Shiny Shelf


Taken DVD

By Stephen Lavington on 05 August 2009

‘Taken’ is perhaps the most insidious, reactionary, vile action film of the last 20 years – possibly even longer. Not since ‘True Lies’ has a movie hurled racial stereotypes at the screen with such calculated and sickening intent. Not since ‘Delta Force’ has American foreign policy been so crudely championed. Not since ‘Dirty Harry’ has vigilante might been so relentlessly portrayed as right. It even trumps ‘24′ in terms of cheerleading for brutal torture as the ultimate means of problem solving.

In a certain light ‘Taken’ is a descendant of ‘Commando’ where Arnie played a retired special ops soldier who picks up his guns one last time in an effort to save his daughter from evil terrorists. Similarly Bryan Wills (Liam Neeson), a former “preventor” of bad things (the film’s rather twee euphemism for a role that seems to have been two parts soldier to one part torturer) is forced to go back into the field when his daughter is kidnapped by Albanian people-smugglers.

The movie goes out of its way to build Neeson as a loving, doting father immensely protective of his cute-as-apple-pie-seventeen year-old daughter – a clever choice of age as eighteen would be a bit too old for Wills’ objections to her planned trip around Europe to seem plausible. As it is Wills concerns are well founded – within hours daughter and friend are kidnapped to be sold off as prostitutes.

It is not enough that the girls be kidnapped for simple ransom or at the behest of one of Wills’ old adversaries. Their fate and the villains’ motivation are painted in the darkest light: in such a situation surely Wills would be justified to take any measures necessary. This is just as well given that the measures he takes include punching a man’s ribs into his lungs, electrocuting a henchman via wired-up nails driven into the bad guy’s legs and shooting a friend’s wife before threatening to make their children orphans. It’s the only language that bestial Albanians, treacherous Frenchmen and greasy Arabs understand. Oh yes, this film is an equal opportunity offender. New Europe, Old Europe, the Middle East – all foreigners are suspect, and rightly so. The girls are taken by the Albanian mob, who operate under the protection of the French police, and sold on to a Swiss middleman who auctions them to an Arab millionaire.

This gives the film a jarringly simplistic political dimension on two levels. On a basic level the very idea of Americans travelling outside their borders is condemned as unsafe – lock up your daughters! The whole world is out to abduct, drug and rape them as soon as they step on foreign soil! If you are prepared to go a step further the film is a ringing endorsement of a foreign policy oriented on the basis that America is best off acting along: New Europe is a bunch of feckless thieves. Old Europe will sell you out without a second thought. The Middle East is there to take what it wants from the U.S. with no consequences.

The any-means-necessary hero is not entirely a post-911 phenomenon but never has torture been so lingeringly and lovingly portrayed. On TV we have ‘24′ and cinema has jumped on the bandwagon. ‘Man on Fire’ had a protagonist cut a swathe of torture and death across Mexico City, but in that context Denzel Washington’s alcoholic bodyguard was a somewhat tragic figure – a man who had committed many evil deeds out for one last chance of redemption. Wills is a blandly banal figure by comparison. He shows never the slightest flicker of doubt or remorse – and why should he? His shady and ill-defined past serves no narrative purpose beyond giving him the skills he needs to get the job done. There is no suggestion of an appeal to the authorities, nor are the bad guys such as to allow any questioning of the morals of his actions. “It’s only an action film.” Perhaps, but that lack of broader concern and ethical irresponsibility makes ‘Taken’ all the more reprehensible. Sadistic violence is hand-waved as entirely necessary – indeed, is taken so for granted that at no point is it even queried. That suggests a form of moral bankruptcy that it is hard to find elsewhere in contemporary cinema.

Jack Bauer breaks down at the end of ‘24′ season 3, ‘Dirty’ Harry Callahan is reviled by many in his cinematic world, even the hijackers in ‘Delta Force’ get a few lines to provide justification for their acts. ‘Taken’ is without any such questioning or self-doubt. It is its very certainty that makes it so despicable.


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By Stephen Lavington




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