The Expatriate: another superdad movie

Liam Neeson started it with Taken in 2008. Macho father with a strained relationship with a beautiful teenaged daughter, daughter is kidnapped and daddy comes to the rescue. The rescue is action-packed and fast-paced with a lot of testosterone pumping.

When its sequel, Taken 2, came out in September last year, it was accompanied by two copycats: Stolen (not a very subtle title for a copycat film) starring Nicolas Cage and The Expatriate with Aaron Eckhart, both released in the same month. I will not bother with Stolen — it was so bad that instead of wanting to write about it immediately after seeing it, I felt like having a stiff drink to forget. The Expatriate is a lot better than Stolen though not as good as Taken. But since Taken is not all that great either, it really doesn’t make The Expatriate very good at all.

Let me explain that. Taken is a movie with a plot that is a mixture of the possible with the impossible. The possible part is based on a documented reality of human trafficking syndicates. The impossible part is the role of ex-CIA agent dad played by Liam Neeson. It’s really a Superman movie sans the costume. But if you want to be entertained and nothing more, well, it is quite a thriller.

The Expatriate is not much different. Ex-CIA dad has been disenfranchised from the spy network and had taken a job in a corporate subsidiary that develops spy technology. One day, he finds the corporation’s offices empty, his co-workers dead and his employment history erased. As he tries to untangle the mystery, his daughter gets kidnapped so he turns into a one-man army to rescue his beautiful daughter from the clutches of a crime lord masquerading as a business tycoon who, as it happens, is working in cahoots with people in the CIA who hates Superman-dad’s guts. The Expatriate has less action but more political undertones.

But what makes Taken a cut above The Expatriate is Liam Neeson. Although Aaron Eckhart isn’t such a bad actor, Liam Neeson as a tormented and desperate father just tugs at your heart. It’s his face — those soulful eyes that you can look into, feel his torment and makes you all choked up. Sadly, Aaron Eckhart did not have that effect. In fact, the fatherness part (sorry, for the non-word but I can’t find a better description) was never fully played out. It just seemed to me that he was saving his skin and the fact that he was also saving his daughter was a coincidence.

For male audiences, the female angle is good. Liana Liberato as the kidnapped daughter is a beautiful young woman who, as a huge bonus, can act. Expressive face, expressive voice but, sadly, a lot of her dialogues seemed out of sync with a real teenaged girl. Worse, she did some surprising things that made me wonder whether the director was attempting to portray her as a natural-born spy having inherited her spy-father’s genes.

And then there’s Olga Kurylenko whom I almost did not recognize. I didn’t understand the hype surrounding her when she appeared as a Bond girl in Quantum of Solace. I didn’t see how she could be considered beautiful and since her acting wasn’t so great either, I considered her to be forgettable. Then, I saw her in Max Payne, I thought she looked even more terrible and she became even more forgettable. But, in The Expatriate, she delivered. In those masculine-looking clothes, she was beautiful. Womanly beautiful. The understated acting was very effective. Very. Her role was short but quite memorable. Apparently, she’s not effective as a tart but, in a role that exudes power in a man’s world, she stands tall. After The Expatriate, she is no longer unforgettable.

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