Cinema Signal:

Killing for Sport:
Inside the Minds of Serial Killers

. "Taking Lives"

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 Pye.

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.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  


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Ethan Hawke and Angelina Jolie,
witness Costa and FBI agent Scott
A lethal error in profiling.

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