Bros. Pictures presents a film directed by D.J. Caruso.
Written by Jon Bokenkamp. Based on the novel by Michael
Pye. Running time: 103 minutes. Rated R (for strong violence
including disturbing images, language and some sexuality).
Starring Angelina Jolie, Ethan Hawke, Kiefer Sutherland,
Gena Rowlands, Olivier Martinez, Tchéky Karyo,
a special kind of movie. It's the kind that relies more on
atmosphere and mood than plot to be effective. It's the kind
in which plausibility doesn't really matter because that isn't
the point - getting caught up in the action is. It doesn't
matter if where it goes doesn't make sense, because it's the
trip to that ultimate destination that counts. Judging by
this criteria, Taking Lives is really pretty effective.
Jolie, in her best performance in quite a while, is Illeana
Scott, an FBI agent sent to Montreal to investigate a recent
series of grisly murders. James Costa (Ethan Hawke), an awkward
art dealer, witnesses one of the murders and is taken in for
questioning. He puts them on the trail of Martin Asher (Kiefer
Sutherland), a highly disturbed man thought to have been killed
twenty years earlier.
For years, Asher has been killing men, each progressively
older than the next, and taking their lives. Not stealing
thier identities, simply doing their jobs and living in their
homes. The police get Costa to help in their investigation,
acting as bait for the killer. And, of course, Scott starts
to fall for Costa, which may interfere with her judgement
of the case.
thing I like most about Taking Lives is that it isn't
typical of the thriller genre. It's more about Scott's development
than who the killer really is, so most twists that are thrown
out seem less like machinations of the plot than simple developments.
In fact, the Big Twist actually isn't really that big, and
it is handled in such an unsensational manner that it hardly
seems like a twist at all. It's also perfectly believable
in the context of the plot, which is a nice change of pace.
There are no big action scenes (the car chase is short and
to the point), and very few blatant clichés.
atmosphere is another one of its strengths. It isn't as downbeat
as, say, Se7en, but it's plenty dark, which is a nice
change of pace. There are a number of stylistic touches that,
instead of feeling flashy and overwhelming, are effective,
including the opening credits sequence, and several different
boo! moments made me jump out of my seat.
Jolie and Ethan Hawke shine. Jolie, who has done literally
nothing of note since winning an oscar since Girl, Interrupted,
is simply great. Her character starts out cold, but as the
film progresses she becomes more and more loose; Jolie makes
the change believable and fun to watch. But Hawke runs away
with the movie and never comes back. He inhabits his seemingly
simple role, exploring every facet of Costa's personality
and giving a performance of surprising depth. Kiefer Sutherland,
so wonderful on 24, shows up for about three minutes
and gets third billing. Other supporting performances include
Olivier Martinez and Tchéky
Karyo as two Canadian police officers, neither of who are
given much to do.
ending of Taking Lives is a preposterous mess, a cheat
and a cop-out. It doesn't make any thematic sense, and it
ends things on a rosy note which is entirely unearned. I left
the theater angry, but on the way home my annoyance had dissipated.
I'm not sure why, but by the time I sat down to write this
review, I had largely forgiven the film for its problems.
There's something to be said for that.
2004 Matt Noller