Taking Lives (2004) / Thriller
MPAA Rated: R for strong violence, disturbing images, language, sexuality and partial nudity
Running Time: 103 min.
Cast: Angelina Jolie, Ethan Hawke, Olivier Martinez, Tcheky Karyo, Gena Rowlands, Kiefer Sutherland
Director: D.J. Caruso
Screenplay: Jon Bokenkamp
Yes, it's another farfetched serial killer flick, clutching desperately at a new twist to the genre, but the contortions the plot goes through to try to make this premise fly is downright embarrassing. It's a shame too, since Taking Lives does feature good performances by an impressive cast, as well as some stylishly chic direction by D.J. Caruso (The Salton Sea). This premise is more interesting than the follow-through, based on the novel by Michael Pye, the contrivances that pile on sinks this one early on, and only gets more ludicrous as it approaches its inevitably distasteful ending.
Angelina Jolie (Tomb Raider, The Bone Collector) stars as FBI profiler, Illeana Scott, who is sent from Washington to Montreal to try to help the law enforcement nab a serial killer who assumes the identities of his victims. The trail leads to the first eyewitness to the events, an art dealer named James Costa (Hawke, Training Day), who serves as the bait by which they hope to trap their suspect once and for all.
All cylinders are firing in this impressively shot thriller, save one -- the terrible screenplay. I'm not sure if the overreaching is a result of the script by Jon Bokenkamp or if all of the problems here stem from Pye's book, but one thing is clear -- if you don't have the plausibility, or at least the semblance of it, there's just nothing you can do to save the entire production. The area where the film gets into the most trouble is with how simple it is to identify the killer. In fact, it's so easy, most of the remainder of the running time after I figured it out came from inventing my own ingenious twists that could have made this bad movie at least more tolerable, but alas, the reality of it set in eventually, and I was stuck with the same old cliché-ridden serial killer idiocy to deal with.
There are some misguided attempts at action scenes that feel completely out of place here, such as a bar scene where Kiefer Sutherland (Young Guns) smashes himself through a window, then a wholly ridiculous car chase with another typically unrealistic explosive finale. There's a gratuitous sex scene, shot soft-porn style, that is a throwback to the cheesy 80s thrillers that had very little but. Finally, what little credibility the film was able to retain falls completely through in one final, and not very surprising, scene where Jolie confronts the killer face to face. This scene isn't just awful, it's distastefully executed in one final kick in the stomach to the audience, who've already suffered enough.
Taking Lives is a derivative psychotic murder flick that borrows far too heavily to stand out on its own. Heavy shades of another terrible flick involving severed hands and twin siblings can be found in the equally preposterous French film, The Crimson Rivers. This kind of film is about five years too late in coming. With so many needless deaths on display, the one thing worth killing is the idea that this kind of thing should ever be made into a movie.
©2004 Vince Leo