For reasons that have precious little to do with its merits as a film, Taken is an absolutely fascinating experience. About two years ago I wrote about a movie that became a runaway hit partly because it came together in all the right places at exactly the right time. The film - Little Miss Sunshine - was a cutesy fluff piece that, like its 2008 version Juno, hit the theatres and audience right in the centre of the bullseye.
Taken is another of these perfectly timed releases, only the world has descended into economic Armageddon and social chaos in the interim. The result is a movie that allows its 2009 audience to extract some vicarious payback from all those mysterious bastards who made them poor again. This is a revenge tale through and through, bereft of any real moral grounding and quivering under the weigh of its own shaky justifications and ethics. Liam Neeson plays Bryan, a one killing machine in search of his kidnapped (and soon to be white slave) virginal daughter. It plays into an American fear complex that has bad people doing terrible things around every corner and dovetails it into the barking-mad child safety movement that made most of the children in the Western World drooling halfwits whose entire lives are played out in their bedrooms on Facebook and in virtual worlds instead of the real one.
In a nutshell, it's a nearly perfect distillation of middle-aged Western angst.
Taken's real strength as a marketable entity however, remains that this is one itch that you can scratch (perhaps more accurately - scratch out). All of the frustrations associated with feeling helpless in the face of an economy in free fall, bad news on every front and getting old are whisked away in a flurry of deadly karate chops and pistol fire. I lost count of the number of bad guys Neeson dispatches about an hour in.
Taken is a quasi-remake of Death Wish ('74), the Charles Bronson movie that became an overnight sensation in a time not all that dissimilar to ours. It speaks directly to an audience that wants to take control of their circumstances, but can't. It's both vicious and remorseless but it's clearly resonating with movie goers because it's also simple.
I'm here. My daughter's over there. You're in the way. I shoot you. Now you're not.
If only life were this straightforward.
The popularity and excellent reviews this film is enjoying says bad things about us and where we might be headed.