Even with her latest turn as bodacious, babe-a-licious video game vixen Lara Croft still clinging to her like a skin-tight silver catsuit, Angelina Jolie is surprisingly credible as a prim and professional FBI profiler in "Taking Lives." Now, if only the plot of this serial killer thriller could have kept up with her in that department.
A slight, and slightly smarter, twist on the genre's average assembly-line offering, the movie's hook is that the unidentified psycho assumes the lives of the people he kills -- mostly handsome, young, well-to-do loners (if there is such a thing). So he could be anyone from the handsome young Montreal detective (Oliver Martinez) who's bitter that Jolie's been brought in on his case, to the handsome young painter (Ethan Hawke) who is the only witness to one of the murders, to the handsome, ominous stranger (Kiefer Sutherland) who seems to be stalking the artist.
But while director D.J. Caruso ("The Salton Sea") takes a judicious, stylish, slow-burn approach to the suspense (this isn't a tawdry twist-a-minute attempt to get your heart pounding), he can't outsmart the holes in the plot (adapted from a novel by Michael Pye), even if most of them appear only in retrospect -- after the dumb, patronizing and currently fashionable second-climax epilogue.
The film begins by showing the unknown killer as a nebulously-featured teenager (Paul Dano) committing what may be his first murder in 1983, then moves on to a creatively narrative title sequence that shows flashes of autopsy reports of his unsolved murders over the next 20 years -- murders meticulously covered up (since the psycho assumed the identities of his victims) and apparently never linked together by the Canadian police.
But for some unexplored reason (other than the functional one of jump-starting the plot), our nutter has left his latest corpse for the cops to find, and then kills again a couple days later in the same manner. The shaken Hawke becomes the detectives' only lead when he provides them with details of what he witnessed and, being an artist, his own sketch of the suspect.
Compulsive tracker Jolie is brought in on the case by her old mentor (Tcheky Karyo), the Montreal Police chief. This, of course, chagrins the lead detectives (Martinez and Jean-Hughes Anglade) on the case, one of whom continues to display a chip on his shoulder even as she rapidly puts together a picture of the killer and his M.O. with puzzle pieces they weren't experienced enough to know they had. (Not too many serial killers in tranquil Montreal, you know.)
The actress lends her character a savvy sense of intellect -- you can see the wheels turning in her head as she takes in every detail of each crime scene. But as such, her chemistry-lacking relationship with Hawke becomes the movie's lynchpin failing. It's hard enough believing a woman this dedicated would let herself be attracted to a witness, but even granting the premise, Hawke has a hard time reconciling his character's rattled nerves (which continue since the killer appears to be stalking him) with his incongruously smooth seduction of Jolie's sexy FBI agent. When he turns up at her hotel room and backs her up against a wall for a fiery first kiss and subsequent sex scene, you can't help but wonder what happened to the anxious guy who was afraid for his life just a few scenes before.
"Taking Lives" does effectively spread suspicion around, but this contradiction sets the tone for the rest of the picture as it devolves from fairly canny red herrings into chase scenes and over-embellished switcheroos.
I won't give anything away, except to say even when all Jolie's puzzle pieces are in place, the movie leaves many questions unanswered (why start taunting the police after 20 years of going unnoticed?), and inspires several more before moving on to a fishy, exploitive finale that feels more like a dictate of lowest-common-denominator test screenings than an organic part of the plot.
Run time: 103 mins
In Theaters: Friday 19th March 2004
Box Office USA: $32.6M
Box Office Worldwide: $32.7M
Distributed by: Warner Bros.
Production compaines: Warner Bros. Pictures, Village Roadshow Pictures, Atmosphere Entertainment MM
Contactmusic.com: 2 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 22%
Fresh: 35 Rotten: 122
IMDB: 6.2 / 10
Director: DJ Caruso
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