Pierre Morel’s Taken is, quite simply, the best film of the new year; a delightful, laugh-filled riot that not only channels the dying embers of the Bush administration and its extra-legal tactics of combating terror, but also works as a supreme, guilt-free entertainment. As such, it’s one of the most tightly focused, obsessively single-minded action movies in ages; the kind of picture that dispenses with logic, good sense, and any semblance of story for the sheer thrill of watching subhuman filth meet their maker. Through endlessly available panes of glass, if necessary. And, as generic as the title is, it’s also remarkably apt, conveying in no uncertain terms that this will be a tale of relentless devotion; a man, his daughter, and, if he has anything to say about it, an unapologetically bloody rescue. It’s like Not Without My Daughter and Rambo: First Blood Part II met for dinner and dancing, hooked up in a sleazy motel with John Schlesinger’s Eye for an Eye, and exchanged fluids on a stank-filled mattress while Commando jerked off in the shadows; at last emerging on the other side, a bit weary, only to be drop-kicked and donkey-punched by a fleeing Hardcore. As expected, this is Liam Neeson’s show, and if the movie gods are even remotely kind, they’ll never doubt his abilities again. At long last, he has emerged from oblivion, deserving no less than a standing ovation as the era’s new Bronson. Now, ladies and gentlemen, we can revisit Death Wish.
Neeson is Bryan Mills, an ex-CIA man who, by his own description, was a “preventer,” which is as good a term as any to describe what no doubt involved a whole lotta killing for king and country. Given his background, he is keenly aware of his surroundings, obsessed with detail, and, to no one’s surprise, has alienated his ex-wife and daughter to the point where he’s reduced to showing up uninvited to his kid’s birthday party. His former wife has found a new man, an obscenely wealthy businessman, though he’s actually a pretty decent guy for a change. Sure, he shows up the real dad by buying his stepdaughter a horse, but at least he’s not cackling like a demon or secretly beating the shit out of anyone. Bryan has moved to Los Angeles to attempt a reconciliation with his daughter, but he’s still on the outside looking in. All of this background detail, necessary though it may be, is merely passing time; an obligatory grind until the madness can be set in motion. First, however, Bryan will be tapped for a one-night security job for a hot young musical talent, earning $2,500 to escort her from the limo to her dressing room, and back again. The sequence appears pointless at first, that is until everything breaks down and some dude with a knife attempts to murder the singer. I’m so glad the celebrity stalker waited until Bryan’s shift to pull this crap. It was the first chuckle of many to come.
It all begins when 17-year-old Kim (Maggie Grace) needs her father’s permission to fly to France for a vacation. He’s cautiously sour on the whole deal, which means she’ll run away sobbing, only to meet her dad with kisses and hugs when he changes his mind and signs the necessary forms. In exchange, Kim must ruin her good time by calling her father every time she either takes a shit or moves from one room to the other. She agrees, but has actually lied, as her trip is nothing more than her and a friend following U2 all across the continent. Thankfully, Kim has left a well-marked map of Europe in the car, complete with circled cities, Sharpie-thick arrows, and cute messages of the fun to come so that Bryan can discover her secret and get pissed way too late to stop the flight. But he’s worried more than ever now, and not without cause, as he alone knows what’s going on in the world (read: neo-con realist), while the those behind gates (read: limousine liberals) have dinner parties under the blanket of freedom only he can provide. Everything works out according to plan, as trouble does in fact await young Kim (and her whorish friend), which begs the question as to whether Bryan used his connections to arrange the whole kidnapping thing in order to act the hero and win back his family. I wouldn’t put it past the guy.
So as Bryan nervously awaits a call back at home, Kim and her friend are being seduced by a sexy Frenchman, who actually works for a black market prostitution ring led by swarthy Albanians. Albanians? Their inherent evil is obvious, given their proximity to Greece, but is further confirmed by French intelligence, which states that they’re so rotten that even the fucking Russians are offended by their tactics. That’s not just simple villainy, that’s fuck-your-infant-daughter-while-knifing-your-grandmother-to-death type shit. Here’s how they work it: using a smooth operator at the airport, young vacationing women are tricked into sharing a cab, where the hottie invites them to a party. Failing that, he at least learns the location of where they are staying. Address in hand, the information is delivered to the Albanians, who then stage a kidnapping, drug the girls, and force them into a life of sucking off dirty Europeans behind bedsheets at some construction site. It’s a brilliant operation, as it involves cooperation with the corrupt, and hopelessly effete French government. As such, it’s a two-fold strike against conservative targets. One, we at last have the smoking gun that France is on the wrong side of the terror war, and two, we are faced with the consequences of unchecked immigration. Let in the forked tongues and brown skins, and crime will follow. Worst of all, your virginal white daughter will be raped repeatedly by a Brandoesque sheik aboard his million dollar yacht. The world is not only as bad as Bush and his ilk said, it’s far, far worse. Thank fuck we have rule-breakers like Bryan to set us straight once again.
For a movie with a PG-13 rating, there’s a great deal of death and destruction, but even more surprising is the amount of dark, uncomfortable sexuality on tap. No, we don’t get to see actual rapes, or even the hint of ravaged pussy, but at the film’s core is a “whore auction” that stands as a pretty inventive way to showcase the world’s depravity. Held in some mysterious lair in the place “behind the red door,” the flesh parade is remarkably subdued, even businesslike, and we damn near applaud its effortless respectability. Bids are placed, champagne is served, and when Kim stumbles before the select few, she fetches a cool half-million; a steal, really, given that she’ll be delivered like a Christmas package to one of those awful Muslim bastards who has so torn our nation asunder. But that’s to come. Until then, we watch Bryan work the streets of Paris like a sleek, unforgiving assassin. He’ll set fire to half of France if he has to, but don’t deny him a reunion with daughter dear. We’re so transfixed by his quest, in fact, that we don’t really mind if he leaves all those other drugged girls in captivity, so long as he saves his own. Sure, those un-rescued girls will be soiled, sodomized, and eventually buried in an earthen dam, but they aren’t Kim, and she needs to be found while the clock ticks on that precious hymen. Imagine! Losing one’s virginity to a follower of Allah! It’s inconceivable to Bryan, and damn near the most repugnant image Western parents would ever have to face. Can’t those people just continue to rape their own so we can get back to breakfast?
On his march, Bryan stabs, shoots, and punches throats; securing a body count that would have many 80s Action stars dizzy with admiration. He even chases the young airport seducer through the streets, so contriving events that he’s hit head-on by a large truck. The first killing, then, is far too easy, and once blood flows, it never stops. One by one, bearded, sweaty ducks (and one dude wearing mascara) in this Parisian shooting gallery are laid to rest, and no, Bryan does not respect their final wishes to face Mecca. He impersonates officials, hires interpreters, and uses every trick in his bag to complete his mission, though he’s never more sinister than when he shoots a sweet little French lady in the arm to prove his seriousness. It’s a great moment (one of hundreds); all the more for proving that amorality must win out if we’re ever going to defeat these bastards. He’s equally dismissive of humane tactics when he electrocutes one of the Albanian gang, using language I imagine escaped the lips of Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney at least a few hundred times. But as the cruel kidnapper cries and begs for his life, we’re laughing along with Bryan, who treats the suspect as just another bump on the road. Bryan also has a delightful way of interrupting his victims with a shot to the head, believing as he does that negotiation is something the left does while the barbarians are storming (and surpassing) the gates. This knee-jerk response is, as stated, best used with the sick sheik, but proves just as effective with the wealthy proprietor of the auction house. “It’s just business,” he cries, bleeding to death in the elevator. No matter, so it is with Bryan. Only his business is that of the reaper.
If Taken proves anything, it is that we have yet to transcend the American initiative to dismiss diplomacy and the rule of law in favor of vigilante justice. The $100 million box office alone validates our continual need to see dissimilar entities wiped away in a cloud of righteous fury, so long as family trumps country, and loose women die in the process. It is beyond telling that Kim survives to avoid all sexual activity another day, while her slutty friend, the one who, with no reservations, said that she’d be fucking the French hunk, dies alone and unwanted, like so much refuse from a Christian nation gone astray. Astoundingly, Bryan is allowed to return to the States no questions asked, despite having murdered at least three dozen people, and Kim, pumped full of drugs and faced with life-altering trauma, recovers in the time it takes to get a haircut. She’s so defiantly peppy, in fact, that she’s ready and willing to visit the pop singer from the film’s opening, who has promised to give Kim a shot after Bryan saved her ass. All is back to normal, and the white people have won a rare, though much-deserved, moral victory. Among its lessons to the faithful, Americans are now instructed never to travel abroad, stick close to friends and family, love your Caucasian God, and tune out the world’s troubles. They’re the marching orders we’ve wanted to hear, despite all that hope rhetoric, and it took a kick-ass Liam Neeson to carve it into our flesh as a permanent ethos.