A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 585 – Taken

Taken – October 6th, 2011

I’ll come right out and say it: I hated this movie. I hated every second of it. I came out of the movie feeling like I’d just been told the world hates me and wants to assault me and rape me and it’s my own damn fault if anything happens to me because I didn’t have a man watching me. That is the lesson this movie imparts. And it is vile. It is so vile that this movie has taken top honors in our collection as Movie I Hate The Most. I really thought Death Proof was going to walk away with that one since it’s held the top position for so long now, but no. This movie just waltzed in and swept it away. Congratulations, Taken, for being more hateful than Tarantino’s loving portrayal of women being brutalized. At least at the end Tarantino gave a different group of women the agency to exact revenge on their own.

Let me tell you a little story. When I was 17 I got a chance to spend three weeks in England as part of a school exchange. The other students who’d gotten into the exchange were friends with each other and carpooled with the faculty chaperon but I was more than a bit of an outsider in the group. I didn’t really socialize with any of the other girls and I’d barely ever spoken to the chaperon and I later learned that she tried to get me kicked out of the group because I wouldn’t mesh well with the others (there were no other reasons and since there were no other reasons she didn’t have much of an argument for it, so I went anyhow). So once we got to England I ended up spending a lot of time wandering London on my own. Granted, that wasn’t the safest thing to be doing, but I wasn’t precisely unfamiliar with cities and I wasn’t precisely naive about dealing with strangers. And you know what? Despite being on my own and young and fairly attractive according to general social norms, I was never once kidnapped, addicted to drugs and sold as a sex slave to the highest bidder. This, despite not having my father with me to fend off any would-be assailants. I’m not saying it’s an impossibility. I’m just saying it’s not the foregone conclusion this movie suggests.

Because in this movie? It is a foregone conclusion. Every single woman in this movie is either a victim of assault or an innocent protected/shielded by strong men. The victims are victims because they didn’t have strong men to protect them and are being used by evil men. That’s how the world works in this movie. And the only person who seems to get that (aside from the scores of evil men who do the kidnapping and raping) is former spy Bryan Mills, whose teenage daughter wants to go to Europe with a friend. His ex-wife, now a pampered housewife who is clearly supposed to have no real world experience whatsoever, convinces him to sign some paperwork that’s required for the still underage daughter to leave the country. And leave she does, with a friend who’s been overseas before. But as they’re both silly girls and have no man to take care of them, they are soon abducted. All Bryan has to go on is his daughter’s last known location and a frantic phone call she made when she saw the kidnappers enter the apartment she and her friend were staying in. The rest of the movie is scene after scene of Bryan being a bad ass former spy hell bent on getting his daughter back and scene after scene of the horrible things that happened to other young women who were presumably not under the protection of a man.

For all that Maggie Grace gets second billing after Liam Neeson for her role as daughter Kim, she gets barely any screen time post-kidnapping. Because really, she’s not a character in the movie. She’s an object. An object of great importance to Neeson’s Bryan, but an object nonetheless. Had this movie been about Neeson going after someone for some other reason and being a bad-ass? Had it been about, say, Helen Mirren in the same position? I would have found it a lot more enjoyable. For one, it really is cool to see Neeson be a bad ass. He does steely determination so very well and I don’t at all mind watching a man in his 50s kick some criminal butt. But stop for a moment and imagine someone like Mirren in the same role. Imagine it’s Kim’s mother coming after her, breaking people’s arms and smashing in their faces. I’d go see that in the theater! But this isn’t that movie. This is a movie that seems to be saying that men do things and women have things done to them. And that makes me sick.

What really hammered it home to me that this movie’s attitude towards women wasn’t just an unpleasant but hard-to-avoid consequence of the story’s particulars was a scene involving a former associate of Bryan and the former associate’s wife. Said associate was once a spy as well, but now he’s working a desk job. He’s gone soft and allowed himself to be bribed and has turned a blind eye to some nasty dealings. And when Bryan makes it clear he knows this associate knows something important, who does he threaten? The associate’s innocent and naive wife. In fact, he doesn’t just threaten her. He shoots her. Really, he’s not that far away from the evil men who took his daughter. So long as the woman isn’t related to him or useful to him, she’s fair game. How does that make him different from the men he’s been hunting this whole time? The answer is, it doesn’t.

I cannot fault the acting or the set dressing or the fight choreography. All were excellently done. The action scenes are great and indeed, if all I’d ever seen of the movie was Liam Neeson taking people down? I would have said it was a perfectly decent action movie. The hateful attitude towards women aside, the tension in the plot is built up well too. From the phonecall where Bryan tells his daughter what to do as she’s being grabbed to his piecing together of clues to where she’s been taken, it’s a tense thriller and that’s done well. But that nasty tone is present throughout and I just can’t overlook it. Not only that, but I don’t want to overlook it. I don’t want to accept that it’s a reasonable thing for a movie to do. I hated this movie. I hated it deeply. And unlike Death Proof I don’t think it hates me back. I think it doesn’t see me as worth hating because I’m not worth much of anything to it. And that is just as bad.

October 6, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment

Taken

October 6, 2011

Taken

I’m curious about this movie. I bought it because I had heard it was a cool thriller about a guy killing bad guys to rescue his daughter. I have been looking forward to seeing it for months because I just wanted to see Liam Neeson kicking bucketloads of ass. Like Danny the Dog this is a film written by Luc Besson. I think I know what to expect from such a film. Every time I’ve suggested watching it, though, Amanda has been strangely reticent. She really doesn’t want to see this movie and I’ve not been sure why.

The set up for this movie is so straight forward and simple. Liam Neeson plays Bryan Mills, a retired CIA spook who sometimes has an Irish accent and sometimes does not. He’s living a sort of sad lonely life, trying to re-connect with his teenaged daughter. She’s just turned seventeen and is spoiled rotten by her mother’s new husband who is some kind of oil magnate. His ex-wife will barely let him see the girl, though and all his memories of her are sadly out of date. She’s not the little five year old who used to want to be a singer any more. He’s just a hardened man with a mysterious history of special ops. All we really know about him is that he’s dangerous and good at what he does.

Mills has grave misgivings when his daughter tells him that she’s planning a trip to Paris. Now normally this would not be much of an issue. He is clearly overreacting. Teenagers go on trips to Paris all the time. If this were any movie but this one he would just be a paranoid and somewhat controlling absentee father. Of course that would not make much of a movie. So almost as soon as her plane lands she is abducted by a ring of Albanian sex merchants whose MO is to kidnap women, addict them to drugs and sell them into slavery. There’s no particular reason that she is targeted – she’s just a young girl on her own in Paris. It’s just bad luck.

Bad luck mostly for the Albanians. And everyone connected with them. The whole rest of the movie is just about Mills killing everybody between him and his daughter. He’s not a subtle operator. He’s an unstoppable killing machine who leaves destruction in his wake. Which is, of course, the appeal of the movie.

I can see where Amanda’s objection to the movie comes from. The world portrayed here is an ugly and brutal one that hates women. There’s no denying that every female in this movie is a victim, and the whole driving force of the film is provided by constant reminders that somewhere out there Mills’ innocent daughter is being abused in unspeakable ways. We see the horrifying fate that lies before her in no uncertain terms, and most of the other girls in this movie (who are not lucky enough to have an unstoppable CIA killer for a father) do not appear to get rescued. Dreadful and awful things are happening to women in this movie, and I can see why it makes Amanda feel angry. It also makes her angry that it is implied that these women cannot help themselves but must wait passively for a man to come along and save them.

I don’t think that is the intent of the movie though. Perhaps it’s an unfortunate implication, but it doesn’t appear to me that the fate of these women is ever portrayed in a salacious manner. It’s never meant to be erotic or appealing. It’s all there to give Mills a reason to be an uncompromising badass and to vilify the many, many people he has to kill on his mission. He’s going to maim, torture and kill just about every person he meets in this movie, and frankly you want to see this righteous vengeance meted out to these despicable, awful people.

I have to admit that for the most part I enjoyed seeing Liam Neeson kicking ass for an hour and a half. His character thinks nothing of walking into a room full of armed slimeballs and killing every one of them with his bare hands, and like I said, the folks he kills here are people you want to see killed. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I enjoyed the movie as a whole, because the atrocities that you witness as his motivation are not fun at all, but it’s cool to see him going all Jack Bauer all over the place. I even bought that this older gentleman could easily mop the floor with all these young mobsters – he’s just so steely eyed and determined. My one complaint about Neeson would be his wandering accent. Why is an Irish ex-pat a CIA covert operator? And why, when he’s pretending to be a French police officer (speaking English for some reason) are the Albanians not even the least bit suspicious?

As we watched Amanda proposed that a gender-swapped version of the film might be more viewable. She would rather see a story about a kickass unstoppable woman killing rapists and pimps, and do you know what? I’d really like to see that movie too.

October 6, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment