Taken (2009) vs. Man on Fire (2001)
March 9, 2010
Two men seeking redemption. One a father, longing for a daughter’s love long lost, the other a man who has given up hope and reads the Bible thinking he cannot be redeemed for what he’s done. Both come to the brink of what they’re searching for only to have it snatched away by an unknown evil which thinks of human life only in economic terms. Neither will stand for it. They will use their various skills and resources to do what they have always done best: eliminating that evil!
“A man can be an artist … in anything, food, whatever. It depends on how good he is at it. Creasey’s art is death. He’s about to paint his masterpiece.”
Since I watched Man on Fire first I will start with my assessment of that. John Creasy (Denzel Washington) is a former CIA member who has sunk into depression, his best friend a flask at his side. He has seen so much death he has lost the will to keep his own life. Through a friend (Christopher Walken) he manages to secure a job as a bodyguard for a young girl named Pita (Dakota Fanning )down in Mexico City, where kidnapping people for ransom thrives. He makes it known to her that this is just a job for him and he has no desire to be friends with her or even pretend to enjoy her company. However, she is persistent and grows on him even giving him a carving of St. Jude, the Saint of lost causes. Little by little he feels like he can live again. But in an instant his new life is taken away. Pita is kidnapped and Creasy is shot to within an inch of his life. After the attempt at ransom falls through, he vows revenge against all who were involved and begins using his skills as an assassin to pick them off, using torture as a means to gain information on who he needs to locate next.
I’m not going to give any more away but overall it is a very well made film. Denzel Washington makes the most of his role and Christopher Walken and Dakota Fanning assist him in making this a really deep and moving movie. I was fairly surprised to see that Harry Gregson Williams had done the music as it doesn’t sound like much of his other stuff (Kingdom of Heaven, The Chronicles of Narnia, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, etc.). Nevertheless it was impressive. There is also this powerful theme of redemption that comes to a climax at the very end. I will warn that there some parts that are very bloody. However, they are easy to see coming for the most part and thus you can cover your eyes if it gets to be too much. There’s also the language issue that comes in spurts every so often.
“I don’t know who you are. I don’t know what you want. If you are looking for ransom, I can tell you I don’t have money. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills; skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you let my daughter go now, that’ll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you. But if you don’t, I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you.”
In Taken, Another former CIA agent, Brian Mills (Liam Neeson), retires in hopes of reconnecting with his daughter. He has already lost his wife who, now remarried, wants to keep him as distant as possible from both her and her daughter (she’s also one of those obnoxious “hands off kids need their space” parents). Against his better judgment he allows them to talk him into letting his daughter take a trip to Europe with a friend saying she must get a hold of him when they arrive. He finally manages to get a hold of her by phone only to have her describe the abduction of her friend as she tries to hide. Brian, although fearful, knows what is bound to happen and tells her to shout out any distinguishing features before they take her. She follows these directions and then is gone. He contacts a friend to get information on the kidnappers and things don’t look good. He has a 96 hour window before she vanishes forever. He must use all the skills he has acquired to find her before its too late.
First of all, I have to say that Liam Neeson was the perfect person for this role. He’s just the ultimate father/mentor figure. Throughout the movie it constantly has you sweating with Mills as his time runs out. It also possesses all the best things about action thrillers: Gun and hand to hand combat, a car chase, amazing dialogue, a deep story, and a meaningful ending. This movie (only rated pg-13) is a lot less bloody than Man on Fire was. There’s a little bit of swearing on occasion but also significantly less. There is some sexual content relating to the overall theme (his daughter getting sold into the sex trade) but actually compared to what they could have done (they implied those things rather than having nudity or sex within the film) it kept things pretty clean. Overall though an amazing fast paced action thriller.
There are several themes that are present in both of these films. As already mentioned in the intro there is a theme of redemption, a need to make up for past mistakes. Another thing we see is the warped mentality of these kidnappers. Every last one of them in Man on Fire and quite a few in Taken utter the phrase “its just business”. Kidnapping is nothing personal for them, its just about making money. How sad that this type of mentality exists in our world and how easily we can devalue human life to a business. These two films also touch on a very deep type of fear, not only of these people kidnapping a loved one, but a sense of helplessness in the face of it, and each makes you feel it in its own way.
However, despite the similarities there were some areas where they differed or one simply did better at than the other. For instance, Taken was a bit more personal and memorable with it being his daughter. The focus of the two main characters is also different Brian’s being mainly retrieval and Creasy’s about revenge (he believes Pita to be dead). Ultimately I believe this works in Taken‘s favor as well because of the urgency implied. The emphasis of the strain on each characters is different, Mills seeming to be constantly taking an emotional beating where Creasy is falling apart physically. Man on fire is the more action intense of the two and also probably the one with the better soundtrack. Also while Taken has probably the happier ending, I’d say that Man on Fire had the more meaningful one.
Now for the “Cage Match” part of it. I went into these movies asking myself which character I would rather have come to my rescue if I were to fall into unfriendly hands. The conclusion I came to was hands down Brain Mills (Liam Neeson). While both possesed incredible skills, Mills seemed to do more in terms of things not directly related to combat. He also, after leaving the states, relied on only himself (his one friend in Paris trying to betray him) while Creasy relied on some reporters to feed him information. While it might have a challenge to pick out which of them was more BA, the winner for this contest was much easier.