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Worst Film Ever.

Or, TAKEN: 93 minutes of my life.

As we get ever closer to the release of Twilight saga movie number 4, and as more films are remade barely after their initial release (‘Let The Right One In’ (2008), ‘Let Me In’ (2010)) to unsurprisingly disappointed receptions, there is clearly a lot of competition out there for the worst film ever.

When I was a kid I remember seeing ‘Bean’ (1997) and it was the first time I had actually wanted to walk out. But as my BFF reminded me last night after seeing ‘Contagion’ (2011) “it’s better to be slightly bored than traumatized” – so while ‘Contagion’ was completely uninteresting, there was nothing highly offensive or upsetting about it. The same cannot be said for ‘Taken’ (2008). Three years ago I wrote the following review and I am yet to see it beaten to the title:

It doesn’t happen often that I find nothing at all redeeming about a movie. But last night my sister, brother-in-law and I all agreed that ‘Taken’ was the worst film we had ever seen. And we have really different tastes in movies.[1]

The only film I have ever actually walked out of was ‘Don’t Move’ (‘Non ti muovere’, 2004) – a love/rape story that I simply couldn’t bare at the time. I walked out after 30mins, post the first (of many) totally sexualised rape scene. When I finally watched the entire film in 2006, I did appreciate it. It is a really wonderful film, but the complexity involved in its greatness was beyond me at the time. And it is utterly painful to watch.

The last film I nearly walked out of was ‘The Dead Girl’ (2006), which I think may be the best competition for ‘Taken’.

The reason I went to see ‘The Dead Girl’ was because I had heard an interview with the (female) director where she explained that the film gave a voice to someone otherwise just seen as ‘the dead girl’, which actually is total bullshit. The film does exactly not that. The ‘dead girl’ only appears at the end. And the film plays into super boring lesbian/drug addict/prostitute/’she was asking for it’ narratives without challenging them.

Here are my criteria for judging a film:

1-does it reinforce stereotypes/cliched narratives?
2-does it depict women as victims/helpless/mindless consumers?
3-does it reinforce racist, sexist, homophobic assumptions/stereotypes?
4-does it contain rape (as threat, allusion, or graphic image)?
5-does it play well as a film (that is, have good cinematography), or does it rely more on just a story?
6-does it contain some pathetic love story, where things work out in the end?
7-does someone hot make up for it?
8- does it glorify something repulsive like patriarchy/war?
9-is it critical of oppressive social structures?
10-is the main message of the film super lame unoriginal?

SO. This is why ‘Taken’ is the worst film ever:

Brief synopsis:
Ex-Army Liam Neeson retires to live closer to his estranged daughter. She wants to go to Paris with her friend and needs him to sign a form because she is 17. He says she can go only if she calls him twice a day. She doesn’t call. He calls her and while they are on the phone guys break into their apartment and kidnap the friend and then her. Neeson tracks down every person involved and kills them all, rescuing the daughter.

‘Taken’ rates as follows:

  • (1) does it reinforce stereotypes/cliched narratives?

Oh my god Yes. It is a super boring ‘action’ movie. Badly written (so many bad one liners by Liam Neeson in the style of ‘this time it’s personal’). Terribly weak narrative (Neeson’s daughter goes to Paris on a trip and he is worried about her going alone and then lo and behold she is kidnapped on her first day).

  • (2) does it depict women as victims/helpless/mindless consumers?

Absolutely. We never see the daughter’s story (for ‘narrative effect’, we are supposed to identify with Neeson ‘not knowing where she is’), thus she is depicted as completely useless/helpless to do anything herself. The (female) friend is found dead and she is just never brought up again.

There is also this thing about her being a virgin, which is so terrible: like she’s a virgin so instead of getting used in a brothel she gets sold off as a virgin, and then it is implied that she is still a virgin when he saves her (and therefore still ‘pure’), which I find super unlikely.

  • (3) does it reinforce racist, sexist, homophobic assumptions/stereotypes?

Classic America takes on evil ‘Others’. The guys who kidnap, traffick and pimp the girls are Albanian, one is black. The story takes place in France and the French government is implicated as supporting the ‘trade’. When the girls are auctioned off, the buyers are of Asian appearance, or with dark skin. The final super bad guy (who purchasers the daughter) is West Asian Muslim.

  • (4) does it contain rape (as threat, allusion, or graphic image)?

Yes. The girls kidnapped are given heroin and put to work in warehouse brothels. The threat that the daughter will be raped is the basis of the suspense of the film.

  •  5) does it play well as a film (employ cinematography), or does it rely more on just a story?

No. but it is an action movie, so that’s to be expected.

  • (6) does it contain some pathetic love story, where things work out in the end?

The main love story is the father/daughter, so that’s pretty cool (although obviously lame conservative and unoriginal in other ways), there is no main het love theme. But the father/daughter love story, esp. ending is pretty pretty bad:
When the story begins, Neeson is estranged from his family because of his long absences due to active army service, and he is trying to build a relationship with his daughter. He works for one night on security at a concert and saves the singer’s life. In return she says he can bring his daughter to meet/learn from her (the daughter wants to be a singer). Guess how it ends.

  • (7) does someone hot make up for it? 

Only if you’re into Liam Neeson, but the acting is so so bad in anyone. Even Neeson is terrible.

  • (8) does it glorify something repulsive like patriarchy/war/…

Yes. Patriarchy: father saves all. The film also has super dubious morals: it condones the use of torture (pretty standard these days but still), Neeson also kills so many people without caring, often unnecessarily, including women at a brothel, and he shoots a guy he’s after’s wife – all in order to save the daughter. He only ‘rescues’ one other girl from a brothel because she has his daughter’s jacket, but he doesn’t seem to give a shit about ‘anyone else’s daughter’.

Neeson is also a trained soldier. He is able to save the daughter because of the skills he gained in the army (the army is really great like that).

  • (9) is it critical of oppressive social structures?

It is critical of America’s ‘bad guys’: Eastern Europe, France, Muslims. They appear to suck while white, manly America is there to save the day (world).

  • (10) is the main message of the film super lame unoriginal?

Yes. Women who travel alone will be kidnapped, sold into prostitution and become drug addicts. their only possible escape is if their father (some man) rescues them.

Even Holly Valance doesn’t make up for it.

Other notes:

It’s also SO unbelievable. And I understand the classic ‘bad guys can’t shoot straight but good guys always do’ scenario, but this is RIDICULOUS. Neeson must be like 60 (and the character is supposed to retired, ie out of practice or at least fitness), he repeatedly beats off 2, 3, 5, 7 (younger) guys without getting injured at all, mostly he is unarmed while they are armed. At one stage a guy shoots a machine gun at him at close range and still completely misses. At another he is handcuffed to a drain pipe against 5 guys with weapons. He is also pursued by the French government and then for no reason they give up, and he is able to leave the country.

Which movie do you think deserves the title WORST FILM EVER?

[1] Here are some of our favourite films:

Me: Charlie Kaufman’s ‘Adaptation’ (2002), ‘I Heart Huckabees’ (2004), Penelope Cruz in Pedro Almodovar’s ‘Volver’ (2006)

My sister: ‘The Usual Suspects’ (1995), Al Pacino in Oliver Stone’s ‘Scarface’ (1983), Neil Gaiman’s ‘Stardust’ (2007)

My brother in law: Jim Carrey in ‘Ace Ventura’ (1994), Chuck Palaniuk’s ‘Fight Club’ (1999), Oliver Stone’s ‘Platoon’ (1986)



Filed under Feminist Politics, Screen, What's Queer Here?