Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Accidental Murderers

Taken (2008)/ Pierre Morel

Taken is an action film whose affairs are conducted with utmost civility and etiquette. The men in the film issue earnest apologies, sincere requests, and polite notices to each other – they are all accidental murderers who seem to prefer the quieter charm of civilization. Indeed, most of the violence in the film is preceded, immediately, by a sequence of casual banter and mannish camaraderie. The ‘hero’ engages his considerable skill in murder right after a group of men settle down for a harmless game of cards, or when an elaborate dinner is set on the table. He is the party-pooper every time, and if not pressed by such an urgent objective, seems to be the kinda guy who would join in. Too bad he can’t, because he has a daughter to salvage within 48 hours - as such, Taken is at best a film about small little things,  vague abstractions or if you may, notions. Except the seek, destroy and recover motif that is the only coherent quantity in the film, everything is at best, an impression of something – so there is the distinction between the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ at the macro-level. But at the micro, there are impressions of a prostitution racket, drug cartel, a notorious immigrant group, the hero’s fractured married life, police-criminal nexus, a time-limit (48 hours) to save someone – it is incredible just how many ideas Taken grazes, without ever committing to any. Its victory as a film, ofcourse, lies in its single-minded pursuit of its central conceit – a father out to get his girl. In that, it is the sort of film that is singularly uninteresting by itself, but because of its ability to evoke so much of cinema’s past, it assumes relevance that would otherwise not befit it. It’s entirely hokey ideas of a man reclaiming his right on his off-spring’s live through his primal protection of it is a throwback to Schwarznegger vehicles of the 80s, but the general manner of gentlemanliness that pervades through the film also makes it similar to the psychological realism of the 30s and the 40s, where even in the face of a rather sensational occasion, characters would treat each other like long-lost friends. The profundity of Taken comes from the film’s achievement in making its villain truly responsible for what he brings upon himself. On the surface, the film is 2 hours of non-stop action, and yet, the greatest action takes place in the duration of a four-second long poignant pause. The hero, in following the tradition of casual courtesy spread throughout the film, informs the villain of his supreme ability of murder, notifies him of his vast library of skills in the same regard, and makes the polite offer of leaving him alone if he lets his daughter be. All this happens over the phone. A pause. The villain indulges in a sincere measurement of his odds, and finally, rejects the offer. It is in the rejection of this, almost business-manly deal that the entire point of Taken lies. Unlike a lot of other action films, the villain’s bad fate is actually self-wrought. It is shot like a completely modern action thriller (ridiculously fast cutting, white flashes, impeccable continuity), but adheres to the classical action-film mode of shot-reverse shot. Which is fine enough, because when someone punches you, you punch them back.

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