To Catch a Killer
When the Montreal police have trouble catching a serial killer, who do they call? Our top FBI profiler, of course. In Taking Lives, that happens to be calm, cool and collected Agent Illeana Scott, played impressively by Angelina Jolie. Using her remarkable intuitive powers, the insightful crime-solver concludes that this particular killer steals his victims' identities.
Agent Scott arrives at this conclusion almost by magic. She places herself in the grave of the latest victim, goes into a trance-like state, feels the soil surrounding her own body -- and seems to inhale some kind of mystical evidence. Is this what real-life profilers do? Maybe not, but among occupations that never appealed to me, FBI profiler ranks high on my list -- right along with coroner, undertaker and trapeze artist. After watching Scott's strange activities in this flick, I'm more convinced than ever that being a profiler wouldn't suit me at all.
But Scott loves her work. And she works best alone. Good thing, too, for the French Canadian police involved in the case, especially the detective played by handsome Olivier Martinez (Unfaithful), resent Scott being called in to help them. Although I found Martinez's dialogue difficult to understand because of his thick French accent, his constant frowning and grouchy voice make his feelings quite clear.
Fortunately, an artist (Ethan Hawke) witnessed the latest murder. Uncharacteristically, Scott lets her guard down and becomes romantically involved with him. When the artist starts receiving threats, Scott wonders if she can be effective or objective. And then -- the game begins in earnest.
Director D. J. Caruso (The Salton Sea) manages to achieve an excellent pacing for this better-than-average crime thriller. Based on a novel by Michael Pye and adapted for the screen by Jon Bokenkamp, the film's twists and turns appear at just the right time to keep viewer interest at a high level. With the confusing Twisted and Spartan fresh on my mind, I appreciated being able to follow this story and actually "understand" what was happening on screen. Don't get me wrong, there are terrific surprises here, but they make sense.
With so much going for Taking Lives, I'm reluctant to complain about anything. Still, Gena Rowlands (The Mighty) and Kiefer Sutherland (Jack Bauer on TV's 24) deserve more camera time. These two excellent actors enhance the movie, even in their limited roles as the killer's uncaring mother and one of the creepy suspects.
However, this film belongs to Jolie and Hawke. Both portray characters undergoing tremendous emotional changes, and they do it with consummate skill. Jolie proves again that she can play roles other than the one-note Lara Croft, and Hawke tops his Oscar-nominated Training Day performance.
Although I won't reveal how Jolie's Agent Scott finally captures the real killer, I can tell you it's done in one of the most suspenseful movie sequences I've seen in years. And, guess what? No special effects were needed -- just fine acting.
(Released by Warner Bros. and rated "R" for strong violence including disturbing images, language and some sexuality. Reviewed after the Sneak Preview of March 13, 2004.)