PG-13? Okay, I watched the unrated version, so I don't really know the differences in the cuts. In my mind, longer holds on violence like most unrated cuts for home video. But fundamentally, this movie is about human trafficking, forced prostitution, forced drug addiction, violence, and torture. There's probably some language in there, but I've probably forgotten about all of it considering that there are a million actually offensive things in the movie. I don't know how this movie got a PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Pierre Morel
Man, it's weirdly hard to write during the summer. I think a lot of it comes from the fact that the only real scheduled work I have is writing letters of recommendation all of the time. Still, I'm trying to knock them out before I get too overwhelmed. I should finish Some Like It Hot tomorrow and I have all kinds of thoughts on that one. The Taken movies have always been movies that have slipped through the cracks for me. I watched the trailer, it did nothing for me. Then everyone tells me that it is one of those movies that everyone's seen and I should probably watch it if I want to have a cultural reference. You know? FOMO? That's what's going on here. I finally caught up to a FOMO reference from 2008.
I kind of don't get this one. With The Fast and the Furious movies --a franchise that shows up way too often on this blog --I kind of understood. They'd never be my favorite, but there's something incredibly fun. But with the first Taken movie, it's all just very bleak. I suppose I have to put myself in the mindset of 2008. It's been a minute since they've made one of these movies, after all, so I have to give the movie some cultural context. I bet 2008 me would have really dug this movie, so I suppose I get it. I was into 24 with Kiefer Sutherland back in those days and this is really capitalizing on the same kind of idea. Heck, Taken is almost just 24 season one. But I think my tastes have changed since then. I don't really want the bleak look at the underworld sex trafficking world anymore. I honestly want something with a bit more character. I know that human trafficking exists and it is abhorrent, but maybe it is the idea that the far right has weaponized fictional human trafficking so much that it feels weird to absorb this concept as the fuel for my entertainment nowadays. I mean, I still am considering watching Taken 2, just because of my sense of completeness when it comes to franchises. And it's not like there was anything awful about the first Taken. To me, it was just an action movie that I'm going to grumble about until I get bored and post this.
I think I pointed out that Rambo: Last Blood was just a bad version of Taken. I know that I wasn't the only one that thought that Last Blood wasn't good, but that might cement my idea that time had passed on this story. There is something xenophobic about the whole thing. Maybe it's even worse that the protagonist of Taken is played by Liam Neeson, an Irish actor. I mean, it really makes America look like this Shangri-La, free of sex crime unlike that dirty old Europe. I mean, the filmmakers of Taken are really trying to ride a line. For the sake of the story, Bryan Mills has to be right in all of his assertions. When he knows that Kim (again, the name of the daughter from 24) is going to France with Amanda, he flips his lid. It's an odd choice immediately. I could see him freaking out about going to France alone. (Although I hear that both mom and Kim are captured in Taken 2.) But to have him be right, France needs to be painted as this den of sin and evil. There are corrupt politicians, even people that Bryan used to consider friends before this point. I mean, Kim and Amanda are also picked up quick. It's not like a week into the vacation, they take a chance on a guy. Literally, the first guy they meet off the airplane is the guy who ends up kidnapping them. That makes France a pretty rotten place if you can get kidnapped that quickly.
But then again, it's because they didn't follow Bryan's instructions. There's something almost supernatural about the way this movie works, very much like a horror movie. There's the whole notion of following rules that defines how safe someone is going to be in a movie. The thing outside of control, kinda sorta, is the setting. If you end up at Crystal Lake, that doesn't define your survival necessarily. The same thing probably is true for France. The thing that gets someone killed or kidnapped is following the rules. Kim was given a handful of instructions and she actually seemed to break all of the rules until she was in the process of being captured. (She was oddly understanding of how much of a beast Bryan was while she was being captured because she followed each one of those instructions to the letter. I think that the movie was trying to build empathy for the character in that moment.) But the movie is kind of playing it both ways. I don't know. It's all a bit much. My major takeaway is that the movie is telling me never to leave home. I wish it was commentary about the sexualization of women, which it never really hammers home. It just dances around that subject. Regardless, what an odd choice. Like Last Blood, it kind of makes every other place in the world this awful, awful place while America is a place where you get horses and karaoke machines in peace as your ex-wife belittles you all of the time.
Man, do I feel bad for Famke Janssen. There is nothing for her to play in this movie. Maybe Taken 2 will give her something to play with because everything in this movie is meant to serve Liam Neeson being the downtrodden hero. I'm talking about the face that Lennie / Lenore is the most shrewish human being that ever existed. I get that there is animosity between formerly married couples. I can even get behind that. But this movie kind of hates women, right? Oh man, I just came to that conclusion. I was talking in the last paragraph how this movie should have hit harder on the exploitation of women. But Taken might be a meninist movie all because of Lenore. Bryan Mills has no faults. His marriage fell apart because he was too patriotic to his country. While he was busy ensuring that freedom didn't fail in America, his wife leaves him and harbors such resentment towards him that he can barely see his daughter after the fact. When Bryan tries to reach out to his daughter, she's sweet, but is quickly blinded by the luxury that her new father gives her, ignoring poor Bryan, the working class hero. When he's defending a pop singer, she's rude to Bryan's attempt to help his daughter until Bryan proves to be right about potential threats towards her. The pop singer only opens up to him as a form of apology. Then Kim, who naturally should want to see her father considering that he moved close and retired to be near her, makes a date to have lunch with her dad, it's an ambush with Lenore so that she can go to Europe.
Everything bad that happens in this movie is because all of the advice of the White male is ignored. Women keep on lying and doing whatever they want and horrible things happen to them. The White male never really makes a mistake. Sure, the bad guys are males as well, but they aren't American. They can't be trusted. (I thought for sure that the guys in Bryan's little crew were going to have something to do with the kidnapping, but they're too patriotic to do anything like that.) After that, the movie kind of becomes about watching women get their comeuppance for not listening to White American values from that point on. I doubt that's the intention of the movie, but there might be something in the background for the film. Now, I know. The movie was written by Luc Besson, a French guy. I'm sure that he's pointing out the flaws of his own country. But I would also like to stress that there's something xenophobic about the movie beyond them. The sex traffickers are Albanian. They then sell Kim to a shiek. It's a complaint almost of the move to inclusion in France from an actual French guy. Maybe he's saying that America had it right by strongly enforcing borders during a Republican era America. But, again, my big take on this is that the movie passively hates women and is probably not even aware of it.
Still, as an action movie, most of the beats work. I mean, some of the acting is rough, even from Neeson. But part of that comes from the fact that something feels really underbaked when the movie is not in full-on action mode. Full-on action mode sequences are great. But I'm talking about when Bryan and his buddies just have to be people. Man, Mills shopping for a kareoke machine is far too telegraphed to be considered real character development. Red meat and beers night is such a shortcut to making Bryan Mills a real character. It's taking the action movie playbook and just hammering out the notes that need to happen in this movie. It's not bad as an action movie, but I find it weird how much this painted our cinematic zeitgeist for the next decade at least. I mean, everyone had seen Taken. What was clearly supposed to be a one-off action movie became a little franchise that clearly I had to watch in 2023.
It's not a bad movie. It's a movie that shouldn't have been as big of a deal that it was.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.