An epic miniseries event on the Scifi Channel, directed by Stephen Spielberg.

"Taken" weaves together the story of three families through 50 years of close encounters set against the backdrop of American history.

Premiering December 2nd, 2002, this 10 episode miniseries played every weekday for 2 weeks, totaling 20 hours. The commercial time was littered mostly with ads for brand new scifi shows and originals that will making their debut in early 2003, such as Tremors: The Series, Roswell, and Children of Dune.

Director: Pierre Morel
Writer(s): Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen
Runtime: 91 minutes in the US of A due to edited content. However, I believe I saw the “unratedDVD version, which is what I suspect every other country saw.


So, I’m at this party and there are three rooms. One is the “eating, drinking, smoking” room, one is the “We Replaced drinking and smoking with video games (chiefly Rock Band)” room, and one is the “Let’s watch a shitty action movie” room.

I had not been partaking in libations because on the night previous I indulged in a bought of Drinking Responsibly. And by that, I mean walking over to a nearby bar, hurting myself with alcohol, and then walking home. Booze wasn’t looking so good nineteen hours later even if the food was excellent and the company generally good.

Rock Band bores me to a massive extent and the food room was not far enough away to keep me from hearing what I was hearing and so my friend and I decided we would watch the shitty action movie. The movie in question, “Taken”, is a Liam Neeson vehicle starring Liam Neeson as scary as fuck retired superspy Bryan Mills. My friend, who had already seen the film, described it as “jingoistic torture porn” and he’s not wrong. The film works as a stupid action flick on one level, but it is disturbing on a moral level that makes it thoroughly disgusting to watch, and I’m not just talking about all the immigrants Neeson’s character blows away, but that’s part of it.

Okay. Plot. Brian Mills is a retired… something or other… the only thing we know of is that he used to work for the government possibly killing people brutally. At one point his daughter asks him if he was a spy, and he doesn’t disagree. However, if he were a spy he was of the James Bond variety rather than the Julia Child type. Subtlety isn’t a high priority on Mr. Mills list and one wonders how the villains didn’t see him coming and call their employees up and say something like, “We’ve got a human tornado coming at us, get ye to thy storm cellars,” or something. And so, Mills retired to be with his daughter more, only his super bitch ex-wife won’t let him near their daughter without being all super-bitchy on him and he spends most of his time being paranoid about his daughter and moping about while his friends talk about the good old days and wonder why he isn’t back in the Game, whatever crazy spy/murder gig that used to be.

At the beginning of the movie, Mr. Mills daughter, Kim (played by the so-not-sixteen yearold Maggie Grace, who I guarantee you will not remember on account of neither being a good enough actress nor being hot enough to keep getting roles), is having a birthday party and Mr. Mills, because he loves his daughter, has bought her the karaoke machine she’s always wanted (because she wants to be a singer). He’s wrapped it very, very carefully and is all set to deliver it in person. He goes to the party where he is intercepted by his ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) and told to put the present on the present table and leave, fortunately his daughter sees him and gets the gift personally and then rather than appreciating it, gets distracted as her stepfather has bought her a pony (how it was snuck in without anybody noticing just in time to ruin Mr. Mills’s little moment with his daughter, I haven’t a clue). Mr. Mills goes away disappointed and we as an audience are…

… Well, I’m going to have to take a diversion here to rant a little bit (as if I weren’t already). I have a really hard time sympathizing with the Kim character. Something about rich and spoiled white children piss me off. The house she lives in is huge, she gets everything she wants from her parents, is stuck-up, and is all around a generally bad person. I’d like to imagine that the characters in this film become the ones in Gran Torino with Neeson’s character becoming Eastwood’s and Kim becoming Eastwood’s spoiled and profoundly materialistic and stupid family. I like imagining this because Gran Torino was a much better movie.

Moving on. Kim wants to go to Europe with her friend Amanda to follow the band U2 around on tour (If we look at the film as a morality tale, which we will later, one could say the whole reason she is kidnapped is because she likes U2 and that makes the movie so much better). To do this she has to get both of her parents to sign some sort of document so she can leave the country (that’s not the case in real life so far as I know, but never mind), so she tells her dad a lie about only staying in Paris at her friend’s cousins house, while in reality, this is only her first stop. Mills reluctantly signs the paper and Kim goes off with her friend but only after her father gives her a cellphone and tells her to call every night.

Now for the good stuff, or the much abbreviated stuff that makes up the rest of the film. They arrive in Paris, meet a nice Parisian named something like Peter, and have him take them to their address. The cousins are actually gone for the summer, it is established in some of the most ham-handed and cliché dialogue I have ever heard that Amanda is not a virgin and Kim is, and then while Kim is on the phone to her father, kidnappers break into the apartment courtesy of Peter and kidnap Kim (while she is still on the phone) and Amanda.

The rest of the movie is Liam Neeson being a large and very scary man.

Now, let’s look at the movie as a morality tale. Kim is kidnapped by slave traders who get girls hooked on heroin and pimp them out. Kim’s friend Amanda dies of an overdose while Kim is sold to an exclusive auction because she is a virgin. It’s hard for me not to conclude that the friend only died because she was not a virgin.

Mr. Mills will do anything to get back his daughter, and while on the surface we’re all saying how nice it is that he loves his daughter and would do anything for her, let’s review what he does do for her.

  1. Kills a lot of people, mostly Eastern European immigrants and later Middle Eastern folk.
  2. Tricks an old friend’s wife to let him into her house and then shoots her in the arm to get his friend to talk while the couple’s two children are asleep upstairs.
  3. Tortures a man to death with electricity.
  4. Breaks into an underground brothel and kills people, drags one girl out, but leaves the others without freeing any of them. He gets information from the girl and then the script forgets she’s basically stuck at a hotel all alone and drug addicted and we never see her again.
  5. Makes a mockery of French law.
  6. Assassinates a foreign dignitary. I am not kidding, either.

Okay, so maybe letting your daughter become a smack whore isn’t what you want to do, but movies like this are basically thinly veiled excuses to show as much violence as possible and make it okay for the audience to watch without feeling guilty by making the villains completely unlikable. This movie, however, doesn’t bother making the main character likable and so the charade runs a little thin as in number two above. The wife is simply there and thinks he is an old friend of her husband. Her husband has information Mills wants, so… he shoots her. The problem here is that she is both white and not a villain, and the way these movies work it’s imperative that anyone who is hurt by the hero must both be evil and not-white. Basically they must be foreigners who don’t belong in a country and are doing evil and abusing the system (Mr. Mills even has a speech about abuse of the system, never mind that he runs around in a foreign country doing whatever the hell he wants). The sad thing is that if there were anything redeemable about the message the movie is putting out (probably unbeknownst by the writers) this all would be excusable, but it isn’t and this movie is trash.

Also, the writing is crap. The dialogue is laughable and only works well when Mr. Mills is making people scream.

The only good thing in this film is Neeson’s acting, he plays scary very well. And there are no lens flares, so at least it isn’t painful to watch, unlike Star Trek.

Two out of Ten stars. Revenge tragedy without the tragedy. Fuck this pile of shit.

I swear if Taken 2 isn't about Mills being in a prison for all the crap be pulled in this film, I'm going to blow a fucking gasket.

I swear if Taken 3 isn't about Mills's grand-kids being kidnapped while still in the womb by internet trolls, I'm going to blow a fucking gasket.

While I largely agree with Bookreader's critique of Taken (above), I was particularly bothered by how absolutely disposable all the girls in the movie are. Nobody in France gives two shits about the hero's daughter aside from the hero ... and he doesn't give two shits about any girls other than his own unless he's trying to get information out of them. The movie implies that he just left dozens of girls chained up and suffering because they weren't of interest. There's never any suggestion that the girls could work with each other to escape their terrible fates. They're portrayed as stupid, careless, helpless, and while it's not exactly implied that they deserved to be turned into rape toys ... there's a terrible implied inevitability about the whole thing, that this is just what will happen to girls who wander by mistake. And nobody will care, and nobody will do anything about it unless their father is a crazy-dangerous special operative.

It's not just a distasteful theme but an actual continuity problem. The girls who are taken to the Evil Sheik's yacht along with the hero's daughter just ... disappear? We see them going into the room, but they aren't there when the hero heroically busts in to get his girl. The Evil Foreigners are treated as disposable, too, but at least they have some agency before they die horribly at the hands of the hero. The girls are just set dressing.

I saw the second movie in the franchise before I saw this one, and I liked it pretty well: the daughter and the mom both seemed like well-rounded, sympathetic characters, and an important theme of the movie was that hey, those bad guys the hero killed had families who cared about them. 

I like the second movie less now that I've seen the first movie. If the second movie was really going to dig into consequences, I'd have liked to have seen the daughter wrestling with survivor's guilt (and, possibly, drug addiction). Her friend died! That's never addressed in the first movie or the second. This should be a big thing to her, but she's just plucky and resourceful and totally not traumatized by events that should have seriously haunted her.

Tak"en (?),

p. p. of Take.


© Webster 1913.

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