Taken (2008)

*. This one was a real head-scratcher. It was a huge box office success, turning a $22 million budget into over $220 million while making an action hero out of Liam Neeson overnight. Neeson thought it was going to be a direct-to-video release. Instead it turned into a franchise.
*. But why? It’s not very good. I mean, it’s really, really not very good.
*. The story is, if not as old as the hills, at least as old as Commando. You took my little girl. Now I’m going to hunt you down and kill you. Game on.
*. In addition to being old, it’s also very stupid. I get that Bryan is short on time, but why not just follow Peter around instead of jumping him in broad daylight and trying to beat the shit out of him in the back of a cab? Then chase him to his death? What use was that?
*. The script is pretty much worthless. The bad guys remain almost totally anonymous, and have to be introduced serially because none of them are very interesting. And the dialogue even includes lines like “it was all business, nothing personal.” Come on. In 2008?
*. So it’s just a brainless action flick. But the action isn’t any good either. All of the stunts and fight choreography are done in the editing room. Because if your longest shot is only lasting a couple of seconds, you don’t really have to do much in the way of stunts do you? There’s nothing inherently wrong about this — action films have been doing it for a while now — but at the same time, it’s not that impressive either.
*. Some people were offended by it, finding it racist. I don’t know if I’d go that far, but Bryan does seem a little disinterested in the plight of the other kidnapped girls. Hey, he’s just here for his daughter.
*. There is a larger point, however, that I think is lying behind these critiques. Bryan’s daughter, Kim, is presented in a totally unsympathetic way. In brief, she’s a shallow, spoiled, manipulative brat. I mean, the movie really doesn’t give us any reason at all to like her. She even turns on her bff Amanda when she finds out Amanda has lied to her about there being other people staying in the Paris apartment. As if that even comes close to the whoppers Kim has told to get her dad to sign off on the trip!
*. So why present Kim to us in this way? Why not just make her a normal kid instead of such a trophy daughter whose mother thinks she’s going to see the world as it really is by jetting around Europe staying in “the best hotels” and trying to be a U2 groupie?
*. Because she’s not really a person, she’s an asset. What she represents is capital, which is also the point of her virginity being auctioned off at the end. What Bryan is defending is not honour or humanity (qualities shared by the other poor girls he finds), but something that’s worth even more. Kim is a high-value property, they aren’t. So Bryan isn’t defending America’s outraged innocence, but the status of the American dollar as the world’s default currency. Intact, Kim remains undepreciated (not a typo for underappreciated).
*. So what in all of this made it such a hit?
*. Well, in the first place Neeson really worked. He wasn’t the first choice for the part, but the producers just got lucky. The most particular of his set of skills is maintaining such a disciplined front. I guess the first lesson in action-film school is how to project cool. No problems on that front here. Billy’s going to kick ass without breaking a smile or a sweat, or even cracking a wry one-liner.
*. Second, it was an action film that had an extra little bit of nasty. It’s our hero this time out who is doing the torturing, not the poor guy strapped to the chair. And when he zaps the information he needs out of him, he just leaves him to fry. Nasty. Also nasty is shooting his (former) friend’s innocent wife in the arm. I didn’t see that coming, and it woke me up for a second.
*. And . . . I guess that was enough. All around, this was a totally uninteresting little action flick that just merrily punches all the buttons (or pulls all the triggers) it can. So Bryan’s wife left him to marry a billionaire did she? Well, just look at how the bitch comes crawling back to him in tears when she needs a real man to do the dirty work of getting their daughter back! How crude can you get?
*. Crude, but I guess for a lot of people it was effective. They were ready to be taken, and would be again.

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