Look at the man above. He is alone and miserable.
Look at him below. Two Chinese take-out cartons. You only see this in movies. This film does not waste time straining for realism. It’s doing something else.
‘Taken’ is a story. Maybe the first one. Watching it you realise that the characters involved aren’t two-dimensional or cardboard, they are without dimension, or more accurately, without psychology.
For this film tells a story that seems to originate from prehistory, from a time before psychology, when there was only action.
In the film, Liam Neeson’s daughter has been taken by swarthy Easterners to be sold to dusky Arabs as a sexual plaything. He is told he has 96 hours to find her or else the trail will run cold. That’s what the script says, but it’s not what’s really going on. It’s established early on that she is a virgin – Neeson has 96 hours before her virginity is taken – it’s the virginity ticking clock.
For he fights not just to save her from harm but to protect an investment – if this story is from prehistory then the virgin daughter is property – her value would drop dramatically if she were no longer pure.
See the daughter above in a scene at the beginning of the pic, before she is taken. The script says she is seventeen years old. But in the mind of Liam Neeson his daughter is already lost to him, (she is living with her mother and a new daddy, a wealthy man, a billionaire), hence she’s played by an adult actress – possibly someone in her late twenties.
See the man below. The wealthy man. The King. He has stolen our hero’s mate, and now his offspring. The king is played by Xander Berkeley, playing the Xander Berkley role. No more needs to be said.
Our hero, betrayed by his mate, with his King against him and his offspring stolen travels to a far-off land. There he uses a magic machine to find who has taken his blood.*
He finds an old friend who helps him, but in the end the friend betrays him as well.**
Now I apologise for the portentous path this review has taken so far. But portentousness is what ‘Taken’ stirs in me. Watching it I couldn’t stop thinking of that magnificent film Atanarjuat.
A re-telling of an ancient tribal myth of the Inuit, Atanarjuat is also from prehistory and has the same feel as ‘Taken’, though with one important difference.
Ancient stories seem to be not just bloodthirsty but feature heroes that are, by virtue of being ancient, without Christian charity. There’s not much forgiveness going ’round. In the ‘spoken tale Atanarjuat’ our Hero kills the villains. But when it was rendered as a film the people involved in the production made a startling choice – they brought the story closer to our time, with its expanding circle of empathy, and the hero lets the villains go, to live in exile.
Not in ‘Taken’. In fact, not only does the hero kill everyone in site who may tangentially have any relationship to the kidnappers, he tortures them.
He engages in behavior that historically, Hollywood reserved for it’s worst psychopathic killers. This is our good guy.
And this is what the film tells us at the end. That U.S. civilisation has declined to such an extent that it has collapsed into a state of prehistory – of savagery. As Liam Neeson’s character Bryan Miller says to someone he is torturing, and will ultimately kill, “We used to outsource these things”.
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Ok, that ends the heavy part of my review. On to some other aspects. Should you see it? Yes, if you love proper B-Movies, with fast moving action and an underdog hero. Poor Liam Neeson is surround by horrible people in this pic, (was there ever a more bitchy wife in cinema then Famke Janssen here?), he’s a put-upon man – the Melon Farmer. So there’s catharsis, (if you’re into violence as catharsis), to be found here. This is why Neeson is perfect – he’s playing the small man, the put-upon man – yet we see the ideal – the fantasy projection of the small man, the powerless man – the wishful fantasy of the small man who dreams of being 6-foot-huge as Neeson is.
If you’re looking for a similar pic – where a put upon man, wracked by personal tragedy seeks revenge, but, like me, are disturbed by seeing torture on screen, then I’d highly recommend this Fritz Lang pic:
Our hero doesn’t need to be a psychopath in The Big Heat. Instead of being one, he dispatches them, and not to exile.
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* The scene where Neeson examines in close-up an image from an SD card in some sort of ‘Photoshop kiosk’ is fascinating because we don’t really see it as anything special, or ‘sci-fi’, yet what we’re seeing here of course is the famous scene in Bladerunner, (pan right…center and stop, etc.), shown as part of every day life in 2008. We’re in the world of the future now.
** The French Kevin Spacey?