Taking Lives

April 15th, 2004 Film, Film Reviews, Xpress

Directed by: D J Caruso

Starring: Angelina Jolie, Ethan Hawke, Kiefer Sutherland, Gena Rowlands, Olivier Martinez, Tcheky Karyo, Jean Hugues Anglade

It’s never an easy task being a thriller about the police chasing a serial killer. It’s a well-worn premise, and despite the nuances, idiosyncrasies or quirks a film (or book) can attribute to the killer, they inherently follow a predetermined path you’ve seen a million times; of the determined, dedicated cop matching wits with a sick mind to bring him down.

There’s not much to say about Taking Lives without blowing every surprise and twist it manages to muster. Angelina Jolie is FBI profiler (another increasingly common fixture in crime thrillers nowadays; the quiet, steady-handed hero who can get into the killer’s mind) Ileana Scott called to assist in a Canada murder investigation.

After a series of killings in and around Montreal, her former colleague and friend Leclair (Karo, in the role of senior police investigator that seems his stock in trade these days) calls her in as an advisor, much to the chagrin of his underlings Paquette & Duval (who can’t see why they can’t do their job themselves without some big shot American head shrinker).

Dealing with the resentment of her new colleagues is hard, but Scott’s self-assured approach soon uncovers the killer’s motive and his likely identity, courtesy of help from an eyewitness, James Costa (Hawke), who claims to have interrupted him at work.

Everything goes along swimmingly as the police use Costa for bait to bring the suspect down, until he strikes at an art exhibition Costa is throwing in the form of creepy Kiefer Sutherland.

After he escapes his pursuers through a street parade, all that’s left to do is get Costa out of the city and away from harm. It’s as he’s packing to go to their airport, no less, that Sutherland’s villain strikes again and takes Costa hostage at gunpoint, leading Scott on a car chase through Montreal that ends in carnage, the suspect dead and Costa apparently unhurt.

With the killer dead and the case closed, Scott gives in to her growing feelings for Costa and the two end up in bed together (or rather, on the hotel room chest of drawers together in a very erotic but sadly short sex scene).

If you happen to look at your watch or are conscious of the passage of time (or you simply realise that what’s transpired isn’t clever enough to satisfy in a Hollywood movie nowadays) you’ll know it’s not that simple.

One shock after another builds from then on until the climax — some of them will surprise you, some of them you’ll see a mile away. But when all’s said and done, you’ve still traveled the same ‘serial killer story’ arc you’ve been through in everything from Silence of the Lambs to Copycat, and unless you’re a big fan of Patricia Cornwell or James Patterson stories (and their contemporaries on the big screen), you wouldn’t miss anything waiting until it comes to video.

First time feature director Caruso — fresh from TV — brings some interesting visual flourishes to telling the story and building tension, but the dark and washed out colour palette don’t do the production design any favours. The whole thing feels cold and uninvolving; the polar opposite of the sickly, jaundiced feel put to such good effect in Se7en.

Sutherland, in only a few scenes, adds to the baddie persona he’s slowly built up in movies over the last decade (An Eye For an Eye, Phone Booth). Ethan Hawke is one of the finest character actors of Hollywood’s thirtysomething generation and while the character of Costa isn’t a big stretch, Hawke brings him to life with style.

Ironically (as it’s her name above the title), Jolie is a big disappointment. She can act — the edgy roles in Girl Interrupted and Pushing Tin that bought her to the mainstream prove that — but recently all she’s had going for her are pneumatic breasts and sidearms (Tomb Raider) and bad girl stylin’ (Gone in Sixty Seconds). Without them, she’s uninteresting and dispassionate.

Taking Lives tries its hardest to break out of the constraints of the genre, but it needed to try harder to be a triumph of storytelling and tension.

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