The delicate balance between talk and action … and why there’s just too much talking in Taken 3

My friend and I were having lunch before seeing Taken 3 when we were faced with a dilemma. With only half an hour before the screening, we had to decide: should we rush our excellent Italian meals – washed down with chilled Peronis – and make the screening in time? Or enjoy our lunches at a leisurely pace, rocking into the cinema just when the excitement was presumably about to start?
We chose the former option: perhaps to our regret. We expected the usual 15 minute preamble before the main drama began, the creation of the emotional framework which explained and justified all of the hero’s actions. Most movies have that: even action flicks.
Unfortunately, that 15 minutes stretched out to 30 minutes … and beyond. As opposed to the pacy, unforgettable Taken, which quickly laid out its premise – Liam Neeson’s daughter was about to be kidnapped, or “taken”, leading to a highly exciting and original rampage across Paris as Neeson sought out his daughter – Taken 3 takes its time getting to the action.
The plot of the original film benefits from the early disappearance of the daughter. In Taken 3, her presence is a constant hindrance to getting down to all the fighting and shooting. Neeson’s character spends way too much time expressing how he needs to protect his daughter; how he has to get his daughter to safety; and once he gets her to safety, expressing through gritted teeth that she’s still in peril. (After a while you just want to shout at the screen, “OK, your daughter is in danger. We get it. Can’t you get to the part when you start killing people?”)
In fact, it’s not until we get to the third and final part of the movie that we’re fully treated to the bare-fisted action and bullet ballets we’ve come to expect from Neeson and the Taken franchise.
Coming out of the cinema, I was reminded by a sarcastic quote made about the Robocop reboot … that judging by the advertisements, Robo would spend half the movie talking to his young son. (Fortunately Robo doesn’t. Phew.)
I sympathise with the makers of Taken 3. You can’t just have your hero charging out of the gates and going on gun rampages and bashing Russians with bottles without wearing a moral figleaf. Unless, of course, he’s Rambo.
The hero has to be bringing the pain for some reason – his country, his family, revenge. He can’t just be a psychopath who loves violence for its own sake. He has to be reluctantly forced into it by the actions of others. (Fun fact: they had to rewrite the script of Gladiator to make Crowe’s Maximus a family man who wanted to just tend his vineyard with his family, rather than some war-happy dude with a talent for stabbing people).
As the author of the military e-thriller The Spartan, I understand the delicate balance between emotion and action, between action and talking … between jaw jaw and war war. The main characters can’t be fighting all the time. They must rest, talk to their comrades, process what they’ve been through. But you still need that excitement, that movement, that conflict. You’re being invited into the war zone, not the booth of a coffee shop.
There’s lot of dialogue in The Spartan, but I tend to err on the side of action. I’ve read way too many books – and watched way too many movies – that concentrate on dialogue and scene-setting at the expense of the good stuff.
And I’m afraid Taken 3 has just too much jaw jaw and not enough war war.

My ebook military thriller, The Spartan, is available on Amazon.

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