Taking Lives Movie Review

Taking Lives - it's a title to file under the goofy film names category. It's a pretty obvious name for a thriller about a serial killer taking the lives of his victims, but the subtext is meant to describe the killer's desire to live the life of those he has killed... until a new and exciting life peaks his interest. The film's title failed to excite me, but the movie that bears the name surprisingly did.

Going into the screening for Lives, I had some doubts about the film, primarily because Angelina Jolie has never really found a role that fits her. Since her performance in Gia, her film roles have not demanded anything more than her sexuality (Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Original Sin). In Taking Lives, Jolie's performance as FBI Profiler Illeana Scott is shockingly credible - though she does find a scene to bare her breasts - Jolie is in full command of her character. Her eyes are always moving, thinking, and analyzing her environment. Even when it appears she's reached a dead-end with her investigation, she lets her senses take over. At night, she eats dinner alone, across the table from crime scene photos she has taped to the opposite chair.

We're introduced to Illeana as she lies in the dirt plot of the serial killer's latest victim. She's been summoned to Montreal to help local authorities solve a murder mystery that has baffled police for years and has yielded few leads. As she arrives, local detectives are questioning an eyewitness to the latest murder. His name is Costa (Ethan Hawke), an artist who is able to give the police their biggest break - a composite sketch. With the sketch in hand, Illeana is able to positively identify the accused, search his rundown apartment, and interview his estranged mother (Gena Rowlands).

But much of Illeana's investigative techniques, as expected, are met with considerable distain by the local officials; particularly from detective Paquette (Olivier Martinez). Paquette is especially concerned when Illeana allows herself to get too close to Costa after he becomes the serial killer's newest target. The relationship between Illeana and Costa is Lives only real failing. With all of her training, it's a bit unbelievable that Illeana would do something so stupid. And while I concede certain decisions are made to play a crucial part in the film's resolution, I would also argue that some are not completely necessary.

Lives points its finger of suspicion over several characters, and even though we suspect the killer is just one of three people, there is never a lack of suspense. However, the inclusion of some additional scenes, like those in the film's beginning, where we witness the suspect in action, could have helped to increase anxiety levels. Yet, there are so many more scenes of sheer brilliance to compensate, including two scares that you won't see coming, and a final surprise that turns what could have been a standard Fatal Attraction-like ending into something a bit more original.

Director D.J. Caruso (The Salton Sea) has crafted a wonderfully stylistic thriller in the tradition of Alfred Hitchcock. Caruso's film is smattered with numerous and striking references to the master, including his infatuation with mother/son issues, voyeurism and eyes, and homosexual tendencies. Even the film's creepy score by Philip Glass is filled with shrieking violins and deep basses like the score of Bernard Hermann's Psycho.

Taking Lives surprises and satisfies beyond initial expectations.

The DVD includes 20 minutes of making-of footage plus a gag reel.

Taking pictures.


Taking Lives Rating

" Good "

Rating: R, 2004


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