Movies

A Particular Set Of Skills: The Best Non-‘Taken’ ‘Taken’ Movies

I told a friend last week, “there’s a new Taken movie out with Liam Neeson.”

“They made another Taken movie?” he asked, incredulous.

Well, not exactly, but yes. It was called The Marksman, and like most Liam Neeson action movies since 2008, it was essentially a Taken movie in everything but name. I think we all know what a “Taken movie” is by now. Key and Peele perfectly distilled the phenomenon for posterity in their recurring valet sketches, which eventually grew beyond “Liam Neesons” to encompass everyone from Bruce Willy to Anne Hathaway.

One man (or, sure, woman), at least 40 to 45 years of age but preferably older, has something important taken from him — his wife, his daughter, his dog, his car, or maybe just a rug that really tied the room together (no, The Big Lebowski doesn’t count, but that’d be a fun parody). That now-pissed-off person must then have “a particular set of skills” that make him a nightmare for all the kidnappers and rug thieves out there. Thus begins his (or her!) one-person revenge rampage (no buddy revenge movies, no “one last score movies,” those are different).

All of which got us to thinking: what are the best non-Taken Taken Movies? I tried to outline the best of the genre below, as well as create a brief taxonomy of why they qualify as “Taken movies.” Such as: the reason for their revenge rampage (“this time, it’s personal”), and the personal qualities they bring to it (“a particular set of skills.”).

Movie: Rambo Last Blood

NEW LINE

Liam Neesons?

73-year-old Sylvester Stallone

This Time… It’s Personal

Rambo’s adopted granddaughter goes to Mexico to try to find her father, who tells her that he never cared about her, and when she goes to drink away her troubles she gets drugged and kidnapped by a drug cartel who want to sell her into sex slavery.

A Particular Set Of Skills

In short… he’s Rambo.

Or as he puts it in Rambo (aka Rambo IV, aka John Rambo, aka the Rambo movie before this one) “You know what you are. What you’re made of. War is in your blood. Don’t fight it. You didn’t kill for your country. You killed for yourself. The gods are never gonna make that go away. When you’re pushed, killing’s as easy as breathing.”

General Thoughts

Rambo: Last Blood is one of the all-time masterpieces in accidentally (?) saying the quiet part out loud. It’s one of the goriest, most xenophobic movies ever made, in which a now actually-ghoulish looking Sylvester Stallone is a Frankenstein’s monster of grievance politics. Stallone has always been legitimately brilliant when it comes to having his finger on the pulse of Americans’ worst impulses at any given time, whether it be furthering the POW/MIA canard in Rambo II or dedicating Rambo III to the mujahideen, and Last Blood is his BUILD THE WALL! The man also can’t not make an entertaining movie. Last Blood is like Taken, only 10 times more violent and xenophobic.

Movie: The Outlaw Josie Wales

Getty Image

Liam Neesons?

46-year-old Clint Eastwood.

This Time… It’s Personal

Josey Wales is a simple Missouri farmer, until one day, a gang of pro-Union Jayhawks murders his wife and son.

A Particular Set Of Skills

Wales joins a Confederate militia and survives a massacre. If Wales learning to fight from the Confederacy seems somewhat… ah… problematic… we’ll get to that.

General Thoughts

Folks… I fell down the rabbit hole with this one. I always thought of Josey Wales as a sort of proto-Taken, with pissed-off old Clint Eastwood spitting tobacco juice on everyone, and it is, but I didn’t entirely remember the plot. Nor did I realize that it was based on a novel by “Forrest Carter,” which was actually the pen name of Asa Earl Carter, a former KKK leader and speechwriter for George Wallace. Carter even wrote the “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever” speech. He later fell out with Wallace on account of Wallace not being racist enough, and ran against him in the 1970 primary. If you’re wondering why a story that seems so pro-Confederate is also so pro-Native American, well, Carter’s fake writer persona, “Forrest Carter” was Cherokee (Asa also claimed Cherokee ancestry). Though one might also note that he named his persona “Forrest” …after Nathan Bedford Forrest, the founder of the Klan.

Carter even wrote a fake Native American memoir that Oprah put on her recommended reading list (side note: how many times has Oprah been duped by a fake memoir??). The Outlaw Josie Wales‘ original screenwriter Philip Kaufman, was apparently aware of this and tried to tone it down:

The film’s first director, Philip Kaufman, was not impressed by “The Rebel Outlaw Josey Wales.” “‘Fascist’ is an overworked word,” says Kaufman from his California home, “but the first time I looked at that book that’s what I thought: ‘This was written by a crude fascist.’ It was nutty. The man’s hatred of government was insane. I felt that that element in the script needed to be severely toned down. But Clint didn’t, and it was his movie.” Eastwood eventually fired Kaufman and went on to direct himself.

For movies in the Taken genre, I would argue that having terrible politics is canon.

Movie: Destroyer

Annapurna

Liam Neesons?

51-year-old Nicole Kidman

This Time… It’s Personal

A gang of bank robbers killed her boyfriend!

A Particular Set Of Skills

Kidman’s character, Erin Bell, is an LAPD detective, basically the lady version of every self-destructive alcoholic detective character who’s smart and cynical and doesn’t give a shit anymore. At one point, she gives a gang member in a hospice a handjob in exchange for information. It’s basically Destroyer‘s twist on Liam Neeson stabbing the old lady in the arm. Brilliant.

General Thoughts

It’s about time someone made a lady Taken! Destroyer is actually smarter, more artsy, and less pulpy than most of the movies on this list, and for the most part my only criticism is Kidman’s over-the-top alcoholic make-up the entire movie. Like, really? We couldn’t have a female version of the drinking-himself-to-death detective without giving her black eyes, sallow skin, and fake liver spots? Talk about hamming it up. She was like the live-action embodiment of the kid’s mean cartoon of Moe on The Simpsons.

Aw, jeez, you got the stink lines and everything?

Movie: True Lies

Twentieth Century Fox

Liam Neesons?

47-year-old Arnold Schwarzenegger.

This Time… It’s Personal

The terrorist group “Crimson Jihad” kidnaps Harry Tasker’s wife and then his daughter.

A Particular Set Of Skills

Schwarzenegger’s character, Harry Tasker, poses as a computer salesman but is actually an intelligence agent with “Omega Sector.” He excels at weapons, hand-to-hand combat, subterfuge, and can even fly a Harrier jet. The man has range.

General Thoughts

You could make the case that while Harry Tasker’s wife and daughter do get kidnapped, it wasn’t exactly the “inciting event” for the whole movie like in a pure Taken movie. It was more just a consequence of his life as a spy, from which he hasn’t yet retired. True Lies is probably more of a straightforward, eighties-style action movie, and also a brilliant parody of eighties-style action movies. What makes it so rare and wonderful is that it works perfectly as both. It may not fit the genre perfectly but I’d be damned if I left it off.

Movie: John Wick

lionsgate

Liam Neesons?

50-year-old Keanu Reeves.

This Time… It’s Personal

They stole his car and killed his dog, who was a gift from his dead wife. The full tooken trifecta!

A Particular Set Of Skills

He’s an orphan who raised by Belorussian assassins to become an assassin.

General Thoughts

It feels like John Wick was born when someone thought “what if Taken, but more?” (Shoulda called it “Taken It To The Limit”) It works, probably because Taken was built on excess to begin with. Keanu Reeves was also inspired casting — who knew then that the good-natured dopey surfer guy had it in him to play a crotchedy bruised up badass? No one transitioned from young and cute to scarred and rugged as seamlessly as Keanu Reeves.

Movie: Blood Father

SND Films

Liam Neesons Played By:

60-year-old Mel Gibson.

This Time… It’s Personal

Mel’s character, John Link, has a drug addict daughter who was dating a drug lord, but she shoots him in the neck during a botched robbery and has to flee. On the run, she reconnects with her estranged father and John Link subsequently has to protect her from a drug cartel.

A Particular Set Of Skills

John Link is an ex-con and recovering alcoholic, but mostly he’s just grizzled as hell.

General Thoughts

Separating the art from the artist and all that, Mel Gibson might be the ideal, if not original, Liam Neesons. He arguably helped invent the Taken genre in Ransom. I will never escape the image of an unhinged Gibson barking “GIMME BACK MY SON!” into the phone. He perfects it in Blood Father. A lot of actors who were sex symbols in their younger days have an awkward phase in middle life where they’ve clearly aged out of “young heartthrob” but haven’t quite owned “badass grandpa” yet. For Mel that period lasted probably a decade. Blood Father was the film where he finally fully accepted his leatheriness and it worked (again, assuming you can watch his movies without hearing him scream racial slurs). Being that it also stars William H. Macy and Dale Dickey, it probably has the best cast of any movie on this list.

Movie: Gran Torino

Warner Bros.

Liam Neesons Played By:

78-year-old Clint Eastwood.

This Time… It’s Personal

(*long string of racial slurs*)

Mostly, there’s a Hmong gang that tries to coerce Clint’s neighbor, Thao, into joining their gang, and his initiation is trying to steal Clint’s prized Gran Torino. His vengeance is part retribution for Thao, part retribution for his Gran Torino.

A Particular Set Of Skills

Clint’s character is a Korean War vet and winner of a Silver Star who still keeps his M1 in pristine condition. Also, he’s really old.

General Thoughts

It’s hard to separate movies in which the “retired badass” learns to kill again and ones in which he finds a reason to live. Lots of them, like The Marksman, which inspired this list (which was directed by a long-time Eastwood collaborator), are both. Gran Torino is like that. By now Eastwood has made a string of “problematic old man” movies, and Gran Torino is still by far the best of them.

Movie: Falling Down

Warner Bros

Liam Neesons?

49-year-old Michael Douglas.

This Time… It’s Personal

First William Foster gets laid off from his job, then he gets stuck in traffic and his A/C breaks down, then a shop owner won’t give him change for a phone call, some gang members try to mug him, the fast food place has just switched to the lunch menu even though he wants breakfast and have you ever noticed they sell hot dog buns in packs of six but hot dogs in packs of eight??? Falling Down is kind of like if Limp Bizkit’s “One Of Those Days” and a Denis Leary bit tongue kissed and then became a movie, the ultimate example of a white man slowly driven insane by petty grievances.

A Particular Set Of Skills

William Foster is a former defense engineer but mostly he’s just really pissed off. It works because no one juts his jaw and grinds his teeth like Michael Douglas.

General Thoughts

Admittedly, Falling Down is technically probably more of an “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!” movie than a Taken movie, but it’s such a landmark pissed-off-old-white-guy movie that I feel like I have to include it. The beauty of Falling Down was that there was actually a scene in which Michael Douglas rebuffs a neo-Nazi fan of his work. As if to say, “Whoa whoa whoa, I may be a pissed off old white guy, but I’m not that kind of pissed off old white guy!”

Movie: Man On Fire

20th Century Fox

Liam Neesons?

50-year-old Denzel Washington.

This Time… It’s Personal

Bad guys kidnap his 9-year-old client and best friend, played by Dakota Fanning. She was the reason he decided to live! He was even acting as her swim coach.

A Particular Set Of Skills

John W. Creasy is an alcoholic former U.S. Marine Corps Force Reconnaissance Captain and CIA Special Activities Division officer.

General Thoughts

Does anyone direct a meat-and-potatoes action movie better than Tony Scott? And is there a better Liam Neesons than Denzel Washington? Man On Fire is also, to my knowledge, the only movie on this list in which the hero crams a bomb in someone’s ass. Now THAT’S how you Taken.

Movie: The Accountant

Warner Bros.

Liam Neesons?

44-year-old Ben Affleck.

This Time… It’s Personal

The CEO of the company the Accountant has been hired to audit fires him before he can finish the job, which makes him furious. He hates leaving things unfinished!

A Particular Set Of Skills

Chris is a high-functioning autistic whose father, an Army Psyops officer, put him through “an intense regiment of stoicism and martial arts training” from the time he was just a young child. Also, he’s really good at math, can instantly calculate the distance and wind resistance of long-distance sniper shooting, and eating foods in multiples of three. He also listens to heavy metal for exactly 15 minutes a day and stares at a Honus Wagner baseball card to calm himself. Basically, the greatest action hero ever created.

General Thoughts

The Accountant may not fit the genre perfectly, in the sense that Ben Affleck’s character isn’t coming out of retirement. But come on, a high-functioning autistic assassin trained in martial arts who loves baseball cards? You can’t beat that plot. If I were Joe Biden, my first executive order would be to greenlight three Accountant sequels.

Vince Mancini is on Twitter. You can access his archive of reviews here.

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