Liam Neeson: 'Taken'
If you're going to run off to Paris and get kidnapped, you had better hope that your dad is a former secret agent with mad fighting skills and international connections. Otherwise you're in real trouble.
Thankfully for Kim (Maggie Grace), her dad just so happens to be a retired spy in the new action thriller, Taken. Kim, who literally gets a pony for her birthday (lest you miss the fact that she's spoiled), is vacationing in Europe for the summer when she and her equally perky and snotty friend are snatched just hours after getting off the plane. Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) overhears the abduction and, in his wonderfully melodic voice, vows to hunt down the kidnappers and kill them. Even though the movie takes a full third of its time setting up the premise -- with a long tangent allowing Mills to save a Britney Spears-type singer from a stalker - once Kim is taken the film picks up in speed and quality.
In large part, this has to do with the fact that Grace disappears from screen for a while. In Grace's attempts to act like a 17-year old, she runs from place to place much like an 8-year old would - arms flailing and legs akimbo. She manages to nail the whiney part of her character, but fails to make Kim likeable at all. Ditto for mom Lenore (Famke Janssen), who repeatedly lies to her ex-husband and enables Kim's self-entitled behavior.
The only thing that Taken has going for it is screenwriters Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen's great character of pop Bryan -- and Neeson's cool attitude in the role. It should come as no surprise that Besson and Kamen also penned all The Transporter films, because the premise is essentially the same. Quiet, low-key man comes out fighting when the going gets tough. One advantage to Neeson's Mills is that he will stop at nothing to get his daughter back - and it leads to some great ''oh no he didn't'' moments.
There are a couple lines of dialogue for Neeson that are more laughable than intimidating, but overall the esteemed actor pulls off the whole stealth super-spy bit remarkably well. First of all, he nails the intimidating voice scene when talking with his daughter's kidnappers. He's calm, he's cool, and he really means it when he says he's out for blood. Second, he never does a trick or a move that seems too far-fetched. Of course there is a level of disbelief that must be suspended for any action film, but he's pretty kick-ass throughout.
Director Pierre Morel also ensures that all the fight scenes are fast enough to grab your attention, but not so fast that you lose sense of what's happening. For all the pacing problems that plague the beginning of the film, Morel finds his groove by the end.
Ultimately, Taken has little going for it to be memorable. If Mills were to go up against The Transporter's Frank Martin... well, now that would be a match-up worthy of a ringside seat.
How does a British journalist with a reputation for puff-piece reporting out-trick Tricky Dick? That's the story director Ron Howard brilliantly tells in Frost/Nixon, based on Peter Morgan's play and adapted screenplay.
According to Frost/Nixon, Richard Nixon (Frank Langella) decided to break his silence after leaving the White House by talking with British personality David Frost (Michael Sheen) because it was an easy way to get a lot of cash. He figured he'd be able to control Frost and tell the story he wanted told. Oh, that Nixon hubris. He never imagined that Frost would be able to get under his skin, break through the lies, and elicit a tacit admission of guilt for Watergate. While it's a journalistic feat that pales in comparison to the original Watergate reporting that exposed Nixon in the first place, it's still an amazing look at the press' role in holding Nixon accountable for his actions.
Frost/Nixon is ultimately a battle of wills - a protracted dialogue between two men locked in a cat-and-mouse game with the highest of stakes. Even though the outcome is known from the beginning, the performances are so riveting, and Howard's direction and pacing so well balanced, that each moment is captivating. Langella and Sheen reprise their roles from the stage, and it's clear why Howard didn't mess with a good thing. Langella in particular is stellar, bringing spectacular depth and conflicted soul to his performance, which is both arrogant and vulnerable. His portrayal of an intoxicated Nixon ranting to Frost on the phone late one night is reason enough for his Oscar nod. While Sheen is fantastic as Frost, it truly is all about Nixon.
Near the end of film, those involved with the interviews marvel at what the television cameras were able to capture. Decades later it's clear that Howard knows exactly what film can capture, because he's created a brilliant cinematic achievement.