Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) may not be as rich as his ex-wife's new husband, but what he lacks in finances he more than makes up for with a very particular set of skills. Not that’s it’s money that the Albanian human traffickers who kidnap his 17-year-old daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) want. After arriving in Paris to start a European vacation, Kim and her friend Amanda meet a young Frenchman at the airport. Ignoring the basic tenets of stranger danger, the two girls go to the man’s apartment, where Kim calls her father to say they’re safe. During the phone call, it becomes obvious that they’re not and every parents’ worse fear is realised when Kim is ‘taken’.
It’s a gripping scene that features one of the most beloved speeches in cinema:
“I don’t know who you are, I don’t know what you want. If you are looking for ransom, I can tell you I don’t have money, but what I do have are a very particular set of skills, skills I have acquired over a very long career, skills that make me a nightmare for people like you...”
Neeson’s stoicism as he delivers the lines foreshadows the mild-mannered character’s methodical dismantling of the crime syndicate in Pierre Morei’s box-office action smash. When Taken was released in 2008, no one knew what a cultural impact it would have. Grossing over $226 million USD from a $25 million USD budget, Taken spawned two sequels and a TV adaptation, as well as countless imitators in the new genre it established – the revenge/rampaging dad – that gave middle-aged actors the chance to be late-career action heroes. It didn’t just spawn imitations like the Nicholas Cage vehicle Stolen (2012) or The Equalizer (2014), but countless parodies and homages that often directly reference the “particular set of skills” speech.
TV show Family Guy spoofs the entire film, including the phone/kidnap scene, with Peter Griffin saying “I have a very particular lack of skills”, while it’s also adapted in The Amazing World of Gumball when Patrick Fitzgerald tells Gumball, “I have a very particular set of skills, skills I’ve acquired over a very long career... in real estate”.
Part of the appeal of the speech is that it can be adapted so easily for humourous effect while still retaining its threatening character, which makes it perfect for remixing, such as in the Saturday Night Live opening sketch in season 39, episode 15 or in the Taken Honest Trailer where the scene is cut with other scenes that show those skills to be “scrapbooking, photography, gift wrapping, junkie rehabilitation and car detailing”.
People understand the severity of the situation from the original film, which they bring to new interpretations, no matter how absurd, like the Clash of Clans Superbowl ad featuring Neeson delivering a similar monologue in a coffee shop. As TV host Graham Norton said in a segment with Neeson, “Taken is one of those film’s where one speech becomes legendary”, which is echoed in an article in Esquire that declares “Taken is the rare case of a movie franchise that has grown out of a single speech. It's one of few films whose fans quote not just lines but whole blocks of text from the script.”
Of course, that’s malleability makes it perfect for the meme sphere. “Online, this phrase, along with other excerpts from the intense monologue, has been adopted as a phrasal template for heckling comments, most typically in the form of reaction images,” says Know Your Meme. While the film came out in 2008, the height of its online virality came in 2012, four years afterwards, proving how well the speech stuck in people’s minds. This started when a screenshot was uploaded to MemeGenerator that year, which users used as the template to highlight “pet peeves that people face in everyday life and social media”.
– Matt Millikan