“Taken” and the Revenge Genre

In this blog post, I will discuss the difficulties of the revenge genre and how the director of “Taken” attempts to avoid the classic revenge genre crisis. All together, this genre of film is too predictable. The audience can easily predict the path of the film and is left with little to imagine or think about. Yes, the film portrays passion, emotion, and triumph, but so does every other film in this genre. It is the same story with different characters and a different setting. In this film however, the director is conscious of the audience’s suspicions and attempts to work around them. Sure, you expect the hero to fight more effectively than the bad guys. You expect him to track more effectively than they hide. He’s ex-CIA, after all. You know he’s going to live, right? But the three real crises the film provides work around that. While the action in this film is overwhelming, the director attempts to avoid the simple bloodbath genre by exciting the plot with character development and unforeseen drama.

As the characters develop in the opening scenes of the film, it is obvious that Bryan, the main character is struggling to connect with his daughter and prove to his ex-wife that he can be there for the family. Lenoir’s new husband, Stuart, exemplifies all that Bryan is not. He is rich, careless, and easily convinced. The film expands these contrasting relationships as Bryan continually cautions his ex-wife about the dangers of allowing their daughter to travel to Paris unsupervised. Lenoir complains that Bryan is overcautious and tells him that he is at risk of losing his daughter if he doesn’t let her live. This character development is crucial to avoiding the classic, predictable and thoughtless revenge drama. Bryan’s character heightens his loyalty to his mission and encourages the audience’s attachment to his success. Along with the character development, the director uses unforeseen drama to add to the three crises of the film. We will look at these crises and assess how predictable or unpredictable they really were.
Crisis #1: He’s too late. That’s our biggest fear, right? In some way he can’t be too late to save his daughter or the film becomes pointless and the audience is aware of this. So the unforeseen drama that complicates the crisis is that he’s too late to save the friend. While this is to some extent predictable, the execution of the scene plays to the drama of the film.

Crisis #2: He has to do something unthinkable in order to progress. The unthinkable thing he does is shoot an innocent woman at the dinner table in order to get her corrupt government official husband to talk. He doesn’t kill her, but he threatens to. This is not easily foreseen and it added a measure of depth to the character that was equally unexpected. The hero is a complex character who we still want to see succeed. In some way this develops his character as an anti-hero, although the French crooked ex-spy encourages this to some extent.

 

Crisis #3: He gets captured. This is obvious, we all expect it and see it coming, and could predict when it would happen.  We can also assume that he will escape somehow considering the film likely will not end before he saves his daughter. This scene is fundamental to the revenge seeking drama. It complicates the plot and is a necessary cliché of this type of film. Even though this scene is predictable, it is executed well.

Whether or not the plot was unpredictable, the director did well to take the expected crises and deliver them in unexpected ways. The collaboration of character development and unforeseen drama assisted the film and helped differentiate the film from others in this drama.

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11 Comments

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11 responses to ““Taken” and the Revenge Genre

  1. Jason Jordan

    Yes, I agree that the film plays to some of the stereotypes of action adventure movies. I also think that it is because we have come to expect it from the genre. If he isn’t captured, it might not seem real as the question may be asked “How did he go through all of that and not slip up once?” But with the directors excellent pacing and way he told the story, it isn’t that noticable but there are genre elements this film and to some extent, the film relies on them

  2. alexfulton

    I think you make a good point about the few ways Taken avoids clichés. The film clearly is clichéd in many ways, but it avoids going completely overboard by making Bryan a somewhat morally ambiguous character. He isn’t a character that only kills the bad guys and harms those who have done something wrong. Instead, he takes some things out on the innocent, like the government official’s wife. I think this creates a realistic, dark edge to the entire situation. The wrongdoings of Bryan are what keep Taken from feeling artificial.

  3. ald3561

    Maybe I am just a different kind of viewer but I am not very good at predicted the outcome in suspenseful movies. Yes, in Taken Bryan clearly must somehow fight to get his daughter back or there would be not movie at all but I did not further predict what he might do next. I think the director also did a good job of creating things that the viewer would not normally expect based on Bryan’s background in working for the CIA. These factors, at least for me were not expected and also added a kind of insight about the crazy things that people that work for the government learn to do. I do agree that for most other viewers besides myself, Taken may be predictable but the director does add in some elements of suspense to surprise the audience.

  4. lbhayes

    I totally agree with many of your points and how at times this film is quite predictable. It seems far fetched that a young girl who has been raised by an extremely protective parent in the CIA would be this careless and open to talking with strangers. Part of me also had a tough time finding it believable that he could escape being captured or get away from those difficult situations with ease. I agree with the others that the random aggressive acts by Bryan are what keeps this film exciting and at times, unpredictable. I personally was shocked when he shot the French government officials wife. However, what I cannot stop thinking about is how much I do like, and always have loved this film. Regardless of the type of revenge and the predicability of it, I have always loved the plot.

  5. rpasser

    You are correct in asserting that the film is too predictable. Like many films of the revenge genre, the plot of Taken is a straight path. Unlike Alex from Revanche, Bryan’s journey of vengeance never seems to stray or diverge
    from the single goal ahead of him. His daughter is kidnapped. He goes to
    rescue his daughter and take revenge on the kidnappers. The concept couldn’t be any more simple.
    However, although Taken is extremely straightforward and noticeably predictable, I wouldn’t say that this is a weakness of the film. In fact, I believe this movie’s lack of complexity is intentional. It seems to reflect the “Cinéma du look” movement. Style is valued over substance, and spectacle is emphasized over narrative. The film is definitely focuses more on its visual presentation, and seems to divorce itself from any subtle themes. Its basic and predictable plot is not as important as how the audience visually sees the action and story taking place.

  6. dscwood

    I agree with your assessment that they do a great job of avoiding common revenge traps. Many films associated with this genre seem to fall into the same series of events that lead to an outcome that the audience expects.

    Taken, unlike other revenge films, progresses in a way that is uncommon but pleasing in the revenge genre.

    The director uses some cinematic techniques that keep the viewer guessing until what is actually going to happen is revealed. I see a good example of this in the scene where Brian puts the cell phone on an adjacent building and calls his friend who is attempting to take him into custody and get him out of France. Until the last second, we think Bryan will be caught until the last second when the police fins the walkie talkie next to the cell phone. Another example is when jean-claude pulls the gun on Bryan, and when he pulls the trigger, the viewer realizes that Bryan has taken care of it.

    All in all, the unpredictability of the movie is a great aspect of the film.

  7. chaseweddington1

    I, too, believe that “Taken” differentiated from the standard revenge-seeking plot. I found it to be more of a rescue mission than a revenge-based movie. In typical storylines involving revenge, the person seeking vengeance has a particular person or group that he or she targets. Here, I do not feel as though Bryan focused on inflicting pain on any certain individual or group, but instead his sole purpose was just to rescue his daughter no matter what obstacle was in the way. However, the predictability of the movie causes it to fall more into the revenge-based genre.

  8. tylerlindley

    I thought that those parts of Taken were well-executed as well. However, some of the situations and the ways in which they are resolved seem strange. For instance, consider the scene where Bryan is captured. It is very unlikely that Bryan’s entire operation to find his daughter would go off without a hitch or without him slipping up at least once, so him being captured could be considered obligatory for the sake of being realistic. But, is him never getting caught even once more unrealistic than the way in which he escapes? Assuming no one else comes to help him, the only possible way that he could escape would be if exactly what happened in the film had happened. If he had been held at any other point along the pipe, his escape would have been impossible. I’m not saying, at all, that I expect a movie to be completely realistic – I love the “Die Hard” series and I liked “The Expendables” too – but if the motive for the “protagonist has been captured” plot point is to instill a sense of realism into the film (and I agree with you that that is probably the reason for the plot point), it seems to me that the resolution of that plot point should ideally not be arguably even more unrealistic than the prospect of the protagonist executing a perfect operation.

  9. vmarley

    So far, I’ve seen that either someone thinks this movie is too simple and that’s bad or they think that simplicity was on purpose and it’s fine. I think I agree with the latter point of view because everyone likes to see a happy ending, even if the plot up to that point is a tad unrealistic. But, as for him being able to escape because of his luck at being handcuffed to that exact spot, I think a better way to look at it is this. Don’t think of it as, “Oh, the director put him there so that he could escape.” Think of it as, “Oh the director decided to show us a story where the character was luckily put at this point and he just happened to catch it on film.” Trying to think of it as actually happening, real life, and the camera is just a window into reality makes it seem less farfetched to me and less “clean” than if I thought that the director just made that happen so he could escape.

  10. michaeldepasquale

    Taken seemed to follow a very linear path throughout his journey. Its very simple, seeing as he just retraces his daughters footsteps and works his way up the chain. For me the plot was kind of second grade to the action, in which Brian Mills is amazing and shows some very realistic scenarios and how a real CIA agent would deal with them. Yes, his relationship does completely change with everyone in the film throughout the process, but it seemed as if they just wanted to make an action movie, and as a side note they also needed a plot. Throughout the movie Brian doesn’t face just one nemesis nor do I think he has just one. He moves up the latter the find his daughter and I think that was the exciting part, the rest was just needed to give the action scenes direction and give the plot depth. For me personally I feel as if the movie would have been better if they had an alternate ending, such as Brian dying for the life of his daughter. It would seem to give the film for of an emotional meaning than just everyone being fine and happy in the conclusion.

  11. terrellhicks

    You do raise a going point that this “revenge” genre is very predictable. Most of the revenge films we’ve watched have followed a very similar structure of someone kills someone, someone attached to the person who died gets mad, and then they plan out a plot to get the original killer back. While it is predictable and the audience pretty much knows what to expect, almost all of the films do a good job and keeping the audience’s attention. I know when I watched Oldboy, I was still intrigued even though I knew what was about to happen, besides Woo-Jin killing himself. I think the fact that “Taken” is not as cliche as it sounds is what kept the audience interested throughout the film. Bryan is getting revenge by getting his daughter back, but he is not the stereotypical good guy gone bad due to vengeance. He is a flawed character from the beginning with his unfortunate family history. Watching an already flawed character seek out revenge is more interesting that watching a stereotypical good guy get revenge because Bryan still have problems to deal with after his revenge is complete.

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