2009 | Director: Pierre Morel | Writers: Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen (Transporter 1, 2, 3)
Eli Roth’s 2005 horror film Hostel, aside from being notable for ushering the term “torture porn” into the modern vernacular, will be remembered for so slyly satirizing the perceived xenophobia attributed to Americans by other countries—the perception being, of course, that John Q. Public, enchanted by the Patriot Act, assumes that he will be drugged, raped, and murdered if he so much as steps foot outside U.S. soil and into, say, Canada, where icy-hearted Canucks lie in wait to devour our organs and socialize our health care.
Stripped of that layer of satire, plus nearly all of the explicit gore, Hostel becomes Taken, a fast-moving, grim abduction thriller that could undo relations with a handful of UN-represented countries—that is, if there was any chance their dignitaries were going to see it. But where “Hostel” joked about depraved Europeans waiting in the shadows to maim and kill us, Taken provides a troublingly straight-faced addendum: we’ll kill ‘em right back, and even deader. The surprising thing is, that unhealthy viewpoint doesn’t make Taken any less a guilty pleasure.
Liam Neeson is Bryan Mills, an ex-CIA operative who has recently quit the Company to spend more time with his daughter, Kim (Maggie Grace, who always looks like she’s about to throw up, for some reason). When Kim decides to visit Paris with her horny friend, Bryan warns her, in no uncertain terms, that she will likely be kidnapped if she leaves the safe, Utopian confines of her idyllic hometown (judging from the skyline, Los Angeles). She then proceeds to go to Paris anyway, whereupon she is promptly kidnapped and forced into the world’s oldest profession, sending Bryan to catch the first flight out on “I Told You So” Airlines. After he touches down in Gay Paree, Bryan quickly begins doing what he does best: brutally killing anyone who isn’t American.
All Albanians in the world of Taken are filthy, drug-running pimps; the French are arrogant, backstabbing worms; and anyone vaguely Arabic is a deranged pervert. Compared to those foreign types, Bryan, whose only vice is serial murder, is a saint. Still, it’s hard see Neeson’s desperate father as anything but the bad guy, almost by default, so ruthless are his tactics and so nonchalant is his sadism. Not content just to kill quietly, he breaks arms, necks, and spines in a carefree manner that would make Steven Seagal blush. He’ll find his daughter, yes, but he won’t think twice about the lives he’s trading for hers.
It’s hard to judge the film as a sadistically American take on foreign affairs since it was written and directed by French talent, and, in Neeson, stars a lead who barely attempts to conceal his Irish accent. But most problematic—and this might have more to do with me than the movie—is how eminently satisfying Taken really is. In this day and age, when open-minded Americans are supposed to cringe at politically incorrect talk and shake off xenophobic paranoia, Taken is a bucketful of icy water to the face, a reminder that we’re not liked by much of the world, and a dark, cathartic fantasy about becoming the bully that other cultures believe us to be. Prepare to be disturbed by liking this film.
Rating: Three of Five Stars