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Taken

October 8, 2008
tags: , ,

I simply don’t know what to say.

I feel like going back to first principles and asking; why do I go to the movies? Is it for entertainment? Well, of course. Is it to be informed? Yes, again. Is it to be transported to other worlds? Not in a Science Fiction kind of way, necessarily, though, yes, that too if the mood takes me, but still; yes, once more. That’s overwhelmingly simplistic, of course it is, I mean it is all those things, but it’s so much more besides. I love the flicks, I love sitting in the dark and watching the trailers and just bathing in that whole eventness thing. And even though I go a lot, it’s never left me, and I still have that Woody Allen Annie Hall vibe, where I simply must see everything, down to the Dolby credit and the last certificated reference number before they switch the screen off.

But films like Taken make me want to give up. If going to the cinema results in you feeling this miserable, what’s the point?

And I had such great hopes, too. Seeing Luc Besson’s name attached to a project (here, he is the Writer and Producer) has always made me sit up. Léon may have been the coolest film of the Nineties but La Femme Nikita wasn’t far behind, and I can still recall the huge buzz I got from seeing them on the big screen and thinking a stunned but still coherent ‘This. Is. Extraordinary’. Plus, we have Pierre Morel on board as director, the man who gave us those amazing free-running stunts in Banlieue 13. Surely, then, what with a predominantly Parisian backdrop, we’re in for a thrilling Gallic romp?

Are we fuck.

Right, this is going to erode my soul, but I’ll get it over with as quickly as possible. Bryan (Bryan?), played by a stilted and plastic-looking Liam Neeson, is a former spy who has given up his career to be near his estranged daughter, Kim (Maggie Grace). Requesting his permission to go to Paris for the summer, Bryan reluctantly agrees, even though Europe, or Yurp, is filled with rapists, thieves, villains and ne’er-do-wells of the worst kind. I’m assuming that American rapists, thieves, villains and ne’er-do-wells live by a different code, but this interesting criminological point is never adequately explored. Anyhoo, being an ex-spy Bryan knows best, which is why he lives alone in a brown apartment, mooning constantly over his slightly creepy photo album of shots taken from every one of Kim’s birthday parties.

So, where were we? Oh, yes, over-cautious Bryan has warned his daughter that Yurp is A Bad Place and that she’ll be raped and killed as soon as she steps off the plane, and probably raped again after that, what with this being Yurp, but hey, she’s nearly 18, so why not go and enjoy yourself (as long as you call every night before you go to bed – he says that – using the pre-programmed moby that he pointedly hands over). The fact that he has pre-programmed his number as ‘Daddy’ is also just a little cloying, but we’ll let that pass. Bryan’s worst fears are realised when, immediately after stepping off the plane, Kim and her friend are chatted up by some slime-ball French lad and, after he tips the bad guys off, abducted from their apartment by filthy Albanian types. That’s Yurp, for you.

Fortunately, Kim is talking to her Dad just as the baddies arrive, and so he gets to hear the whole thing. It’s at this point that we realise just how good a spy Bryan was because he seems to magically know how the apartment is set out, which rooms are which, that the beds aren’t divan and that the intruders are there to abduct her rather than kill her. How he gets all this from one breathy, spittle-saturated terrified phone call where Kim essentially screams that there’s someone in the apartment is beyond me, but then that’s why I’m a pen pushing blogger-type and he’s an ex-spy.

Bryan talks to his ex-spy buddy – comfortingly called ‘Sam’ – who, filmed in front of a PC screen, clearly has all the details necessary to make sure B can find the nasty men. Oh, and he tells him that he has 96 hours in which to act, a nebulous time frame, but very handy when you have to get from the US to Yurp without ruining any dramatic tension. And then the bombshell comes! These guys who’ve been doing the abducting are horrible sex traffickers! Oh no! Bryan’s poor virginal Kimmy is about to become a pox riddled whore at the stroke of 96 friggin’ hours!

Jumping in at the deep end, Bry (may I call him Bry?) lands in Paris and immediately finds the right people after approaching just one working girl and away we go chasing around and killing everyone in Paris. Everyone. I don’t know what the body count is at the end, but certainly anyone looking remotely swarthy or garlicky gets it and bof! Kim is freed from the clutches of some corpulent Arabian type just on the verge of being deflowered. And that’s that.

Back in the land of perpetual sunshine, Bryan gets thanks from Kim’s step father who, despite having a beard and bags of wealth, is a nice guy. Had he been French or Albanian or Arabic, chances are that he’d be a kiddy fiddler, but not back home. That sort of shit only happens in Yurp. We know this because Bry says so.

Dear God but this is terrible stuff, and the worst thing about it is deciding who to blame. Do you blame Besson, or Morel, or Neeson, or 20th Century Fox? In trying to reconcile how far in my estimation Besson has dropped after this I was thinking all sorts of straw-grabby nonsense: was this a sophisticated double-bluff and really the whole exercise is a preposterous comedy to show the world how ignorant the States is; were Morel and Besson pressurised by Fox to crowbar as many absurd racist stereotypes into it as possible? But I’m afraid the answer is that it’s just a dreadful film.

For anyone wanting a visceral dissection of the sex trade it doesn’t work either, and is an insult to the best works on that subject. Try the excellent David Yates Channel 4 series Sex Traffic, or Paul Schrader’s classic Hardcore, but this is a joke, and when it tries to be serious, as it does briefly, it’s an insult.

So if you’re not entertained, not informed, and not transported to another world, what’s the point?

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. meerkat queeen permalink
    October 9, 2008 5:42 am

    I saw the film in the UK i thought Liam was great he wasnt plastic and stilted you utter lying scumbag get that snobby nose of yours out of that hole you call you arse!! Snobs like you make me sick!!

  2. October 9, 2008 8:49 am

    Nice of you drop by, mq. I’m glad you liked it, and I think it’s done very good box office. I thought it was pretty much lowest common denominator guff myself, but then it’s horses for courses, isn’t it?

  3. October 9, 2008 10:44 am

    I was quite – aho – taken with the brief review in the Guardian by Xan Brooks (who, until I saw the photo byline just now, I had always assumed was a woman), which ends thus:

    One scene has our hero presiding over a sex auction in which his nubile daughter is saved as “the best ’til last” and promptly sparks a bidding war among the pervert connoisseurs. I think that at this point we are meant to feel a fatherly swell of pride.

    meerkat queen, you’re not Scott Pack come to pay a visit as promised, are you?

  4. saorlab permalink
    November 17, 2008 12:19 am

    totally agree – great trailer followed by racist non-sense. Never mind the ideology, racism is all over some films I love, its just rank filmmaking and plotting. A big stinky poo fest. Well said my man.

  5. November 17, 2008 10:19 am

    Thanks for popping across, saorlab. I agree totally, there is a great deal of racism in every aspect of Hollywood filmmaking, especially the summer blockbusters, but what can you do?

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