Taken 2 (12A)
Liberal Arts (12A)
Reviewed by Demetrios Matheou
Not long ago all the talk around Liam Neeson concerned his reunion with Schindler's List director Steven Spielberg to play Abraham Lincoln. The casting seemed perfect. Instead, Daniel Day Lewis is the man we're now seeing in trailers for Spielberg's hotly awaited film. And Neeson stars in Taken 2.
What happened? By all accounts Neeson just got tired of waiting for Lincoln to go into production. But it's tragic when an actor who gave us Rob Roy, Oskar Schindler, Michael Collins, Alfred Kinsey and the fighting priest of Gangs Of New York seems to have settled for action fodder over quality drama. And while in the initial Taken, in 2006, he could have been viewed as a thesp letting his hair down, in something that was at least proficiently made, the sequel is simply laughable.
Neeson again plays Bryan Mills, a former government agent whose remit would put 007's licence to kill in the shade. To this man killing is no more taxing or emotionally engaging than buying a pint of milk.
I can't remember why, in the first film, Mills's daughter was kidnapped and whisked to Paris; all that mattered was a one-track scenario in which he demonstrated his combat skills in freeing her. The tiny amount of characterisation on offer related to his failures as a father. For what it's worth, this is carried forward to the sequel, where his progress in this regard is interrupted when both Mills himself and his ex-wife (Famke Janssen) are kidnapped and taken – for another travelogue opportunity – to Istanbul.
I like the brief role reversal, featuring the daughter (Maggie Grace) absurdly nimble- footed as she runs across rooftops and throws grenades in her bid to rescue dad, which, of course, she does, because he has a great many people he needs to kill. At least the girl's efforts provoked a laugh. The rest is as grim and remorseless as its hero. Neeson is so much better than this.
Liberal Arts is the polar opposite of Taken 2, an intelligent, literate, satisfying film, with preoccupations the audience – not used to rescuing their loved ones from vengeful assassins – may actually recognise.
It is written, directed by and stars Josh Radnor, not a familiar face, though he could become one. He plays Jesse, a 35-year-old who works in the admissions department of a New York college, has recently been dumped by his girlfriend, and is in the grip of a premature mid-life crisis. When he's invited to the retirement dinner of his old college professor (Richard Jenkins), he jumps at the chance to return to the scene of his happiest years. The setting is an American arts college on a beautiful Ohio campus peopled by the bookishly distracted.
But Radnor lays out a range of characters at odds with its peacefulness: Jesse himself, whose present life is undermined by nostalgia; the professor too scared to leave; a young student (Elizabeth Olson) attracted to Jesse and in too much of a rush to grow up; another suicidal student whom Jesse takes under his wing.
Between these, and others, we're led to consider what it is to grow up, grow old, move on, fulfil potential or fail.
All the while, Radnor ensures that we are amused and entertained. It certainly makes one want to down tools and do more reading.