Taken – Schindler kicks ass and makes AdamK wonder why everyone feels so helpless
When you think of truly great actors, you often go straight to the icons – The Bogarts, the Newmans, the Eastwoods. I’m beginning to think that the more iconic an actor is, the more overrated they are in terms of acting ability. Don’t get me wrong; a guy like Robert Redford or Jack Nicholson is obviously tremendously talented. Guys like that are often referred to as having ‘defined a generation.’ The problem with that is to define a generation, you have to embody the characteristics of the time. Since it’s impossible for anybody to understand the context of the times in retrospect (it’s hard enough to do so when processing events in real time), each generation is usually reduced to a few cliches. The 60s were about free love and protesting Vietnam, the 70s were about disco, the 80s were about New Wave and Materialism (you can pretty much relive the 80s by watching American Psycho), the 90s were about irony and grunge and disenchantment from the status quo, etc… In theory, a great actor should be one who can play many very different roles well. Iconic actors became so because they embodied a few culturally relevent stereotypes perfectly.
All this is a short way of saying that Liam Neeson is a GREAT actor. I rented his recent movie Taken last night, and from now on, I will no longer call it by the name I used previously, “Schindler Kicking Ass.” I had come up with this name, because like most other people, I had a hard time separating the actor from his most notorious role. But as I watched Neeson scheme, torture, kill and plot his way through Paris, I wasn’t thinking “Hey, that’s the guy who saved all those Jews!” He’d become a different person, almost completely unrelated to that famous European hero. Like Sir Ben Kingsley, he had completely transformed (watch Ghandi and then Sexy Beast to get a feel for what I’m talking about).
While watching Taken, I couldn’t help but compare it to two recent movies, one I’ve seen and one I unfortunately haven’t. Last week, I went to see Inglorious Basterds, starring some guy with a moustache and made by that guy who isn’t in the business of storing ni**ers. Unfortunately, it was completely sold out, so I ended up watching District 9, a film about Dr. Zoidberg from Futurama living in a refugee camp in South Africa. On the surface, I think it’s fair to say that other than copious violence, these movies have almost nothing in common thematically. To that, I reply: different themes, maybe, but same underlying message. In a world gone haywire, wouldn’t it be nice to have a little bit of control back? In Taken, a father finds his kidnapped daughter through nothing but gumption and insane detective skills that border on the superhuman (Neeson plays a retired ‘Preventor’, a shady CIA position that seems to entale tremendously secret covert operations). In Inglorious Basterds, a group of Jews murder, maim and torture Nazis, instead of the reverse. And in District 9, a brutalized alien rises up with a hunted government employee to take out the mercenaries sent after them, using technology that turns people into pink vapour (I saw the movie with a video game geek, who flipped out upon realizing one gun was extremely close to Half Life 2′s Gravity Gun). All 3 feature the put upon becoming the vehicle of revenge. I think it’s a pretty drastic departure from the heroes of old, such as Willis in Die Hard, Stallone in Rambo, Schwarzenegger in… well, pretty much everything. Those guys started out as heroes; Rambo getting tossed in jail in no changed the fact that he was a walking, talking killing machine. True, Neeson was a former government agent, but Taken seems to make a point that his search for his daughter is taxing his abilities to their utmost. He isn’t sleep walking his way through battle like Schwarzenegger in Commando. The new heroes are battling long odds, and are underequipped physically and emotionally to handle it, but pull through regardless. It’s often said that the populace uses movies as an escape. Lord knows these days we can use a bit of escaping. But finding refuge from our helplessness? Just what is it that we’re all feeling so helpless about? Maybe we’re all just terrified that the Nazis are now in power in the United States. Call the Basterds!