Film review – Taken (2008)

Liam Neeson plays Bryan, a former US spy who has to single-handedly save his estranged teenage daughter from an international sex-slave cartel after she is kidnapped while holidaying in Paris. Chances were that Taken was not going to be a good film. Writers Luc Besson (who also produced) and Robert Mark Kamen had recently collaborated on the scripts for The Transporter films and Bandidas, and director Pierre Morel was the cinematographer on The Transporter and Danny the Dog.

A degree of implausibility is inevitable in action films but Taken is beyond ludicrous. Characters are one-dimensional, the dialogue is trite and even the action scenes are bland. Taken is the opposite end of the spectrum from the masterful Bourne films.

But even worse is the film’s regressive message that virginal American girls should not go abroad as bad men from the Middle East and Eastern Europe will ravage them. Bryan’s lack of concern towards all the non-American girls being held captive is extremely worrying but not as much as the scene where he is completely vindicated for sadistically torturing a suspect. Neo-cons will probably love Taken but everybody else should avoid.

© Thomas Caldwell, 2008


  1. Are you sure you don’t mean that the film was shallow? I thought my review got to the point quite succinctly without wasting too much time.

    You are most welcome to elaborate.

  2. Shallow, yes, and objectionable if you are looking at it as some kind of morality play – but come on – the intention is to make you gasp at just how outrageous Liam Neeson can be in the pursuit of his daughter.

    **** Spoiler Alert ******

    Didn’t you sit up and say, “Holy #$%*! Did he just do that?” after he shot the French agent’s wife at the dinner table? Just like booze and cigarettes are bad, this film is bad, but a guilty pleasure.

  3. Hi Ernie. You are right, it is simply a guilty pleasure so perhaps it should simply be considered as such. But in my case the offensiveness of the film was too overwhelming for me to ignore. The fact that I’ve stumbled across a few online discussions where people have regarded Taken‘s depiction of human trafficking and sexual exploitation seriously does suggest that there is a problem. But, I suppose that’s not the fault of the film itself, but the fault of audiences who aren’t aware that an action film is not a documentary.

    I guess a big problem I had was that I couldn’t get into it even simply as an action film. I just found it all a bit clumsy and limp. Also, I like my bad-ass vigilante characters to have more style and charisma than what Liam Neeson’s character had. I found him to be annoyingly pompous and I also couldn’t have cared less for his idiot daughter who behaved like a spoilt 8-year-old.

    Spoiler warning

    As for the scene you mentioned, yes, it was a nice moment of sheer audacity and kickassness. But, I also couldn’t help thinking, “You’ve got to be kidding. Even the French police are bad guys? Who apart from Americans are not villains in this film?”

    Spoiler finished

    Anyway, it seems like an obvious thing to say, but it all comes down to personal taste. Taken came and went in Australia with not many people paying much attention to it but it seems to be a hit in the USA. Go figure.

    Just for the record, I think Eastern Promises was far more sensitive in the way it used the theme of forced prostitution to tell a broader story. And as for films that actually deal with the horrible issue of sexual trafficking directly, I highly recommend the Swedish film Lilja 4-ever and the Australian film The Jammed.

  4. I’m 53, tired, and don’t have much time to waste on a news story that does not quickly get to the point. This film was a news story told by a reporter from WASP redneck paper of the bible belt in America. The sociological assumptions and perspectives are made from that point of view. I do agree with your analysis that it is arrogant. However, Liam can wack a guys head against the car with the force needed to kill him whereas Matt Damon just doesn’t possess the same believable force. Your surprised at Americans interest in the film to be greater than the Aussies? Common, 911 pissed off Americans something fierce!

  5. Hi Roger and thanks for your thoughts.

    My comment about me being surprised that Australians didn’t take much notice of Taken was a reflection on the fact that I know Australians are just as capable of embracing badly made trash-cinema full of xenophobic stereotypes as Americans are (just as I know that there are plenty of educated and intelligent Australians and Americans who reject such hateful and ignorant representations).

    I don’t think Taken had much to do with 9/11 since the villains in the film are sex traffickers and not terrorists.


  6. Greetings, I saw the film for the first time on DVD yesterday and quite enjoy it. Most comments here have summed it all up fairly well, more or less, depending on one’s view. I suppose things come down to what one ultimately wants/expects from a film – ‘entertainment’ ‘escapism’ ‘reality’ whatever…For me, and for pure fun, I did enjoy seeing Liam go about finding his daughter and slaying about 25 Albanians (and others) to get to her. It’s far from a perfect film, but what film is? I do agree that the daughter character was WAY too annoying to care about – one minute she hates him when she’s not getting her way (to go to Paris), next minute she loves him again when he agrees. The action too, while brisk and often inventive, was over the top in that shots fired at Liam from point blank range would somehow miss him altogether, time after time. I though, for one, do not trash the idea of human trafficking at all, as it DOES occur and this film’s premise is an interesting one. The question is whether it handles it well or not, not whether the premise is absurd or not. The ending as well, happened a little too quickly, as if they’d run out of money in production and decided to get them all home to the States as quickly as possible to play happy families again. As for the ‘where it did well’ comments, well, to be honest, and knowing film history and US culture, anything that pits Americans against morally corrupt, evil outsiders goes down well in the US of A, and this film was no exception. i.e. Can’t trust ‘foreigners’, former communist E.Europeans/Arabs are all cold monsters (and hate Americans) and, when it all boils down, America has all the answers, does the right things, is moral, pure and at the summit of where we all should be :)

  7. Hi Len

    Thanks for taking the time to write such a thoughtful response. On the issue of the film’s action I guess it simply comes down to person taste. As for the representation of human trafficking I do maintain that Taken does not handle it well at all. The scenario depicted in the film is certainly possible and I’m sure incidents such as the one depicted have sadly occurred. However, overall it is a grossly unrepresentative and sensationalist depiction of the way human trafficking operates worldwide on a daily basis. Finally, I suspect that your evaluation of why the film had such an appeal in the USA is correct (although, again we have plenty of people in Australia who usually respond to such things) but don’t you find it depressing that such xenophobic portrayals of non-American cultures is so popular?


  8. Thanks Thomas for the reply.
    Yes, well, anything non-American is bad or backward right? :)
    I was going to say in my last post that it would have been interesting to invert the premise and see an innocent, virginal French girl going to New York for instance, and have the same thing happen to her. Of course, it’d never get up for funding and Americans would never stand for it, intersting thought though :)
    And Xenophobia? Yup, well see it time and again, and even when ‘outsiders’ are accepted, it’s only so a whitey can teach them how to live better etc. (This was the same argument recently posited about Avatar, in that the ‘white human’ had to infiltrate the Narvi to inspire them, educate them, make them rise up etc etc. as if to say they can’t do it by themselves without ‘us’) – see Dances with Wolves, Last Samurai and so on…or when the ‘whitey’ succumbs to general evilness it is because he has gone into the unknown and been consumed by it, as against his own civilised origins (Apocalypse NowHeart of Darkness)

  9. Hi Len

    That would be an interesting film especially since human trafficking, forced labour and sexual exploitation do also occur throughout the US. This was depicted in Frozen River, where the subject was more a plot device than an issue adequately explored but I agree that we won’t see a big budget mainstream film any day soon.

    Your comments about the white-man-saves-the-day films are spot on and something I raised in my review of Avatar, which I nevertheless still really enjoyed. By no means would I defend such an attitude but I do think that it is a slightly different sort of mentality that stems from old colonist views about the nature of what is and isn’t civilised. It’s more a condescending view than the actively aggressive and hateful views advocated in Taken. By no means am I saying this old colonist attitude is OK and should go by unchallenged but I find the more immediate trend of demonising contemporary cultures more alarming and, right now, more destructive.

  10. OK Tom consider this: none of the comments including my own have possibly not gone deep enough than the xenophobic mindset which I susspect we should have. I’m proposing the notion that it is actual FEAR by the ardent Americans who hold judeo christian set of values feel that those eastern Europeans who are NOT brought up on thoes values will some how take control by force and allow actions as in lying to be tolerated. IE Martha Stewert inprisioned for is just not that the thugs are not like us as in personality but they are taught from their school teachers that to lie is essential for success in life for one to get ahead. I believe that many in this country are afraid of this mindset.

  11. I reckon you’re spot on Roger and yes, we have only scratched the surface of this issue, which deserves far more scrutiny than it is receiving here (myself included). But basically xenophobia is simply hatred generated by ignorance, irrationality and fear. Taken panders to all these things and that’s a big part of my problem with it.

  12. I did not realize that xenophobia exceeded the bounds of simple DISLIKE for anyone that is different than oneself, so I did look up the word. I must agree that the word is adequate in describing the American attitude toward those “monsters” from Albania. “we are all Marco”, nice subliminal play on feeding our lust for ligitimizing sterotyping,not really your Michael and Stephen. It was played up well to get the anger emotions up which I think in todays socio-political climate would not serve us well. There are now at least 3 versions of Taken for sale now. I do believe that the “mercury is rising” on our defense of our way of life. Reruns abound of Leave it to Beaver.

  13. you guys are bunch of geeks, its a film; rather good one if i must say but you dont need to debate about it.

  14. Congratulations Johnny. I think that is the single most stupid comment ever left here. The point of websites and blogs such as this one is to discuss and sometimes debate films. If you can’t handle that then there are plenty of other places to facilitate uncritical “teh movie rulz LOL!!!1!!” type comments.

  15. Funny, I just watched the movie again after over a year has passed, and your right Tom, congrats were in order for the man from skin land. Film is art, and when we cease from viewing it as such we might as well turn on the evening news on the political channel of our choice or take a peek at a porn site on the internet. Either way the level of artistic entertainment in such should not receive a ranking. Film is Art, and good art will always be analyzed and debated as to its value, thats the intellectual value of it and I do hope that film never dives into someones need to make a fast buck off of someones mindless grunt from a quickened heartbeat from crap! Taken does a good job at insulting the arrogant, indifferent capitalist. We all learned to hate lenor and her white wine new man. I related to the “karaoke” gift.

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