again, none of this is revolutionary storytelling, and thankfully, Neeson’s commanding presence gives the paint-by-number plot beats much-needed weight, which makes the ensuing action all the more satisfying. Also, Famke Janssen’s Lennie — excuse me, Lenore — is the worst.
Now, one could argue it makes little sense for a team of badass soldiers to banter like a group of drunken high schoolmates — you’d expect a more rigid veneer from these fellas — but these early scenes make Mills a likable enough average Joe, even if the subsequent two acts present him as anything but.
Following the barbecue, Mills takes a gig protecting a Britney Spears-like starlet during a concert. Luckily, his daughter enjoys this particular pop star, moving the needle in a positive direction for Mills — and likely pissing off Lenore to no end. This sequence also lets us see the big guy in action for the first time. After a rowdy crowd breaks through a barrier, Mills escorts the singer out of harm’s way and ends up confronting a knife-wielding super fan, who he dispatches rather quickly. Taken hails from the old shaky-cam, quick-cutting school of action. That’s not a knock, but compared to recent action pictures — notably Mission: Impossible and John Wick, films that deploy longer takes and allow their stars to perform a majority of their own stunts — it’s funny to go back to a time when every film mimicked The Bourne Ultimatum.
Intriguingly, Mills’ quick thinking earns him the singer’s respect, and she agrees to help Kim (Maggie Grace) with her budding singing career. Naturally, Kim doesn’t give a s— and only wants her dad to sign a permission slip so she can go to Paris, France, with her friend. He objects because, well, he’s an overprotective dad who has seen enough evil in the world to think going to France alone ranks highly on the no f—ing way chart. Again, to Neeson’s credit, audiences are still invested at this point, particularly when Kim flees the table like one of the Tanner girls from Full House.
Eventually, he relents. “Wouldn’t it have been easier if you just signed the papers,” Lenore asks. “Wouldn’t it have been easier if you and I talked first,” he fires back. Burn.
Naturally, Kim gets in trouble on Day 1 when she and her friend bump into a seemingly kind-hearted Frenchman. Mind you, we’re only 20 minutes into this film, and that’s perfectly fine. For all its flaws, Taken knows exactly what kind of a movie it is and never tries to overstep its boundaries. The team behind the camera knows what audiences want to see and gets us to the good stuff as quickly as possible. At a swift 90 minutes, Taken is roughly 10 minutes longer than the original Toy Story. I’m good with that.
Anyways, bad guys show up and capture Kim’s friend, leading to this now-iconic scene:
Taken’s marketing was designed around this monologue — so much so that I could almost recite Mills’ speech verbatim when I saw the film on opening weekend. This is superstar stuff here, folks. Neeson’s delivery sells the moment. You believe every word he’s saying and almost feel bad for the people on the other end of the phone. Here is a case of a prestigious actor elevating material to such a degree as to transform it into something akin to art. It’s beautiful to watch, probably the single best moment of the entire film, and amongst the most memorable action beats of the last 15 years.
(To Mills’ credit, he never once tells Lenore, “I told you so.” I wouldn’t be nearly as kind.)
Mills Scopes Out the Apartment
Like Batman, Mills has a particular set of skills that allows him to piece together crime scenes. I love movies where the hero wanders through rooms collecting clues. Here, Mills stumbles upon fabric stuck in a mirror and pulls an image of the mysterious Frenchman off a discarded flash drive — he sees the kid’s reflection in a sign. Somehow, he tracks the boy down, leading to this insane freeway chase that, uh, ends rather unfortunately for the lad.
Still, the 6’4″ Neeson handles the action well, making for a believable, if unconventional, action hero.
As it turns out, Kim and her pal are quickly thrust into the world of sex trafficking. Neeson bugs a pimp, bribes a few other people, and stumbles upon a construction site loaded with drugged-out women and eager-to-pay men. He kicks more ass, shows off his knack with weapons, and then proceeds to kill a group of baddies with an old beat-up vehicle. Like Sound of Freedom, the dark subject makes investing in Mills’ actions easy. Who doesn’t want to watch a bunch of seedy sex traffickers get the living s— kicked out of them? Is it forced manipulation? Sure, but Taken wouldn’t be nearly as compelling if our hero were going after, say, a couple of average kidnappers looking for money.
Following a lengthy investigation, Mills discovers more goons inside an apartment complex. He lays down a BS story, listening closely to their voices. Remember, he has a recording of the kidnapper’s voice. Ever so slyly, he asks a man named Marko (Arben Bajraktaraj) to translate a message. “Good luck,” he says with a smirk. A flurry of flashbacks connects the dots—this is the dude who took Kim.
“I told you I would find you,” Mills says before annihilating everyone in the room—the kind of moment you would’ve seen in an old Steven Seagal flick. And just to be sure you continue rooting for Mills, even during a violent torture sequence, the film has him stumble upon Kim’s friend lying in a bed, dead from a drug overdose. Get ’em Mills!
Mills’ investigation leads him to his buddy, Jean-Claude Petrel (Olivier Rabourdin), who has been taking money from the Albanian Mafia. This leads to an awkward dinner scene where Jean’s wife—who has no idea about her husband’s bad deeds—hilariously tries to hold a steady conversation with her guest. Read the room, lady!
Surprisingly, Jean tries to shoot Mills but is too distracted to notice his gun doesn’t have any bullets. “That’s what happens when you sit behind a desk,” Mills snaps before shooting Jean’s wife in the arm. Are his tactics unorthodox? Sure, but sex traffickers, remember?
In the film’s creepiest scene, Mills intrudes upon an auction where women are bid on by billionaires sitting in dark rooms—shades of Epstein Island. Luckily, Kim is the main prize. Unfortunately, the bad guys get the drop on Mills, tie him up, and prepare to execute him. Not so fast! Mills easily breaks free and proceeds to slaughter everyone in sight.
One of the best aspects of Taken is that Mills is never beaten. He sustains a few mild injuries but remains an enormous step ahead of everyone. He mercilessly executes the rich bastard in charge of the lavash affair and makes his way onto a boat, leading to …
Up until this point, Taken has carefully toed the line between grounded detective thriller and outlandish action feature. You don’t really believe anything that’s happening onscreen, but the various fights and chase sequences were plausible enough to accept to a certain degree.
The big finale says, “F— it,” and lets loose with the wild shenanigans. Mills takes down a boatload of soldiers by leaping through windows, shrugging off gunshots, and diving behind seemingly bulletproof couches. Eventually, he finds Kim being held at gunpoint by a nasty-looking villain and easily dispatches him in mid-sentence.
Taken doesn’t do anything other films have done better, but damn is it a lot of fun. That might be weird to say about a film featuring sex trafficking. Yet, Neeson is so believable as Mills, a near-invulnerable killer whose judo chops are powerful enough to take down grown men, that it’s easy to overlook the predictable story beats and just enjoy the ride. Taken epitomizes the quintessential B-movie experience—a captivating slice of entertainment crafted around the cherished daydream of every father: stepping into the role of their child’s ultimate hero.
Also, Lenore sucks.