Pierre Morel’s directorial, ‘Taken,’ entertained audiences worldwide with its release in 2008 as a grounded and gritty revenge thriller with explosive action sequences and a career-defining performance by Liam Neeson. The film begins with a worn-down Bryan Mills (Neeson), living in a small apartment, working as a security supervisor, and struggling to connect with his daughter, Kim. Kim lives with her mother and wealthy stepfather, who outshines Bryan’s attempts to make an impression on her.
However, when her trip to France goes horribly wrong, culminating in her kidnapping at the hands of an Albanian gang, Bryan’s skills from his hidden past are put to use once again. Having someone’s loved one kidnapped in a foreign nation and thrown into sex trafficking is among the worst fears one can have. And hearing about such stories in the news, one is forced to ask, is the kidnapping plot of ‘Taken’ based on a true story, or inspired by real events?
The Story of Taken is Fictional but Rooted in Reality
‘Taken’ is not based on a true story, but driven by an original script by the iconic duo of Robert Kamen and Luc Besson. While they did not create the plot of ‘Taken’ using any one true incident, they derived inspiration from news stories of kidnapping and sex trafficking of women in central and eastern Europe. In an interview, Kamen revealed that Luc Besson relayed a story to him about a man auctioning off women in a chateau in Belgium. Fascinated, the two dug deeper into such reportings and found the bizarre kidnapping practices of an Albanian gang.
Kamen added that after the Iron Curtain fell, traffickers would go into small eastern European towns and recruit women for the trade. The Albanian gang, on the other hand, would just kidnap lone traveling and backpacking women to save on the cost of recruitment and transportation. However, they failed to realize that their families would come looking for them. And they did, Kamen mentioned, spelling disaster for their operation. Combining these two real-life stories, the writers developed a more refined breed of Albanian kidnappers and wealthy underground auctioneers to serve as antagonists for their film. Ones who, like their real-life counterparts, choose to go after the wrong prey.
Already having a poor reputation when it comes to organized crime, the Balkan nation suffered a huge PR setback following the release of ‘Taken.’ As a response, the Albanian government released a tourism advertisement directly addressing Liam Neeson. The advertisement begins with a gentle accusation of Neeson’s role in creating a notorious reputation for Albanians and implores him to come to Albania and be “taken” away by its natural beauty. The advertisement was met with mixed responses; while some appreciated its creativity, for many, it drew attention to the very reality of the nation it wished to cover up.
The film inspired further drama when a man claiming to be an Army Special Forces retired Colonel alleged that its story was based on his life. William G. Hillar of Millersville was a self-proclaimed counter-terrorism expert who advised foreign military organizations. He spoke against human trafficking frequently, further claiming that his only daughter was kidnapped, and became a fatal victim of sex trafficking. He accused the filmmakers behind ‘Taken’ of hijacking his life’s story for their movie.
However, upon investigation by the FBI, all the claims of Hillar were found to be fabrications, and he had actually been a radar operator in the Coast Guard Reserve. Insanely enough, he had been getting away with it for years, even being hired by FBI divisions in Salt Lake City and Chicago for thousands of dollars to provide training. Hillar was charged with wire fraud after pleading guilty and returned $171,000 in teaching fees he had charged organizations, with a larger sum of his earnings and investments being unaccounted for.
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