Taken succeeds as a simple revenge movie. You kidnap my daughter, I come kill you. It was fun, it moved quickly, and who doesn’t like watching Liam Neeson punish bad guys with throat chops? You don’t want to mess with that successful formula by mucking things up with complicated character issues. It was a good movie, but it wasn’t quite great. A few minor things that stuck in my head as I was watching:
1. Bryan Mills’ former squad-mates. If there’s a defining quality to these kinds of ex-military ops, it’s their fierce loyalty to each other. They would sacrifice anything for one of their brothers. The movie makes a big deal about them showing up, all working together, obviously still yearning for action. They are concerned for their friend and show genuine interest in the welfare of his daughter, Kim. Naturally, they are going to help Mills rescue his daughter, right? Wrong. And there’s no reason given. The people he’s been closest to for all the years he was away from his daughter–the people who probably know him better than his ex-wife Lenore–figure in no way, shape, or form to his story except to flesh out his background.
This needed to be addressed. We want the story to be Mills’ mission, a lone man out to rescue his father, no one else helping him. Of course we do. But it doesn’t make sense for him to go it alone if he doesn’t have to. Have his resources stripped away from him (which was decently done with his old French contact now stuck behind a desk and turning a blind eye), instead of him ignoring them.
You could do it a few different ways: Less satisfying would be for the squad mates to have a security detail that they can’t give up. But again, these are the kinds of guys who would drop anything for a brother in need, regardless of the personal cost.
How about this: They to go to France with him, lay a little smack in the beginning–say they help him in the sting of Peter, the spotter at the airport–and then take the fall in some sort of diversion when the French police are after him. They get captured (and presumably quietly deported) so that Mills can escape to continue fighting. This way the squad serves a purpose, we see their skills, we see that Mills is superior, and they get to sacrifice themselves for him, and then we now have a reason why he has to go it alone.
2. Stuart’s money. This one didn’t bother me as much, but more could have been done with Stuart and Lenore. Aside from the pony-as-competition birthday present and the private jet, Stuart’s outrageous wealth doesn’t factor in the story at all. There’s no way Lenore wouldn’t marshall every dollar he had to get her daughter back. Just have them do something well-meaning, like hire a detective or notify the police. It’s what any well-intentioned parent would do. Then Mills shows up to find that the French are already “on the case” and have a suspect in custody. Mills uses his tape recorder to determine that this is just a patsy, someone taking the fall for the real criminals. The French think they have their man, and have to go through due process. This tips off the bad guys and makes it that much harder for Mills to complete his mission.
3. Expectations and Dramatic Tension. There were missed opportunities for some great tension in Taken, and they stemmed from some clunky set-up of expectations. I already mentioned the implicit expectation that his squad mates would help him.
Another one comes when Mills is in the “House with the Red Door” on Rue Paradis faking it as the extortionist. There’s a great little exchange of glances with the sleepy-faced big man sitting at the table. When the gofer leaves, Mills must wait for uncomfortable moment in the presence of a thug sizing him up–a classic set-up for a hand-to-hand fight. But it never came. Instead, the big one-on-one fight comes at the end with a skinny little guy dressed in Armani we’ve never seen before.
But the biggest one was Marko. That’s your trailer moment, when Mills says “I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you,” and Marko says “Good luck.” Then Mills gets the best of him the first time they encounter each other. I love what he did to him afterward in the interrogation scene, but if Marko had been just a little more wily, he would have made a better opponent for Mills and it would have been more satisfying when Mills finally kills him.
But who am I to argue with $145,000,000 in domestic gross?