While gruesome gore and the dregs of mankind are common fingerprints of
serial killer yarns, director D.J. Caruso's tasteful, well-written example of
the genre will keep you guessing through most of it, with more appeal to
mental fascination than to a dependence on baser responses. With the
movie-star presence of Angelina Jolie providing her no-nonsense glamour as an
FBI profiler, "Taking Lives" will take and hold a wide audience throughout
its 103 classy, mostly suspenseful minutes.
When the team of Montreal Surete-generale (Canada's elite investigative
agency) cops realize that a recently discovered corpse is as unidentifiable
as at least one other on their books, director Hugo Leclair (Tcheky Karyo),
an old time friend of FBI profiler Illeana Scott (Jolie), calls her in for
her brand of investigative wizardry despite the turf protests of his men,
detectives Paquette (Olivier Martinez - "Unfaithful") and Emil Duval
(Jean-Hugues Anglade). We've seen this kind of conflict before and so has
she. And, when she's discovered at the construction site crime scene where
the body was found by a backloader, she's lying on the ground as though in a
grave, absorbing the locale, the vibes, trying to gain insight into the
killer. From this we are to understand that, as a team player she's got her
own approach to the job of apprehending bad guys.
And, when it's understood that this killing is, indeed, one in a line of
unidentifiable corpses, her training and instinct channels the efforts toward
a killer who has been adopting the identities of his victims, ample reason to
destroy teeth, face, fingerprints and any other identity trace. This
psycopath becomes his victim, continuing his life as them, until he gets
tired of it and seeks his next identity, often challenging the police with
clues, like burying a victim's body at a construction site where it's almost
certain to be unearthed.
A new attack takes place, with the earmarks of the killer's work, but it was
foiled by the presence of a bystander, the first witness in the case.
Brought in under a cloud of suspicion as to his actual role in the event,
artist James Costa (Ethan Hawke) is questioned first by Paquette. Agent
Scott follows and, employing some tricks of her trade in identifying
psychopaths, determines that his emotional responses indicate that he can't
be the killer engaged in misleading the team with role playing. When he
offers to sketch the suspect, he comes up with a strong likeness of a man
named Hart (Kieffer Sutherland - on loan from his superb TV drama, "24"), who
becomes the prime suspect.
But first, Scott engages in a big FBI no-no when she finds herself responding
to the young painter's physical attraction. Mellow and handsome, he plays
all the right notes for the seduction of a dedicated agent whose suspicious
nature is disarmed by her own vulnerabilities. When she realizes where her
mind and heart are going, she offers to resign from the case on the basis
that her objectivity has been compromised. Director Leclair convinces her to
remain and she goes on with the investigation with emotions held in check.
When Hart appears at Costa's art show, he's spotted and chased, leading to a
violent confrontation between the men at Costa's apartment, Duval's death,
and a car chase and crash that kills Hart in searing fire. The case is over.
The mutual reaction between agent and witness is finally consummated. But
the picture isn't over.
In the name of suspense and maintaining mystery many a false clue enters the
scheme of a thriller. This film is less guilty of it than most, but is not
without its intentional misrepresentations and audience manipulations. But
there's also an above average level of taste, a sound structural integrity,
and effective setups for surprise and shock. Much credit for keeping the
puzzle and its well shaded characters in fascinating play goes to writer Jon
Bokenkamp, and for a fine translation to screen from the novel by Michael
Superior tech credits for a very crisp and moody photographic look in which
no values are compromised, including Jolie's closups, start with
cinematographer Amir Mokri lensing and lighting. His scenes by flashlight as
Jolie ventures into dangerous rooms and alcoves alone have every nuance of
scary suggestion that dim light beams add to classic moments of suspense.
If Ethan Hawke needed a career shot in the arm, this pic will be his boost.
Jolie, with no such need, scores a nice character shift in her generally
well-received portfolio and star trail (let's not talk about "Beyond
Borders"). Maybe I like her so much because she was born in my home town,
Los Angeles. No, that's not it.
~~ Jules Brenner