Reading this review will tell you all you need to know about Taken. If you haven't see the film, perhaps now is the time for you to cease reading, as spoilers abound. Then again, the film follows an overused and clichéd Hollywood format that makes spoilage an inevitability if you've a tendency for moviegoing, and my commentary on Taken might be more worth your while than viewing the ninety-minute film. The choice is yours to make.
Ever wonder what you'd get by mixing sexist stereotypes with ones about Muslims? Oh wait, I think that's happened before -- many, many times. Taken is just the most recent example of this ever-present phenomenon, and it has brought in $124 million to date. Apparently tired tropes sell.
Liam Neeson plays the estranged father, Bryan Mills, of Kim (Maggie Grace), a spoiled yet sweet seventeen-year-old girl who lives with her mother (Famke Janssen) and step-father in posh American splendor. Mills recently quit his job—which he describes as being a "preventer" for an unspecified special ops entity run by the US government—in order to build a relationship with his daughter. The conflict begins almost immediately, as Kim requires her father's legal permission to go on an adult-free, intercontinental vacation with a friend to follow U2's European Tour. (She initially tells her dad she'll be spending the summer in Paris). Dad tells Daughter that the world is a dangerous place. Mom tells dad he's being overprotective. Dad caves in hopes of engendering Daughter's love.
When Kim and her friend Amanda, a sexually permissive nineteen-year-old whose sole role in Taken is to put the two young women in danger by following her hormonal whims, arrive in Paris they are promptly snatched up by a group of men, but not before we learn that Kim is a virgin. We discover within minutes (thanks to Dad's "particular set of skills") that the girls have been taken by a group of Muslim Albanians that specialize in kidnapping of young, foreign girls who are traveling alone (read: without male protection) and are to be sold into sexual slavery. The star and crescent tattoo on the captor's hand somehow lets Dad know that he has ninety-six hours to save Daughter.
So how does Mills do it? By being hyper-masculine to the point of invincibility, of course. These Muslim men stole his property, after all, and he wants it back. (The kidnapping is to be read, in part, as the fault of overly permissive and naive Mom who used guilt to override Dad's "reason" to allow Daughter go to Paris, which included colluding in Daughter's lying to Dad and using ridiculous Dr. Phil-like platitudes about "not smothering" Daughter.) The mission of this now-enraged father will not be thwarted, and all tactics (including rampant killing and bodily torture) are at his disposal to save poor Kim while her purity is still in tact.
Being a virgin, and therefore highly valuable, Kim is singled out for sale to a wealthy businessman. Unfortunately, sluttish Amanda is not so fortunate and Mills finds her dead of a drug overdose, a punishment for failing to be sexually chaste. After looking in a number of seedy places, Mills works his way up the food chain to the elite meat market where he sees Kim sold—after being described as "certified pure"—for half a million dollars to an older Arab man. (Kim isn't the girl sold to this man. He has bought a veritable harem of virgins who are dolled up and dressed in white lace robes, which veil their young faces, before being bought to his bed chamber.)
I already told you that Mills saves Kim, and that's where the story neatly ends. We don't find out what happens to the rest of the girls or the traffickers that Mills encounters on his quest. And really, he makes it quite clear that he's not interested in their fate, which he sees as just a part of the business. Mills only cares about the fate of Kim because she is his daughter, and therefore, his quest was personal. (He tells this to one of the higher-ups, just before he kills him.)
Lest lascivious France escape unscathed, the French government benefits from human sexual slavery too, padding their pockets through the sale of female flesh. Interestingly, the system of trafficking itself is never scrutinized; it's simply accepted as the way things are. Except that what is shown in Taken is not really the way things are in the world of sex trafficking.
For starters, it is extremely uncommon for an American girl to be trafficked. Instead, the victims tend to be women who "originate from countries experiencing political and economic instability, internal displacement, militarism, civil unrest, internal armed conflict, and natural disasters." Women who are trafficked tend to be from Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia, and Latin America, not the United States—but reality doesn't serve Taken's cautionary, paternalistic, white supremacist tale. In order to effectively convey its fearmongering, Taken needs its victim to be a picture of feminine perfection: lily white, innocent, young, beautiful, and American. (Kim even dreams of being a singer instead of taking advantage of her family's economic privilege to pursue a more cerebrally engaging career.)
The use of anti-Muslim and anti-feminist fare in Hollywood blockbusters is certainly nothing new. (What is interesting, though, is how other reviews have ignored—or promoted—their use in Taken.) It is ironic that the makers of Taken actually reinforce the ideas that make sex trafficking possible. Advocating for social, political, and economic equality of marginalized populations is one method endorsed to curb the sale of women and build struggling economies through legal means. You see, viewing someone through a lens of humanity has the funny effect of making it more difficult to treat them as chattel or evildoers. I guess the makers of Taken didn't get that memo.