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Taken by the hoarse whisperer

Published: 
Monday, January 12, 2015
Liam Neeson gives his best raspy tones in Taken 3.

Ever notice how tough-guy heroes in movies always speak in hoarse whispers? 

Marlon Brando first surprised and intrigued on Broadway in the Forties with his quiet, realistic mumble, and as a gangster-hero in The Godfather, he made audiences shiver with that voice like poison cobwebs. Clint Eastwood became famous for his squint and scowl, as well as his growl, which he perfected in Gran Torino in a curmudgeon role that crackled like a dry season bush fire.

Taking things down a peg or two is throaty Jason Statham, whose emotional range accelerates from frown to scary frown, and Bruce Willis, who in his Die Hard career delivered his lines in something between a hangover drawl and a weary croon.

Remember Christian Bale as Batman rasping to Katie Holmes, “It’s not who I am underneath. It’s what I do that defines me’’? Would that have become the most memorable line in the movie if he had sucked on some lozenges before that scene? 

Now Liam Neeson has cemented his position as Professional Bad Man in the Taken trilogy, which requires an intense whisper to deliver such chilly lines as, “I will come for you. I will find you and I will kill you.’’ 

Taken 3, which opened last Wednesday, resembles The Fugitive minus the one-armed man. Neeson, as Bryan Mills, is the new nimble Kimble wrongly accused of murdering the woman he loves. Neeson has to keep one shoot-out ahead of the police (Forest Whittaker is a cleverer, more sophisticated and compulsive-obsessive Inspector Gerard) while hunting the real killer, who is so obvious a creep that he is overlooked in the beginning. The motive for the frame-up is the famous standard of money and jealousy, with a mild suggestion of sex, because the three have to go together. 

The story might be old-fashioned but who cares when there are so many car chases and lots of things get blown up. Also, Neeson performs MacGyver-type escapes where he uses a paperclip and matchstick or something impossible like that to stay alive.

In the no-surprises category: the bad guys have Russian accents and tattoos; the police are over-confident bumblers; and Neeson has to wrestle with his conscience when he finally has the killer in his clutches.

Best line: when Neeson outwits a policeman and takes his car from him at gunpoint, the poor sheep bleats, “This is going to end badly for you.’’ Neeson, drily: “Don’t be such a pessimist.’’

Stupidest bit that doesn’t fit: Neeson stumbles over a bloody knife on the floor of his apartment, and since he is a scary highly-skilled covert operative, he picks it up so he can be caught red-handed with the murder weapon.

Beauty and the beast factor: Famke Janssen as the slain ex-wife is as beautiful as ever. Maggie Grace (Neeson’s daughter Kim Mills) never combs her hair and none of the men bother to shave. 

Spoiler alert: The bagels hold the clue to solving the crime. The ending is almost cloying. But it includes enough family issues and the vague threat of revenge and payback to hint at another instalment in the franchise, despite the billing of “It ends here.’’ 

Taken 4? Unless someone changes the whispering-tough-guy-rescues-family formula, I may have to sit that one out.

Whisper to me at [email protected] 

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