Saturday, February 7, 2009

Taken review

Jaimie and I saw Taken last night, as part of our celebration of our one-year dating anniversary. We both rather wished we hadn't. It wasn't what we were hoping for, and it certainly didn't meet the expectations we had based on the feedback of others who had seen it. In fact, I'm hard pressed to think of much about the movie that I ultimately like.

A brief summary (in which I will thoroughly spoil the plot): Brian Mills is a retired CIA officer - a "preventer," as he tells it - who has moved to California to be close to his turning-17-at-the-beginning-of-the-movie daughter and make up for lost time with her. He shows at her birthday party, feels overshadowed, and is finally browbeaten into letting his daughter go to Paris by his pushy and bitter ex-wife. Kim arrives in Paris, talks to an apparently friendly French guy, who gets their location and then promptly sends the rest of his kidnapping gang their way. Kim calls her dad just in time to see her travel buddy get kidnapped, and is on the phone with him when they take her. Thus, Brian has enough information to track down her kidnappers - a group of sexual slavers - to their location in Paris, where he goes in short order, hunting for Kim. The next hour of the hour-and-a-half long movie consisted almost entirely of briefly interludes of information gathering or quiet thought, punctuating long sequences of killing violence. Because Brian Mills kills everyone he can that's been involved with his daughter's kidnapping. He finds her at the end, after working his way through the boat she's being held on, and kills her purchaser even as the man holds a knife to her throat. Cue crying in dad's arms and a joyful return to America.

I can say this for the movie: it is a picture of the depth of emotion in a parent's heart, and the extremes to which a parent would go, if they could, for their children. The positives end there. For the negatives, I'll start at the least problematic and work upward.

The movie had been compared to the Bourne trilogy by various people we know. If the comparison is meant to indicate a certain similarity in the style in which the film is shot and a comparison of the levels of violence, it's an almost accurate assessment. Almost, because the violence here is at a significantly higher quotient and, where Jason Bourne kills only at the very last resort, Brian Mills has no compunctions about shooting and killing anyone involved with the crime syndicate he is hunting. While I can appreciate the desire for retribution, there is no sense in this that he is an agent of justice. This is hatred and revenge, and nothing more.

This is clear because Mills does nothing for any of the other sex slaves in the movie except one that he can get information from - who he promptly drops (as does the movie) when she's no longer relevant to getting information about Kim. He clearly has the skill set to be able to completely destroy this organization and liberate dozens, if not hundreds, of women subject to sexual slavery and drug abuse, whose lives are being destroyed by men callously taking advantage of them. And he doesn't. The movie ends on an allegedly happy note, with Kim's safe return to the United States and a slight reconciliation between Mills and his ex-wife. Kim has a part of her dream come true in meeting a famous singer and getting voice lessons. And we're supposed to cheer.

Meanwhile, hundreds of women still suffer exactly what Brian Mills killed dozens of people to keep Kim from - and he shows not a bit of concern.

It's at this point that things really start to get ugly. Sexual slavery is one of the greatest ongoing evils of our day. It's on par with genocide, and I don't say that lightly. Genocide may be larger in scale in the world as an ongoing evil - it's difficult to say, given the secrecy with which sexual slavery is practiced and the openness in which genocides must occur. But it is certain that slavery, especially sexual slavery, is at least as horrible an evil as genocide - for in a genocide, there is an end that comes in death. Sexual slavery is a living death that goes on and on, a continuing degradation, devaluation, depersonation. It doesn't get any worse.

And this movie takes it lightly. It takes it as an excuse for another shoot-em-up. It takes it as an excuse to feel good about revenge. And, worst of all, it takes it as an excuse to be sexy. The whole point of the movie is (allegedly) just how evil this sort of thing is. And yet, multiple times, women are shown on screen in very little - up to and including Kim. Admittedly, this isn't played for out and out titillation. But I have to ask: in a film supposedly addressing the issue of sexual slavery, isn't it a bit sick to show the girl kidnapped to be a sexual slave in a negligee, for any reason? And the movie does it twice, and again with other girls.

There is something horrifying in this. The movie had an opportunity to deal seriously with one of the great evils of our day. Instead, it played with it.

The problems with the movie can perhaps be summed up by the contradictions in the music. The movie alternates between quiet contemplations on piano, with occasional strings mixed in, and screaming rock music - with nothing in between and no continuity in between the two. The movie ends with a tender moment on piano between Kim and Brian... and switches immediately to a screaming rock band. And Taken can't make up its mind whether it wants to be just another movie for utter adolescents, with overwhelming violence, glorification of revenge, and overwhelming insensitivity to the actual issues raised, or a thoughtful examination of the trials of a parent's heart and the evils of sexual slavery. Had it gone with the latter, we might have had one of the most worthwhile movies of the year. Instead, we got one of the least - and I can say that confidently in a year that will no doubt be filled with dreck, because most of that dreck never had the potential to do what this could have.

A final point of irony: I find it somewhat horrifyingly ironic that the final preview before the movie began was for Miss March, another in the stream of movies glorifying Playboy. Has Hollywood no sense of decency at all? [I'm certain the answer is no.]

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