Thursday, July 2, 2015

Equal Opportunity: Taken 3 vs Miss Meadows

2014, Olivier Mégaton (Columbiana) -- download
2014, Karen Leigh Hopkins -- download

Take the law into your own hands. That is the trope of the vigilante. Where the authorities cannot or will not protect you, then you must enforce it yourself. The American ideal, not so prevalent elsewhere, is that it is OK to break the law yourself, as long as it it serves the greater purpose. But that always struck me as a petulant child demanding, "Well, if Johnny can do it, why can't I?"

These are two very different movies. One revels in the violence and vigilantism, while the other presents it, questions it and leaves the decision to us.

I am very forthright about my enjoyment of the Taken series.  I admit, I buy into the excitement of a violent man doing what he has to, and doing it well. I am not shy about my enjoyment of violence; D&D and FPS video games are a staple in my entertainment diet. It is easy to separate the message from the portrayal of the act, as fiction is fiction.

Reality is another thing entirely. I have never fired a gun, never pursued doing so, and if they try and take my TV, well they can have it. Maybe its Canadian of me, but no, its more than that. Violence is a fantasy to me, as far from being real as wealth is. Its about power, personal and in your own hands. Not something I have, not something I crave.

By this point in the series, the plot has become a joke. Can't Brian Mills keep his family safe? Can't he just do what he does best and keep the bad guys from doing bad things to his family? All jokes aside; this movie answers the question and the answer is a resounding No. Violence begets violence and it never ends. So, in a simple retread of of the familiar story, there is a small message -- that Mills's mission was fruitless. What he was and what has always done, will always haunt him and affect his life.

Spoiling. If the first two were a perfect pairing -- vigilantism and consequences -- then Taken 3 is just the epilogue. The Bad Guys from the first two are replaced. The events of the first two do not influence the plot of this one (the murder of his ex-wife) but state very clearly that it is because of Mills past, that they occur.  But its as much about revelling in what he does, in his skill and death and destruction. This is what action movies sell to us, that violence and death is sexy. I am sure Brian Mills would dispute this. While it bought the lives of his wife and daughter in certain events, in the long run, it has contributed to his ending.

Meanwhile Miss Meadows comes at the thought of a vigilante without ever romanticizing it at all. Sure, she is seen as proper, respectful and right while her victims are all cruel, callous, nasty examples of human beings. But she is the broken one and they, well they are just humans. Being the vigilante does not fix her, only by pulling back from it, does she become a person again.

Miss Meadows is a school teacher, a 50s sock-hop dressing, by the (manners) book (not) young lady. That aspect was fascinating. Here is Katie Holmes not hiding behind photoshop and artful makeup. There are wrinkles around her eyes and a weariness in them. She may be all retro dressed, but its not fashion ironic -- it is just her. People see her as odd, but accept her because she is just so nice and friendly.

She makes nice nice with the local sheriff (James Badge Dale) who is investigating the murders, connecting them to a string of vigilante killings across the country. He is fascinated by her. Even doubly so when he connects her to the killings. His hands are tied, needing to arrest her, but overwhelmed by his own attractions. And like all discussions of the vigilante, he cannot deny he admires what she does, even if only a little.

If Taken 3 revels in the vigilante, while presenting the consequences, Miss Meadows doesn't take an opinion at all. Miss Meadows herself barely can blurt out a "I'll try" when asked by the Sheriff to stop what she is doing. He can barely enforce the fact she should stop. But neither seem committed to the need for it, nor the need to truly stop. In another hands, this would have been a fierce, black comedy, but Hopkins contains a reserved tone, allowing us to understand Miss Meadows, not laugh at her. But the choice of whether she is wrong or right, is left entirely up to us.