[MOVIE REVIEW]When eyes roll faster than headsSometimes the entertainment value in a movie lies not in watching it, but in ripping it apart with your friends over coffee after it’s over. Such is the case with “Taking Lives,” a paint-by-numbers serial-killer thriller that has been described as a “poor man’s ‘Talented Mr. Ripley’” with more holes than a cemetery.
Angelina Jolie plays a morose, idiosyncratic FBI agent called in by the Montreal police to investigate a series of murders. (Incidentally, while it is common to shoot a film in a location other than the one it is supposed to be, a wide shot of Quebec City’s waterfront Chateau Frontenac with a near-simultaneous subtitle saying “Montreal” is not advisable. On the other hand, this slip-up proves to be consistent with the film’s attention to detail.)
We first glimpse Jolie (or rather, we glimpse her profile and her pouty lips, a fixation that the camera never quite gives up) lying quietly inside a shallow grave in the dark. Presumably, she is absorbing and processing the crime scene. This is soon confirmed by her analysis covering every nuance of the events that transpired and the motivations behind them.
Even the cats on “CSI” take their evidence back to the lab before they jump to such conclusions. But in this film, Jolie’s psychic-bad-girl-from-the-Bureau entrance exists to create the obligatory antagonism between her and the local cop played by Olivier Martinez.
Soon after, they are questioning a witness, Ethan Hawke, who is unconvincing as a squirrely artist traumatized by the murder he saw. Jolie somehow deduces that the murderer is targeting nondescript, unattached men, and that when he “takes” their lives, he not only kills them but takes over their identities. Believing that Hawke’s character is next, Jolie tries to protect him while using him to get to the killer.
In addition to the unexplained hostility between Jolie and Martinez, all the other standard elements of a mystery thriller are present: a red-herring suspect, camera angles that suggest a hidden voyeur, sexual tension and some genuinely scream-worthy surprises. The problem is that these tricks do not add to the continuity of the plot so much as they distract the audience from thinking too critically about it. Instead of being mysterious, “Taking Lives” is frustratingly illogical and unsatisfyingly predictable at the same time. A chihuahua could figure out who the killer is, but the set-up generates a minefield of questions ― and not in a good way.
One can picture Ethan Hawke on the set asking director D.J. Caruso, “What’s my motivation?” His inconsistent overacting suggests that he was unable to figure it out at any point in the film.
Jolie, for her part, deals with the sieve-like script by focusing on the bits without dialogue. Her alert concentration as she attempts to read people is captivating, at least for the first half of the film.
But soon enough, the compounded intrigue ascends into absurdity, with a final plot twist that can’t be described as anything less than laughable. In these thrillers, the revelation of an apparent Evil Genius playing the entire cast like marionettes has a certain sexy appeal ― if the masterminding can be attributed to wit, and not to inexplicable coincidences. Nit-pickers be warned: you’ll be up all night from the coffee you’ll drink demolishing this one.
Thriller / English
by Kirsten Jerch