Tag Archives: Taken

What would you say is the most effective way to kidnap a character? it’s spur of the moment. the kidnapper is a strong man with training (but no weapon) and his victim, who does get captured, is a much physically weaker man. there are two witnesses who try to intervene: one with military training (though not as much as the kidnapper) and the other is the kidnapper’s lover, who attempts to stop him. how could the kidnapper incapacitate them all before the police arrives? thanks so much!

Okay, there’s actually an issue in here, so let’s step back and talk about professional criminals for a second. Criminal activity is their job, and they need to approach their life with a risk vs. reward analysis for nearly everything they do. They’ll work together and network with other professionals. This isn’t altruistic, just an understanding that they need to work with other people to achieve their goals. They don’t need to like the people they’re working with, but, if they all still have a shared goal, they will. Most understand how planning and advance setup can help reduce the risks involved in their profession.

Okay, with that out of the way, let’s talk about the crime. A kidnapping is not something you do spur of the moment. It’s a difficult criminal operation, involving a lot of moving pieces, any one of which can scuttle the whole operation after the team is committed.

Your criminal will need a team backing them up. They’ll need to have a way to grab and extract the victim, a place to hold them, a way to keep them alive and under guard while negotiating, a communications method that can’t be traced back to them, and a method to retrieve the ransom. Some of that can be dispensed, if they have no intention of returning the victim alive, or ransoming them at all.

Grabbing the victim is a little situational, but the difference between a successful extraction and a botched bloodbath is advance planning. Ideally your team needs to be able to grab the victim without leaving any witnesses behind. This is trickier than it sounds, because they can’t actually kill the person they’re intending to ransom the victim back to. Ideally this means picking a time when the victim and the victim’s relative/friend/whatever are at separate locations. If that’s not possible, the team will need a very delicate touch.

If the person paying the ransom dies, then the operation’s over, and the criminals have a corpse and nothing else to show for a lot of wasted effort. In some situations, they might be able to salvage the situation, by ransoming the victim to a new buyer, but that is an extreme long shot.

In a well run kidnapping, once the victim has been taken, they’re fairly unimportant to the criminals. They need to be kept alive, and they can’t be allowed to escape. But, they’re not the kidnappers’ focus. At this point, they’re going to be more interested in getting person paying the ransom to do what they’re told.

The other side of it is, with the extraction itself, your criminal will not want to leave witnesses. If they’re not the ones the kidnappers are planning ransom the victim back to, they’ll have no incentive to leave the witnesses breathing. Killing them sends a clear message that the victim is in serious peril, and it discourages the person paying the ransom from screwing around.

What this means is, your kidnapper isn’t going to grab someone “spur of the moment”. If he decides “now’s the time”, it’s because he was already planning to grab them. Also, there’s a very real risk he’ll simply kill your other characters. Best case the police don’t even realize there’s been a kidnapping, and worst case, they’re no closer to identifying the kidnappers. As opposed to the police now having at least a physical description of one member of the crew. So, I guess the real answer to your question is: two shots to the chest, one to the head.

As a quick aside, if his plan is to force one of the characters to do his bidding, he might just grab them all, and release the one he intends to use as a pawn later, and keep the others as hostages.

Once they’ve got their victim, there’s the question of what they want. If the goal is money, then we’re talking about a ransom, and there’s a lot of literature on the subject. If they’re wanting to force someone else to do what they want, they’ll need the ability to micromanage that person’s actions. Usually we’re talking some kind of communications setup with the pawn, but surveillance isn’t out of the question. If the objective is information, then everything gets a little messed up. I’ll stick a pin in that for later, partially because a discussion on interrogation and torture will rate a trigger warning.

Spartan, the first season of 24, Man on Fire (2004), and Taken should all give you some insight into the kinds of people you’re dealing with. 24 opens with using captives to force the protagonist to do their bidding, and the first 12 hours are really good. Man on Fire (2004), is a kidnapping for money. Taken and Spartan both deal with selling captives into sex slavery, which is something I just glazed right over. Both films illustrate how this particular form of kidnapping operates in a more opportunistic assembly line nature, because of how they’re generating income.

For some additional insight on professional criminals, I’ll keep recommending Heat until you watch it. Ronin and Reservoir Dogs are also worth watching. Technically Ronin is dealing with former spies who’ve become mercenaries, but the same principles apply. Ronin also has the benefit of actually being a smash and grab operation, even though the target is an attaché case, and not a person.


How does one write a convincing (seventeen-year-old female) bodyguard character?

By waiting until she’s an adult. A bodyguard that looks like a seventeen year old girl is perfectly plausible. There are a lot of reasons why you might want to stick a protection detail on someone that doesn’t look like a swarm of shaved gorillas in suits. But, the skillset, and the general maturity you need for a good bodyguard just aren’t things a teenager will have had the time to acquire. Sorry.

If they’re not actually a bodyguard, and it’s an ad-hoc, “I can keep you safe”, kind of situation, then that’s not an issue at all. They may even think of themselves as a bodyguard. That’s perfectly reasonable, and you have a lot of latitude on what is, or isn’t, a convincing outlook, because your character is setting the range for their own behavior.

But, keep in mind, they wouldn’t actually be a bodyguard, so, if their protectee is someone who would need a real security detail, then they’d be shut out.

If the protectee is someone who’d fall under the protection of the Secret Service or the DSS, then your character wouldn’t even be allowed inside the security envelope, unless there was some specific reason. Such as a close, longstanding personal friendship, or if they’re an immediate family member. Even then, there’s no way they’d be part of the security detail. In fact, if they were an immediate relation to someone under either Secret Service or DSS protection, they’d be protected by members of the same agency.

Again, the FAQ on FBI.gov will give you a good idea of the requirements for a Federal Agent. Since 2007 or 2008, former Presidents can opt out of permanent Secret Service protection, though, if they do, they’re required to maintain their own security detail.

I’m bringing up the Secret Service and DSS because they’re the most likely to employ people who look like teenagers. But, the people they’re hiring are going to have Bachelor’s degrees, and (usually) a history in law enforcement or the military.

Most major metropolitan police departments will have a VIP protection squad, though, the name will vary. A lot of times these aren’t dedicated units. I’m aware of one case where the anti-gang taskforce, the VIP protection team, and the vice squad were actually the same set of officers.

Corporations that hire bodyguards for their executives, draw from PMCs or security companies that provide bodyguard services. Lower ranking corporate officers might hire bodyguards of their own. This is somewhat more common in developing countries. But, in these cases, the  shaved gorillas in suits, are more likely to appeal. Depending on the PMC or security firm, their personnel will also skew for ex-cops and ex-military, with some mercenaries, and depending on how rigorous a company is, some “ex-special forces” wannabies.

As a general rule, ex-cops make for really good bodyguards, the rest less so. The police skillset transitions into bodyguard work very well. Ex-military bodyguards can usually get the job done, and in rougher countries, they can be preferable, but they’re just not trained for the specific kind of threat assessment bodyguards need.

I’d recommend the 2004 version of Man on Fire with Denzel Washington, and any episode of the West Wing involving the Secret Service Agents (there’s a lot of them.) Particularly the episodes with Jorja Fox as Agent Gina Toscano.

I’ve trashed it before, but Taken does show a good martial form for a bodyguard, even if it’s egregiously out of place for Liam Neeson’s character.


“And let’s not talk about the fighting in Taken, unless we want Starke to go on at length about how wrong it is when paired with the main character’s background and profession.” Is it wrong that I actually really want to read that? I always take Hollywood combat with a giant grain of salt, but Taken seems to have tried to emphasize a kind of realism regarding Neeson’s character’s abilities (though, still, Hollywood). I’d be interested to read a pro’s opinion on the inconsistencies.

This goes way back to something we said a long time ago about tailoring your martial arts to your characters. Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) uses a modern style that appropriates material from Aikido and Jujitsu.

Now, the style was designed by an ex-SAS operator, to be used by celebrity bodyguards. It’s supposed to use as little force as possible to subdue unruly fans while the bodyguard is on camera. While I kind of cringe at the style on a philosophical level, the concept is solid, and it’s aimed at a niche that really benefits from a specialized art form.

Here’s the problem: the movie isn’t about a bodyguard protecting a celebrity in front of the cameras. It’s about an ex-special forces operator trying to recover his daughter from human traffickers.

Mills sticks to that single style through the entire film, and, fairly frequently, he’s put into situations where that style really does not excel.

Now, a real person, or even a realistic character based on that background, like Jack Bauer, Vincent (from Michael Mann’s Collateral), Val Kilmer’s character from Spartan, Michael Weston (from Burn Notice) and nearly every Treadstone trained character in the Bourne films (not in the books) all mix up their styles to deal with the situation they’re presented with.

These are all characters that should be trained in multiple hand to hand styles; so they can employ them easily in any appropriate situation.

Mills is regularly sidelined by rookie mistakes that wouldn’t be out of place in a thriller with an untrained protagonist, but are completely out of place if your protagonist is supposed to be Jack Bauer with the serial numbers filed off. The scene where he’s dragged out of a car by one foot comes to mind as an example.

Would it be a better film if Miles was employing kill strikes like the Bourne films use? I’m not sure, it has a lot more problems that stem from Luc Besson handing off the director reins, but at least then Mills would be a credible special forces operator and not a suspension of disbelief shattering roadblock.

If you want to see what Taken could have been, I’d say rent Spartan. It’s a very similar film, from 2004, but with a much more brutal hand to hand element, and really a more brutal ethic to the entire film. I wouldn’t call it a fun movie, but if you want to write a special operator, then I would say it’s required viewing.


Also, we’re finally home; regular posting should resume shortly.