A letter to Wes about Taken
Have you seen either of the Taken movies? They’re a pair of lovely, whimsical films, about American tourists who get abducted by mysterious, vaguely ethnic sex slavers. The Irish actor Liam Neeson pretends to be an American security expert trying to rescue his teenage daughter. The sequel is set in Istanbul and I’m pretty sure it features precisely zero Turkish characters, but I didn’t check the script or anything. At one point, Maggie Grace – as the daughter – runs along the rooftops, throwing hand grenades at random targets to give her father an idea of her location via the Doppler effect. I’ve never been to Istanbul, and come to think of it, I’ve never had to rescue my daughter from mysterious, vaguely ethnic sex slavers either, but I imagine this is probably not completely representative of daily life in the Republic of Turkey. These movies are hyperactive nonsense, which is another way of saying that they’re also pretty enjoyable, solid, action-thrillers. The original is much, much better than the sequel, but that is the way of the world.
There’s a lot to talk about here. I don’t even know where to start. At the very least, the scripts don’t claim to be anything more than they are. Liam Neeson’s background is never discussed in detail, a good decision, since there are enough ex-Navy SEALs, CIA/FBI/DEA agents, and hardened big city cops in the movies already. At this point, I think most movie-goers would accept “Liam Neeson has magical powers that help him hunt down sex slavers” if it meant getting to the action ten minutes earlier. Strangely enough, Liam Neeson has never really needed the Sean Connery Memorial backstory – the exposition which tries to explain away the male lead’s foreign accent, but draws attention to it instead. Audiences just assume he’s whatever nationality he needs to be. He’s a pretty good choice for the lead, he’s aged his way into those leftover scripts from the 90s that called for a craggy Harrison Ford or Robert DeNiro. He’s convincing as both a sad-sack, overprotective father and your standard middle-aged action hero. If Taken is Not Without My Daughter for a male audience, then Liam Neeson is definitely Sally Field. His transformation into a killing machine after his daughter is abducted is .. well, I wouldn’t say realistic, but it’s at the point where the relatable movie characters and wish fulfillment meet.
But if I could only make one revision to these films, I would demand the scriptwriters put the the movie title somewhere in the script, exactly as written, no matter how awkward it gets. Here’s how I see it playing out for the first one:
INT. A high-class Parisian apartment. Day.
Liam Neeson’s daugher is hiding under the bed while mysterious, vaguely ethnic sex slavers kidnap her best friend.
LIAM NEESON’S DAUGHTER: (on her cell phone) Dad, help! These mysterious, vaguely ethnic sex slavers are kidnapping my best friend! What should I do?
CUT TO: Liam Neeson’s apartment.
LIAM NEESON: (on phone) I want you to listen very carefully. This is the hard part. You’re going to be … Taken.
See? That wasn’t so hard, now was it? If we could flash the title card of the movie here, or have it scroll across the screen, even better. Things do get more complicated for sequels, but it’s still doable:
INT. A dark basement in Istanbul. Day.
Liam Neeson is standing up, handcuffed to a drainage pipe. He’s been captured by a different set of mysterious, vaguely ethnic sex slavers, but he’s cleverly hide a cell phone in his sock. (That part’s in the actual movie, Wes – that’s not just me being an asshole.)
LIAM NEESON: (on the cell phone he’s cleverly hidden in his sock) Are you all right?
LIAM NEESON’S DAUGHTER: Dad! Where are you? I’m so worried!
LIAM NEESON: I’ve been abducted by a different set of mysterious, vaguely ethnic sex slavers. Now I need you to listen. This is the hard part. You need to get to the American embassy as soon as you can …
LIAM NEESON’S DAUGHTER: I’m not leaving without you, Dad! Tell me what I can do to help. I can do it.
LIAM NEESON: Well, I suppose, but only since you came away from your earlier abduction by mysterious, vaguely ethnic sex slavers with absolutely no scars, trust issues, or travel-related fears whatsoever. I need you to. ..
LIAM NEESON’S DAUGHTER: Wait, what about Mom? Is she with you?
LIAM NEESON: I’m sorry. She’s been … taken too.
You see? You can use the word “too” instead of the number two! Since they are homophones! English really is the language of kings.
I should probably stop here, before questions of grammar, style, and factual accuracy catch up with me. In my last post, did I really imply that Tolstoy wrote in English? (Yes. Yes, I did. Mistakes were made.) Use plenty of sunscreen out there.