Since it was released I’ve been told by friends that I Really Must Watch Taken, and that I’d Really Like It. They all talk about how they expected it to be rubbish and were surprised by how good it was, that Liam Neeson is excellent, and that generally it’s better than you might think from the trailers and premise.
The reasons why I didn’t like TAKEN can be split into two categories. Spoilers…
Action Movie Reasons
- The action is largely uninspired, from both a choreography and cinematography/editing perspective. It mostly involves Neeson waving his hands around quickly and regularly jumping through windows for no apparent reason.
- There’s a really lame car chase at a quarry in which all the cars look exactly the same.
- It suffers from classic Death Amnesia Syndrome. This is whereby a supporting but apparently important character dies a horrible death, there’s a brief but heartfelt 30 seconds of mourning, and then everybody completely forgets about them. In TAKEN, the character Amanda dies from a drug overdose having been kidnapped and possibly raped. Neeson looks sad. But at the end of the film, having rescued his own daughter, Amanda is not mentioned or mourned whatsoever. Daughter is far more excited about her new singing lessons!
- For an apparently highly trained mofo, all Neeson seems to actually do is beat people up. He does a tiny bit of investigation, most of which is a bit too convenient, but generally all his skills seem to involve waving his hands around and jumping through windows for no apparent reason. There’s no intelligence or planning or cunning. Which makes him (and the film) a bit dull.
- There’s a key moment right at the end in which the film had a chance to be AWESOME. It’s after the daughter is rescued, and the camera is pulling back, framing Neeson and her in a doorway. She says “you came for me…” to which he responds “I said I would.” BAM – END CREDITS! Except that isn’t what happens. Instead it cuts to a tedious airport scene with them arriving back home and being reunited with other family members, then cuts to ANOTHER tedious scene of daughter excitedly arriving at Holly Valance’s (???) house for singing lessons. Awful, awful ending. A sudden cut to black after those two lines would have been an iconic, efficient, memorable and hard hitting ending, cementing the film as a nasty, tight, brilliant exploitation flick. The two superfluous and sentimental scenes on the end cement the film as being arse.
- The film is oppressively xenophobic. I mean that in the dictionary definition of the word: “unreasonably fearful of or hating anyone or anything foreign or strange.” Everything is fine and dandy until Neeson’s daughter leaves the cosy safety of America, to super dangerous Paris (!), where she’s kidnapped by Albanians and sold via a white slave market to evil sheikhs. Every non-American (with the exception of a friendly and understandably bemused Albanian translator) is a murderer, kidnapper, prostitute, rapist, dealer, pimp, pervert or corrupt official. I kid you not. The entire film is a cynical exercise in preying on the audience’s fear and paranoia of the world beyond their front door. The message is clear: stay at home, don’t stray.
- As such, if you’re not the sort of person filled with fear and loathing of the outside world and people who aren’t the same as you, the film falls flat on its face. It has literally nowhere left to go. Intriguingly, the film is produced and co-written by Luc Besson, a Frenchman. I wonder whether he tailored the film specifically to appeal to the insular concerns of some Americans, or whether he designed the film to appeal to scared people of all nationalities? Well, except for Albanians – though they’ll certainly come away from the film rather concerned that the entire world thinks they’re uniformly bastards.
- To be precise, I’m not complaining about Neeson’s character having the above viewpoints. I’ve watched and loved many films with central characters that espouse extremely dubious views on the world. The problem is that the film is entirely in agreement with the character.
- Talking of which, the film also thinks that torture is super cool. Oh, and murder by torture. At one point Neeson is torturing with electricity an Evil Albanian who he knows has kidnapped his daughter. The torture works and he gets the information he needs, so he leaves the guy to be electrocuted to death. An act of revenge for what the kidnapper did to his daughter, sure. The problem is that the film thinks it’s awesome.
- Similarly, Neeson shoots the innocent wife of a corrupt official so as to force information from said official. It works. A glib line -“apologise to your wife for me” – is the only acknowledgement we get that maybe it was a dubious tactic.
- Every woman in the film except for Famke Janssen is shot, raped, murdered or forcibly addicted to drugs.
- Talking of Janssen, she escapes being directly abused but instead plays an entirely powerless, useless housewife character that sits around doing nothing for the entire film. I couldn’t help but think back fondly to the same actress in the X-Men films kicking ass. Hell, even in the unabashedly misogynistic James Bond series she still held her own and carved out an awesome character.
- The film somehow thinks that 6+ months of rich, white girls being kidnapped in Paris wouldn’t have been noticed by anybody. Erm.
- Neeson somehow infiltrates the Evil Albanian hideout as a French inspector, despite speaking with an American accent throughout. What?
Anyway. I could go on, but the film doesn’t really deserve any more of my time.
That was cathartic, thanks.