Don’t Watch Taken

18:12 Mon 10 Aug 2009
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I was tired and stuck in my seat and made the poor choice of watching this awful Liam Neeson action movie. I say “awful” but I don’t just mean bad, I mean its themes and messages were highly questionable and disturbing. Spoilers will follow, but a) it’s not worth seeing and b) I’m not sure they’re “spoilers” with a movie as predictable as this.

The plot is that Neeson, retired CIA agent Bryan Mills, has retired to try to repair his relationship with his daughter Kim, who he neglected while working for the CIA. His ex-wife, now married to an extravagantely wealthy new husband, has custody of Kim and broadly disapproves of Bryan’s approach to parenting (which appears to consist of being absent doing wetwork for years and then showing up and being creepily overprotective/obsessive). Kim is 17 and, supported by her mother, wants to spend the summer with her friend Amanda in (dun dun DUN) Paris, and Bryan resist on the basis that it’s too dangerous. He is persuaded to change his mind and sign the legal papers required to let his underage daughter go to Europe.

Arriving in Paris, Kim and Amanda are more or less immediately kidnapped by slave traders. (Yes, really.) Kim manages to call her father on the cellphone he insisted she take with her, and he sets out for Paris to recover her before she disappears without trace into the world of slavery and sex trafficking.

The first thing I hated about this movie was its incredibly obvious pandering to the complexes of the American father; it’s set up entirely as a vehicle for the wish-fulfillment fantases of fathers who want a horrifically scary world that justifies their need to control the lives of their daughters.

The second thing I hated was its appropriation of the awful and sordid real-life problem of sex trafficking in order to both sensationalize and add gravitas to its own plot, while blatantly sidestepping any true engagement with the real issues by placing the focus of the film not on the exploitation of marginalized and economically underprivileged women but on the dangers to fantastically rich and well-connected Americans.

The third was an extension of the second, namely that the film laughably posits a world in which the kidnapping of those wealthy and privileged Americans would be treated by various authorities the same way as the suffering of the poor Eastern European women preyed on by the gangs involved. I’m not saying that their being American would automatically trigger massive searching by the French police in reality, but it would certainly spur them to significant efforts (particularly once the wealth of the stepfather and the CIA connections of the father became apparent), and if they had corrupt connections with the slave traders, all nefarious parties concerned would recognize pretty quickly that the most cost-effective thing would be to give the girls back and close the matter before some massive outcry brought a larger crackdown. (Or they’d try to ransom them back.)

There were many more things to hate, but I’m going to focus on one that managed to stand out to me even from all the rest: the film’s treatment of Amanda, the friend that brings Kim to Paris.

She is portrayed as a stereotypical rich Californian party girl. Okay, annoying, but fine. She’s 19 and irresponsible. She’s naive. She’s a bad influence on Kim. The first really bad thing, though, was that as soon as Amanda announced that she intended to sleep with a guy she’d just met in Paris (who turns out to have been the spotter for the slave traders), it was clear to me that she was going to die. That this same conversation revealed that Kim was a virgin just made that realization worse: Amanda would be punished for the awful crime of having sex, while Kim would be saved because she was a “good girl”. I know that this goes on in movies all the time, but somehow Taken’s attempt to give itself a serious air by referring to real-world sex trafficking made it worse in this case. On top of that, the treatment of Amanda as purely a narrative device to convey the preceding message was even more dehumanizing and horrible.

Here’s what I mean: the movie is all about this father’s nightmare scenario that his daughter has been taken by slave traders, and his rescuing her while meting out punishment; the fears of the mother and stepfather are supports for that main thread. Given that this is the case, it seems (to say the least) odd that when Kim is taken, when Bryan hears that she and Amanda are kidnapped right as it happens, he doesn’t ever appear to get in touch with Amanda’s family. Nor do his ex-wife and her husband make any suggestion that they do this. Granted, stressful situation, but it seems like that would spring to someone’s mind.

Later, Bryan finds Amanda, dead of what appears to be a forced drug overdose. This moment is played up primarily to underscore the risks involved, and his own fears for Kim. He doesn’t appear to consider letting Amanda’s parents know that their daughter is dead. (This is actually the most defensible of the Amanda-related issues, because one could argue that Bryan’s absolute singlemindedness would preclude him from considering this, and that would make sense.)

However, at the end of the movie, when Bryan has saved Kim by saving her from and killing (I’m not making this up) the Sheikh who bought her for her virgin status, no mention of Amanda is made. Kim doesn’t ask about her, which is probably excusable at the time… but then they fly back to LA together and have the happy reunion with her mother and stepfather, and again, no mention whatsoever of Amanda. Amanda’s family aren’t at the airport to greet them and demand news of their own daughter. In fact, it appears entirely as if none of them have even considered contacting Amanda’s family, and that her parents might think that she’s alive and well and enjoying a Paris summer with Kim.

I understand some of the reasons they wouldn’t mention this at the end—it’s a happy ending, and that might be a downer—but not ever giving her any consideration whatsoever makes it highly apparent that she wasn’t ever meant to be a person, that she’s just a warning about what happens to “bad girls”. And that, particulary in a film with this subject matter, is just horrific and appalling.

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8 Responses to “Don’t Watch Taken

  1. Brian Mills Says:

    Heh heh heh… indeed, and you lapped up every horrid minute of it!

    Revenge fantasy:
    “Revenge serves as a powerful motivational theme in all of literature, not just horror fiction, fantasy, or science fiction. It plays a very important role in such great national epics as The Iliad, The Song of Roland, and The Nibelungenlied, to mention the earliest.”

  2. Tadhg Says:

    I’m not convinced that Taken really is a revenge fantasy. I suppose you could call it one crossed with a rescue fantasy. In any case, even if it did fit in that category, that wouldn’t help… it would just be a bad and ridiculous rendering of a revenge fantasy.

  3. sheri Says:

    your a weirdo the movie was awesome and stuff like that really could happen over seas people are sickos and that seems like something that would go on somewhere so why don’t you stop being like other movie critics and let people watch it for themselves cause personally I like to watch things for myself and see if I like them since last time I checked not everyone has the same opinion and not everyone likes or dislikes the same thing that is what makes people different

  4. glan Says:

    First of all, your comments have many true sides althought you fall in to some big mistakes.
    First of all, French and English Secret services are one of the best and they have more intelligance than any other countries in that region. Wheter girls were american or european, tha action of France would be same. They would not let such corrucption in their country.

    I have stayed in many palces in europe when i was around 18 , i traveled alone with my 2 mates and I can truely tell you that european is much more safier than many dangerous cities of USA.
    Least, you can see people late in the night and it is unlikely that european governments are controlled by some Deep states, like USA.

    Do not forget that, during G20, French president said to MR. Obama that it was not Obama’s bussiness to interfere with Euopean union’s internal affairs So the political power of America in other countries are not that strong as you imagine.

    Anyway.. This movie was extreme, its overblown focus on sex trafficing was disturbing and it was too americanish.

    What i got this movie is

    *Do not go to europe as an american girl or you might be kidnapped, imprisoned and rapped to death.

    *American girls are precious, they are worthing to sacrifice thousands of guys, breaking french laws but europeans are less important (that doesnt work like that in Europe sir, money is not as important as in USA).

    * All eastern europeans, immigrants and french are dirty and dangerous, they are capable of doing anything bad. Americans are (as always) good people, they have high degree of moral and they can save the world! Oh yea.

    Movie was extremeley bias, fake and pro american.

    I wonder if americans’ view of life will change one day and they will come up with better ideas and visions.

  5. glan Says:

    Lol Look at sheri’s comment. Stuff liek that can happen overseas. USA is safe.

    your government and your political system want you to think in that way but honey, allmost all europe is safier than usa. I have lived in states for 3 years and it is scary to be out late at night, if you are a girl walking alone in the night, you draw alot of attention and country, environment makes u paranoid.

    No europe is not liek that. in mos tof paris, london, barcelona, you will see people staying late at night. Since they are smaller and betetr controllled countries, sex abuse, murders and other high rate crimes occer way less than USA.

    USA and Russia are the center of the child abuse and most of american familes less cared about their children due to their lack of commitment to family ties. IN europe, Family is everything and there would be tolerance for abusment of udnerage girls etc. That doesnt rly happen alot in europe. it happens but not as much as usa.

    Anyway, guys honestly, american govenrment just want you to get paranoid and they dotn liek you to travel alot so you always stay as ignorant. That makes it easy for them to control the country. USA is the country of holdings. Too many things going behind the roofs and america has to be an ignorant but happy society so they will be less involved in politics.

  6. hewhomustnotbenamed Says:

    you suck that movie f@ckin rocks

  7. Littlebird Says:

    You made way way too much of this movie. It’s an action movie not a documentary. No different than any other action movie, there was no intent to educate anyone about anything. Just mindless entertainment. Your take on Amanda is especially overblown. She simply represents the bad influence friend and is a vehicle for the misadventures to ensue. Your whole take on her punishment for being sexually active is as much an over dramatization. as the movie itself.

    I recommend you stick to drama’s and documentaries and avoid the action genre. I don’t even want to know why you think Captain America and Thor just can’t get along.

  8. Phoenix Says:

    Lol ^^ Thor and cap do get along…your thinking of iron man and the popular storyline, “civil war”. For which, they both suit the opposing parties in the common plot device of polar division of an established group.. leading to my next point.
    Fiction films are never real guy even if there drama, it never excuses inappropriately using plot devices and leaving a viewer with the impression perfectly expressed by this review. Considering the nature of the content of Taken and its ignorant blending of the disgusting truth of modern day sex trafficking with personal revenge/hero action fantasies is itself exploitative.

    They made 3 = (

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