I didn’t see Taken in the theater. When it came out I was still generally unsold on the notion of Liam Neeson as an action hero, and mildly irritated that he kept landing roles as everything from a Jedi to a Batman super-villain ninja.
The scales tipped when I watched a disk of Taken from Netflix. It was actually one of the better action movies in recent memory, and though I readily admit that violent action movies do not necessarily make great art, Taken would be right up there with Die Hard if they did. And suddenly I understood: Liam Neeson is not some updated version of Lee Majors or Gil Gerard. He’s a bona fide action movie bad ass.
In Taken, Neeson transforms from a dopey, doting father into an unstoppable vehicle of wrath, efficiently breaking bad guys into pieces with breathtaking cruelty. And the whole time you’re cackling, “Yes, that’s exactly what I’d do to that fucker, too, if he kidnapped my daughter and sold her into slavery!” So, yeah. It was a decent action movie and I sent it back.
When Taken finally hit the rock-bottom price at a local supercenter which shall remained unnamed, I got a little excited to see it again, but my big surprise came when I watched the uncut version. Of course the uncut version was more violent, and I expected that. What I didn’t expect was that the extra violence could actually make it better by an order of magnitude, that it could add a layer of humanity to Neeson’s character, or that it could actually help the movie make better sense.
The uncut version accomplishes all of these things. Fight scenes that seemed previously choppy and disjointed reveal themselves as seamless sequences of viciousness. We discover that Neeson’s character can’t magically kill every bad guy with one shot: he’s firing a whole clip as fast as he can pull the trigger. Instead of wondering, “How did that knife end up in that guy’s stomach?” we learn it’s because Neeson put it there and kicked it ten times. And Neeson’s graphic rage, strangely, helps to humanize him. His wince-inspiring violence in this film has even earned him verb status in Urban Dictionary, meaning “to karate chop in the throat,” or alternately “to take someone’s gun away and beat him unconscious with it.”
Action movies don’t make for good art, or socially responsible art by any means, and there are a thousand reasons why I should be ashamed for enjoying Taken. But I did.