Tuesday, May 12, Fox Home Entertainment will release Taken, one of the biggest action flicks of 2009, on DVD and Blu-Ray. If you’re in the mood for an against-the-clock shoot-‘em-up, the movie delivers. In addition, the film does an effective job of seeding — in less than 20 minutes — nearly 75 minutes of nonstop action.
SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW
Bryan Mills is a former elite-ops employee of the U.S. government who has retired in order to be closer to his teenaged daughter, Kim. Kim gets invited to vacation abroad with a friend (and without adult supervision). She needs her father’s permission to travel since she’s a minor. After some arm-twisting, Bryan agrees to the trip. Shortly after arriving in Paris, Kim and her friend are abducted by a sex-trafficking ring. Kim happens to be on the phone with her father during her abduction, giving Bryan his only clues for tracking her down: her location at the time of the abduction, the fact that she shared a cab with someone named “Peter,” and the voice of one of her abductors saying “good luck” into the phone. One of Bryan’s friends — a fellow special-ops intelligencer — sets the clock at 96 hours. If Bryan doesn’t find his daughter within four days, it’s likely she will disappear forever. The following examples show how Besson and Kamen introduce some critical story elements that feed the action.
Our Hero: We learn a good bit of Bryan Mills’ (Liam Neeson) history via expository dialogue among he and his buddies. Bryan has retired from an undefined U. S. special-ops force. His friends moonlight as security guards for under-the-table cash. Bryan agrees to assist as a fill-in on one “piece of cake” assignment, chauffeuring a pop-star to and from her concert.
Even though we know the assignment won’t be a piece of cake, an important character trait is introduced during the gig. Bryan’s near-psychic sense of imminent danger becomes clear as he helps the pop-starlet escape a crush of fans. He somehow knows a man with a weapon is waiting around a dark corner. Bryan quickly dispatches the man-with-weapon and carries the pop-star to safety. Now we not only know Bryan’s professional history, we see that his skills are still very sharp — action-hero sharp.
Our Hero’s Relationships: Bryan’s friends also reveal that Bryan has given up his fast-paced career in order to be closer to his almost-adult daughter, Kim (Maggie Grace). To be more accurate, Bryan is very nearly obsessed with making up for lost time with his daughter. Through a conversation between father and daughter we come to understand that, growing up, Kim felt abandoned by Bryan because she never fully understood his job.
At Kim’s 17th birthday party, we see the strained relationship between Bryan and his ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen). We also see that while Kim loves her father she has been raised by an ultra-wealthy stepfather, Stuart (Xander Berkeley).
The Kim relationship revelations are important to the story for several reasons. We all understand a parent’s desire to protect a child. However, when the action starts and bodies begin piling up, we see Bryan do some genuinely shocking things in order to extract information. (There is some fairly un-subtle commentary on America’s use of torture.) We must remember that Bryan not only loves his daughter as any parent would, he is also making up for all the times he was not there to protect Kim. In finding and rescuing Kim, Bryan will feel redeemed.
Regarding the other-parent relationships, the premise that Lenore and Bryan’s divorce is not amicable is useful in the lead-up to Kim’s abduction. All of Bryan’s worry over letting his daughter go abroad is met with annoyance and dismissive-ness from his ex. Also, the fact that Lenore appears to have little affection for her ex further isolates Bryan — it enhances his I-have-nothing-to-lose M.O.
Finally, the fact that Bryan is unemployed and low-to-middle income does not impact his international pursuit because Kim’s loving stepfather is ultra-wealthy. Stuart would obviously bankroll any resources Bryan may need in his search for Kim.
These are just a few examples of how the story’s set-up seeds the action in Taken. Did you see the film? What were some other examples?
For more on action writing, read William Martell’s Independents: Anatomy of an Action Scene, Part 1 in the May/June issue.