Directed by Pierre Morel
Written by Luc Besson & Robert Mark Kamen
Full credits from IMDb
Taken is a knuckleheaded action movie about kidnapping and sex slavery. Or, Taken is a subversive thriller about girls gone wild and American hegemony. Or, both. Channeling Ra's Al Ghul more than Oskar Schindler, Liam Neeson plays a retired kung fu spook who infantilizes his 17-year-old daughter: he dozes off watching home movies of her fifth birthday party; he orders her milkshakes with—wait for it—extra cherries. (!!!) So he’s reluctant to let her leave the country because he knows first hand how dangerous the world is for young women. In an early scene, moonlighting as a security guard, he saves the life of a Shakira-esque singer, disarming (with his bare hands) a backstage assassin wielding a phallic knife.
Who’s next? Tout de France! His daughter (Maggie Grace, slightly less insufferable here than on Lost) wants to stay in Paris for the summer, but he’s uneasy about allowing her to leave the manufactured safety of America. For good reason, too—sex traffickers move in on her the minute, literally, she steps foot out of Charles de Gaulle. That is, the moment she leaves home, she starts doing drugs and doing dudes. From his perspective, she’s your typical American coed—but not if he can help it. The abduction scene is suspenseful, the work of a true movie craftsman; if nothing else, Taken is expertly paced, smartly sticking exclusively to the fists-and-fury Neeson once the story properly begins. But as a result, it feels absurdly plotted. (Really, she can’t get further than the taxi stand?) It turns out, though, that that preposterousness is not a weakness we must forgive or overlook; instead, it serves as a clue: what you’re seeing on-screen is meant as a joke. Taken has a subtle satirical underside.
Neeson, in full-on glower mode for most of the film, is a parody, how the mostly French filmmakers imagine that Americans see themselves. If he has to, to save his spawn, he “will tear down the Eiffel Tower.” He nearly does, leaving a trail of dead bodies, traffic jams and property damage in his wake as he rips through makeshift hovels filled with doped-up sex slaves, engaging in gun fights and car chases. (He still finds time to pause and criticize arrogant Albanian immigrants for taking advantage of a tolerant French system.) Arrests are for pussies, i.e. Euros—everybody dies, and there’s no pity for the dead. A young white woman’s virginity is at stake! In fairness, it’s almost impossible to fault Neeson: the men he kills are (indirectly) raping his fucking daughter. Should he write a strongly worded letter to the consulate?
But that’s a part of the gag: his unassailable rectitude feels like an exaggerated view of our Bush-era selves, viewed through a glass Frenchly. Americans, of course, only fight just battles overseas, fully cloaked in the black-and-white righteousness of the red-white-and-blue flag. At one point, Neeson shoots an innocent woman just to make a point, and it’s here that he gets harder to like. He becomes out of control, a symbol of unchecked American power run rampant “over there”. The filmmakers go farther still: Once he unravels the sex trade conspiracy, he discovers not only the complicity of one of our allies’ governments (though not a member of the coalition of the willing, of course), he finds an American at the center of the ring, judging from the man’s accent, who lectures Neeson on the supremacy of money and business. This is a ballsy detail for multiplex fare: the Americans’ true enemy is not only capitalism—it’s themselves. Grade: B+
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