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
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.
Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.
Itís worth a full-price ticket.
Itís worth a matinee ticket.
Wait for video rental.
Check out the video from the library, if you must.
While we would never encourage anyone to destroy a video...