Nothing brings your priorities in life into sharp focus like your first time holding your own newborn child in the delivery room. I had been regularly carrying a concealed pistol every day since I had been licensed to do so a few years prior, but my reasons for doing so were vague and mostly boiled down to “Because I can”, until I held that eight-pound screaming bundle of helpless baby. At that moment, I knew why I had been playing with guns for all these years, and things fell into place. Like all new fathers, I was forced to consider the question: Was there anything I wouldn’t do — anything at all — to protect my child from the evil of the world?
Ex-CIA agent Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) in Luc Besson and Pierre Morel’s 2008 surprise smash hit Taken knows the answer to this question, and his answer is NO. Confronted by the abduction of his only daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) by Albanian sex-slave traders, Mills shows zero hesitation or remorse in punching, kicking, stabbing, shooting and even torturing his way through the sleaze and corruption of France’s criminal prostitution underworld until those responsible are dead and his daughter is safe. Taken is a wonderfully cathartic thrill ride of righteously applied violence, and even more remarkable for succeeding despite a tame PG-13 rating. There is an unrated, extended edit available for home theater, and I wholeheartedly recommend that one for after the kids go to bed. The film was a box office juggernaut over the critics’ objections, raking in $227 million against a mere $25 million production budget.
A good gun movie will let the guns help tell the story and fill in the background of the characters we’re watching. What do they use and why did they choose it can tell us a lot about somebody without saying a word. But what about the movie where the protagonist has to improvise? Mills arrives in Paris unarmed to seek out his daughter and her captors, but through his wits and skills, equips himself with the guns of his fallen enemies. Like Jeff Cooper and others have said, and Taken reminds us, the actual weapon sits between our ears, the guns are simply tools.
Mills shows some partiality towards the Beretta 92 series after picking one up early on in the construction site brothel scene and uses them for much of the movie. Americans think of the Beretta 92 as originating in the Joint Service Small Arms Program competition of the early 1980s to replace the 1911A1 pistol, but the 92 in various forms had enjoyed a decade of success in Europe before being adopted by the U.S. Military. Combining the open slide of the Beretta M1922 with the alloy frame and falling locking block barrel system of the M1951 and Walther P38, and adding a high-capacity double-column magazine similar to that of the FN/Browning 1935, the Beretta 92 won a number of European government and police contracts immediately on introduction in 1976. The adaptation of the type by both the French military and Gendarmerie Nationale resulted in the design being licensed to France for domestic production, making it a common sight in that country.
Mills first Beretta 92 is a custom two-toned version which combines a silvery stainless steel slide from a Beretta 92FS Inox with a standard blued barrel and black anodized frame. Acquired off a dead gangster at the construction site, he abandons it after that fight and later helps himself to a more plain all-black 92FS when he confronts the slave traders at their apartment hangout, fulfilling the promise he made to kidnapper Marko (Arben Bajraktaraj) on the phone not two days before.
Mills continues to use that 92FS as he tracks down the high-end slave trader Patrice Saint-Clair (Gérard Watkins) to whom the Albanians sold Kim. Suspecting former colleague Jean-Claude Pitrel (Olivier Rabourdin) is more involved than he’s letting on, Mills confronts the French policeman in his apartment, who eventually draws a SIG-Sauer P239 and demands that Mills let it go. A slim single stack 9mm pistol, the P239 offered SIG’s legendary reliability in a more concealable package than their full sized duty pistol line.
Mills infiltrates Saint-Clair’s auction and comes close to freeing his daughter, but is captured and disarmed. Strung up and facing execution, Mills takes advantage of shoddy Continential building codes and manages to free himself and relieves his captor of his Taurus PT111 Millennium. A small double-action polymer pistol, the Millennium was introduced in 2005 to compete in the expanding civilian concealed carry market. While not attracting much law enforcement interest, the PT111 is not an uncommon choice for the budget minded shooter or an undemanding slave-trading hoodlum.
After a short and thrilling chase scene along the Seine, Mills intercepts the luxury yacht of Kim’s buyer and begins working his way through his goons and bodyguards. Mills first encounters a goon with a SIG Sauer GSR 1911 type. A Swiss interpretation of the classic American service pistol, the GSR offered an integral accessory rail, an external extractor, and a number of other custom features to the middle-end 1911 market.
The eight-round 1911 quickly runs dry and Mills helps himself to his SIG Sauer two-toned P226. A double-stack development of the single column P225 to compete in the U.S. Military pistol program that the Beretta 92 eventually won, the P226 remained a popular alternative to the Italian gun in many markets. With a black anodized aluminium frame and stainless steel slide, the P226 is definitely a good match for the more discerning thug.
Heckler & Koch’s ubiquitous MP5 submachine gun shows up in the stockless MP5k configuration, but oddly missing the front pistol grip assembly that covers the barrel and cocking tube. A few of the Sheikh’s thugs have these guns and end up completely missing Mills. After some tense moments and a vicious hand-to-hand fight scene, Mills finds another Taurus PT111, this one with a stainless slide, and faces down his daughter’s captor. The Sheikh’s plea to negotiate is cut short by a single shot from Mills, which finally ends his rampage across France.
With a huge box office take on such a small investment, a sequel was inevitable. Taken 2 followed four years after and successfully threaded the movie sequel needle of offering more of what audiences loved the first time while not being a reheated plate of the same material. A valid criticism of the first movie is that Mills rarely seems as if he’s in any great peril as he dispatches foe after foe without injury or apparent risk (until the climax of the movie, anyway). The sequel, however, turns the formula on its head as Mills and his ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) find their vacation in Turkey interrupted when they are abducted by a criminal gang led by the father of the Albanian slave trader Mills dispatched in the first film.
It’s then up to Kim to not only find her father, but bring him the tools he needs. On his instructions, Kim raids Mills’ locked case and pulls out a Beretta 90two and some hand grenades (!). A 2006 revision of the 92FS, the 90two added an under-barrel accessory rail covered by a plastic shroud, a straighter and narrower backstrap, recontoured slide and snag-free controls. The 90two never reached the levels of popularity of its predecessor, but the subtle modifications paved the way for future Beretta models, and a number of the 90two’s enhancements showed up in the 2015 M9A3 revision of the service M9.
The 90two soon runs dry and Mills is back to making do with what he can find, including other Beretta 92s and a Glock 17. One of the more unusual pistols in the film is seen in the hands of Mills’ captor, a Para-Ordnance LDA 1911. Attempting to offer a 1911 format pistol for shooters uncomfortable with carrying a gun with a cocked hammer, the LDA features a pre-cocked hammer similar to the striker on a Glock and a long hinged trigger that brings the hammer to full-cocked position. This combination, while technically interesting, never caught traction in the wider market but remains in the catalog for the curious.
After some clever detective work and a good memory, Mills infiltrates the gang’s compound and the first gun he takes off a thug is a long gun for a change: A Romanian AIMR 5.56×45 NATO AK-47 variant from Romania. A post-cold war redesign of the evergreen Kalashnikov, the AIMR was intended for export and has shown up both in unsavory hands and in the American domestic parts-kit market.
Two other gang members show up with AK variants, one with a Russian AR-SF underfolder, and one with an IMI Micro-Galil. Both, like the Romanian AIMR, are chambered in 5.56 NATO, and intended for the export market. The Arsenal AR-SF looks like an update of the short barreled AKSU, including the top cover mounted rear sight, with a giant can style muzzle compensator moderating the blast from the stubby barrel. The IMI Galil is the most removed from Kalashnikov’s original vision, having been redesigned first by the Finns as the Valmet, then adopted by the Israeli Defense Forces for desert service. Originally built with a rifle length barrel, the robust piston-driven gun lent itself well to cut-down carbines, and the Micro-Galil with its broad, lipped handguard was born.
Mills does most of his shooting in the mansion and the subsequent foot chase and final confrontation in the bath house with a Steyr M9 polymer double-stack 9mm pistol. Developed in the late 1990s and shipping to distributors in 1999, the M9 was intended as a direct challenge to Glock’s domination of the military and police sidearm market. While featuring a high, comfortable grip profile that offers a low bore axis, as well as an integral key lock and unique trapezoidal sights, the design couldn’t overcome Glock’s two decade head start and only found a few institutional buyers and limited acceptance in America. One of those buyers was the Turkish State Police, which makes it an appropriate choice for the locale.
Repeatedly through both movies, the criminals, corrupt cops and slave-traders — that Mills leaves alive long enough to converse with — all desperately appeal to Bryan’s sense of reasonableness and civility. “We can work this out!” “We can negotiate!” Mills answers them all the same way: with immediate, unhesitating, remorseless violence. Mills understands, as the audience does, and the critics of these movies do not, that reasonable went out the window the moment force was initiated against him and his family. The “reasonable” or “nuanced” or “sophisticated” might quip that prostitution is the world’s oldest profession, and as long as there is a demand, there will be a supply. But as reviewer Leo Grin noted in 2009, there is one job older than that: Parent.
By Peter Barrett. Originally published in the February 2015 issue of GunUp the Magazine.