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Taken

dir: Pierre Morel
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Taken is a glorious throwback to the 70s and 80s where revenge wasn’t a dirty word. Sure, revenge flicks are a dime a dozen, and one is released every week (to the cinemas, with about five per week going straight to DVD), and they travel very well overseas. I guess it’s because everyone can relate to revenge.

That being said, revenge is a fundamental cinematic genre in and of itself, but that doesn’t mean that most of these flicks are good. They’re not. They’re easy to fuck up.

I guess it’s the fact that they should be so easy that lulls people into a false sense of security, or a real sense of insecurity. They don’t take the time to craft them well, or to make the main protagonist worth following in their journey to blissful, blood-spattered Old Testament style vengeance.

Taken probably isn’t at all believable, plausible or remotely likely. Neither are the Bond films or the Bourne films or the Sisterhood of the Travelling Underpants films, masterpieces though they are. None of it matters, because Liam Neeson does so well in a role few men do credibly.

Neeson plays a character called Brian Mills. Now that would be irrelevant to most people, but the name Brian Mills is enough to scare the shit out of me, being the name of one of the first bosses I ever had in my adult working life who, due to my horrible work attitude and lax attendance made my life a living hell (and rightly so). He also hated my guts independent of my on-the-job incompetence, so let’s just say having Neeson play a guy called Brian Mills killing people at will who piss him off will replace the screaming demons in my nightmares.

The premise is extremely simple: Mills is a veteran ex-CIA field operative, now retired. His wife left him and hates him, and all he cares about is his daughter. His daughter flies to Paris, mostly against his will, and is kidnapped by Albanians who sell her as some kind of sex slave to the highest bidder.

During her kidnapping, he gets the chance to collect some intel, and to also have a brief conversation with one of her captors. He patiently and calmly tells the guy that if he lets his daughter go, he’ll live, but if he doesn’t, Mills is going to use his unique skill set to hunt him down and kill him.

We are utterly convinced of it. But the other guy further infuriates an already irate father by muttering “Good Luck”, in English no less.

Of course you expect the protagonist in one of these flicks to say these kinds of things to these kinds of villains, and to hunt them down in an implausible manner, knocking them off one by one like someone ticking off items on a to do list. Is it really any different in this instance?

I don’t know if it is or not, but at the very least it was a far more enjoyable rendering of it this time around. Maybe it’s just that Neeson is just so good at it, utterly convincing at it despite the major suspension of disbelief we’re asked to accept or skate over in his pursuit of his daughter.

What’s at least a bit refreshing about it is that there’s no pretention that Mills is the hero in the moral sense, in that anything or everything he does is morally justified by his desire to rescue his daughter from horrible torment. He tortures, maims, murders a whole bunch of people in a morally murky (probably more accurately amoral) France (where no-one speaks French) because he loves his daughter very much. He shoots people in the back of the neck, he stabs electrodes into a guy’s legs and sends electricity into his legs to get the next piece of the puzzle, the next bread crumb on the trail, he shoots an innocent woman in the arm to convince her husband to help him, and walks past dozens of women who’ve already enjoyed his daughter’s prospective fate without thinking of helping them. His single-minded desire to rescue Amy justifies only to him every means he uses to achieve the end he wants.

There’s nothing noble about any of this. Sure, his enemies are loathsome vile fucking beasts, but where we are, as opposed to vigilante stuff or the usual plot where the ex-army / police / fireman’s family is killed and he vows revenge, is a unique world carved out by and for the delectation of the CIA.

The CIA in fiction at least (let’s not get into their many well-known fuck-ups) renders the whole world, when viewed through that lens, as murky as anything can be rendered. Mills is neither a nice guy nor a good father. In a way, considering how clumsily the set-up is put in play, it’s almost as if Mills wanted her to get kidnapped so that he could show up his ex-wife and her new wealthy husband, and ‘prove’ the depths of his love for her by killing a whole bunch of people in his path. The introductory scenes show him clumsily grasping towards some semblance of a relationship with her, and fumbling over getting her a karaoke machine as a seventeenth birthday present, where the new step-father of course buys her a thoroughbred horsey just to show Mills what a loser he is.

In the ‘real’ world he’s a neglectful parent who was away from home for most of his daughter’s life due to his work commitments training death squads and mujahadeen, deposing democratically-elected governments and Chilean presidents who just happened to commit suicide with AK-47s. Now that he has no role to play in the regular humdrum day-to-day world, he needs to have her caught up in a strangely lurid white slavery racket in order to be able to function the only way he knows how: by torturing and killing people.

Like every ex-employee of Langley, he seems to have unrestricted access to all their data and resources, so within hours he knows who the Albanians were who kidnapped his daughter, where they hang out, what village they were from, whether they dress to the left or right and whether they have corn flakes or cocoa pops for breakfast.

His murderous progress through Paris’s under and over world requires little by way of logic, and requires more than a little momentum on his part, and it also requires a slightly different trajectory and goal path than the usual revenge flick. Becoming more like the John Boorman – Lee Marvin classic Point Blank (without the cool swagger, or the seemingly irrational adherence to the path of most resistance), the penny ante Albanian thugs are only the lowest level of a hierarchy, and Mills must murder his way to the top of Parisian and international society in order to save his girl, who, let’s face it, was asking for it anyway.

Of course I should find stuff like this morally repugnant, seeing as it is geared towards making middle-class middle-aged people (predominately men) feel like they too would go all Bourne Supremacy on some bad guys if their families were threatened, and it makes them feel righteous and justified when the bad guys get their comeuppance. It wouldn’t be comeuppance or ‘justice’ if they don’t feel that frisson of righteousness, of wanting to pump their fists in the air and scream USA! USA! USA!

As a dad, I do understand the manipulation going on even as I’m feeling the feelings they’re trying to contrive in me. That still doesn’t prevent me from wanting the father, sociopathic monster though he may be, to save his little girl from the horrors awaiting her as the chattel of a member of the House of Saud. Even better, he’d be stopping her from becoming the character in the kinds of books and mini-series that were briefly popular in the 80s regarding good white girls being sold into slavery a la the Shirley Conrad novel / mini-series Lace and its offshoots. Remember? The goldfish up the jacksy bit and all that?

No matter. Look, I fully acknowledge these kinds of flicks are a kind of pornography, but when they’re competently done, they can be just as enjoyable as any of the Bourne movies, just with less shaky cam (though there’s plenty of rapid-fire editing). And I enjoyed the heck out of this hackneyed tale, and I thought Neeson did a wonderful job showing the audience what a truly determined character with the CIA’s special tradecraft skills could really be like if someone was dumb enough to piss him off.

Just make sure you never fuck with his daughter.

7 times killing a room full of guys just because one of them says Good Luck a special way seems a bit excessive out of 10

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“I believe you… but that won’t save you.” – Taken.

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