‘Taken’ 1 and 2: Dissenting opinions
GEZİM ALPİON / STEPHEN SCHWARTZAt the beginning of the newly released “Taken 2,” Bryan Mills, a retired U.S. government assassin played by Liam Neeson, tells his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) that what he knows about Istanbul he derived from a travel book read during his flight to Turkey, where the film is set. The fact he cites the role of the Bosphorus as a water link between Europe and Asia is so banal one cannot help wonder how someone with such a scant education might have been hired in any responsible position by the American authorities. Perhaps this lack of knowledge is presented intentionally to portray American government agents as imbeciles. The former official employer of Bryan is left unnamed but would be imagined as the Central Intelligence Agency. As such an operative, Mills should at least know that the U.S. embassy in Turkey is located in Ankara and not Istanbul, as he repeatedly tells his daughter. Yet the Bosphorus as a frontier may be the most significant symbolic element of the film.
These howlers are aggravated midway in the film when Bryan, a “first-time visitor” to Istanbul, delivers surprisingly, to his barely comprehending ex-wife Lenore or Leni (Famke Janssen), directions on how to escape from a hiding place in the middle of the Turkish city’s famously complex Grand Bazaar. He instructs her in turning this way and that among confusing corridors and corners that even a resident born in the city might not know.
But Bryan is less than expectedly competent in other matters. He appears to have let his ex-wife and daughter know that killing people in clandestine operations was his profession. This is not acceptable behavior – it is indeed illegal – for a U.S. spy, antiterrorist elite military squad member, or other individual performing such tasks, who is supposed to keep them secret even from his spouse and offspring. Resembling blabbermouth Bryan, producer Luc Besson and scriptwriter Robert Mark Kamen do not hesitate to indulge the disreputable motive for these films: undiluted hatred of Islam, and the dissemination of abominable libels against the small and little-known nation, to outsiders, of Albania.
The “Taken” films are, indeed, both anti-American and prejudicial to Albanians. In them, ignorant Americans excel at brutal killing, and Albanians at human trafficking and torture. All else is trivial.
The anti-Arab bias visible in “Taken” has been ameliorated, however, in “Taken 2” by having Neeson’s Bryan do security work in Istanbul for an Arab. The decadent Arabs are replaced by corrupt Turks. As for Eastern Europeans, they remain Besson’s cartoonish adversaries, represented exclusively by “the Albanians.”
Neeson is assisted in demonizing Albanians by Rade Serbedzija, the Croatian-born actor of Serbian descent. Serbedzija helps Neeson to effectively, in the words of Bryan, “Do what I do best!” by supplying people upon whom the Neeson character can practice his homicidal skills. In his review of “Taken 2,” Neil Smith of Total Film concludes that “while it’s fun to watch Neeson take out the Eurotrash, we’ve seen him do it better.” This comment by Smith is revealing: “Eurotrash” emerged in America as a term referring to youthful Western European immigrants and tourists with money to spend and arrogance on display. Like Besson and Kamen, Smith apparently believes that “Eurotrash” consists of Albanians, Turks and Muslims in general. In the era of Geert Wilders and similar Islam-baiting demagogues, this is hardly an uplifting or even a minimally original view. In another subtextual element, the American family is fresh-faced, clean and pleasant, while the Albanian family is unattractive, dirty and violent.
The “Taken” films gratify an American addiction to cinematic violence – which gave “Taken 2” a surprising financial boost on its release – and Western European anxieties about immigrants and the “clash of civilizations.” The latent message would seem to be that the Eastern hordes are once again prepared to cross the Bosphorus and ravage the West. In these films, Albanians are not just ordinary criminals but Islamic enemies to the U.S. government and U.S. citizens. Equally important is the deduction that Turkey is unsuitable to join the European Union, as a Muslim country.
Nobody denies that crime exists in Albania and that some Albanians, like members of every other nation, commit crimes outside their own lands. But a nation that counts Mother Teresa as their daughter does not need to worry about trashy films. Releasing “Taken” in February 2008, the month when Kosovo declared its independence, and “Taken 2” in the autumn of 2012, shortly before Albania celebrates the centenary of its independence in 1912, might be anything but a coincidence. The strengthening of an Albanian presence in European affairs, especially with the U.S. backing Kosovo, is bound to dismay the enemies of the Albanians in the Balkans and test the European countries that in some cases (France stands out as an example) were reluctant to support the U.S. rescue of Kosovo from Serbian aggression. In France as elsewhere, the unredeemed pledge of the European Union to complete the accession of Turkey also may figure in the ideological background.
Unfortunately, as these films demonstrate, Albanians, Turks and their friends have many tasks ahead of them in educating the Western public.