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Warner Brothers

Official Site

Director: D.J. Caruso

Producers: Mark Canton, Bernie Goldmann

Written by: Jon Bokenkamp

Cast: Angelina Jolie, Ethan Hawke, Kiefer Sutherland, Olivier Martinez, Tcheky Karyo, Jean-Hugues Anglade, Gena Rowlands


Is anyone really surprised any more at the climatic revelations that characterize most suspense films? The inspired and truly shocking turns of events that characterize The Usual Suspects or Fight Club (or another Edward Norton vehicle, the too-often-overlooked Primal Fear—rent it today!) have given way to the predictably de rigueur plot twists of, say, Presumed Innocent (The title gives it away!) or, more recently, Identity. This review will make no pretense of suspense in declaring that Taking Lives clearly embodies the later trend, and offers very little to make it worth seeing.

The Montreal police have a particularly gruesome murder on their hands, so they call in an expert from the United States to help find the killer. FBI agent Scott (Angelina Jolie), a humorless but devoted professional with a never-quite-explained penchant for lying down in places frequented by killers or victims, quickly figures out the murderer’s modus operandi with the help of the only eyewitness to his crimes, Costa (Ethan Hawke). Our perpetrator has actually murdered a series of loners and taken on their identities, moving on to another person when the fiction becomes too difficult to maintain. Since the killer (Kiefer Sutherland, seemingly reprising his Phone Booth role as the criminal you never see until the end) wants to eliminate his only witness, Scott and her French-speaking police confreres use Costa as bait to try to catch the murderer.

At this point, the man who is marked for death and the cold-fish law enforcement officer who never thinks of anything but her work become attracted to one another. Color me naïve, but such a plot development found this reviewer scratching his head. Beyond the fact that both characters should have other things on their minds, neither of them is the slightest bit interesting or attractive in this film. The script gives these poor actors nowhere to go, and neither of them seems interested in trying to transcend the material.

So you’ve got a serial killer on the loose and a law enforcement officer with her judgment compromised. Before you can say, “recipe for disaster,” lots of bad stuff does in fact happen. While the reviewer’s code prevents me from saying what those things are, what I can tell you is that this movie is flawed from start to finish. Scott’s past, motivations and peculiar criminological gifts go entirely unexplained; the killer’s “taking lives” M.O. turns out to be irrelevant to the main plot development; the Montreal setting is wasted, adding nothing to the film but a few subtitles; and the chemistry between the leads is lackluster. But most of all, Jolie herself overstates her character’s asexual professionalism to the point that she gives the audience nothing with which to identify. While not even a better performance from Jolie could have saved this movie, it still would have been nice if someone had tried.

—Mike O’Connor


hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.

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