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movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Copycat

Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Holly Hunter
Director: Jon Amiel
Rated: R
RunTime: 123 Minutes
Release Date: October 1995
Genres: Mystery, Suspense

*Also starring: Dermot Mulroney, Harry Connick Jr., William McNamara, Will Patton, John Rothman

Reviewer Roundup
1.  Steve Rhodes review follows movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewmovie review
2.  Dragan Antulov read the review movie reviewvideo review

Review by Steve Rhodes
4 stars out of 4

COPYCAT is cinema at its best. We are talking edge of the seat thriller, but not because it's shocking, which is frequently is, but because it is an extremely well written, directed, and acted movie. This is the sort of movie that draws its audience into the story like a spider into its web until in the end, the picture is life, and you feel a part of it. When the house lights came up, I could hardly move. My one comment was a huge wow!

The show starts like any good murder mystery or thriller. It seems that people are being killed by a serial killer. My first reaction was this was going to be an enjoyable cop show with some good acting. Think of the show as a Japanese bullet train. It starts off at a normal pace from the station, but by the time the show is a third over, you are flying along. Moreover, the last quarter of the movie is a leap into hyperspace the tension gets so thick, but at no time does the movie play with your emotions and no matter how gory the crime scenes, they never cross over the line by over doing any of the scenes.

The San Francisco police team, lead by Detective Mary Jane, a.k.a. M. J., Monahan (Holly Hunter) and her sidekick Reuben Goetz (Dermot Mulroney) avoid saying the killings were done by a serial killer until it becomes obvious. When M. J.'s boss (Thomas Quinn) wants to take her off of the case because it is too big for her, she tells him, "Nobody in this department has ever worked on a serial case." Her boss replies, "I did too, the Zodiac case" To which M. J. retorts, "Wasn't he never caught, and didn't he die of old age?"

Hunter is one of my favorite actresses perhaps because I have a Southern accent like hers and am on the small side so I always identify with her. Actually, I think she is more my idol. Here she gives a possible Academy Award nomination performance. She has not been so good since one of my all time favorite movies, BROADCAST NEWS, which I think no human being can see too often it is so brilliant. I am unhappy to report that the producers (Arnon Milchan and Mark Tarlov) of COPYCAT felt she needed a dialog coach to tone down her Southern accent a bit. Hey, people with Southern accents do move to places like San Francisco and keep their accents. I know; I did, and its okay. We do not need people to come and tell us how to speak "right".

Dr. Helen Hudson (Sigourney Weaver) is a world renown psychiatrist who lectures on serial killers. She is attached by one, Darryl Lee Cullum (Henry Connick Jr.), and after that becomes a severe agoraphobia spending almost the entire movie in her apartment. Even with her live-in gay companion Andy (John Rothman), she is scared to death. She is so frighten that when the paper carrier delivers her paper four feet away from the door she goes into a sever panic attack. Weaver, who I think it is generally terrific, has been known to overdo it if not carefully directed. In a similar role in DEATH AND THE MAIDEN she lost control of her acting. Here she delivers a near perfect performance of a woman living on the edge. She is a shoe-in for an Academy Award nomination for her portrayal.

Eventually, the good doctor and the detective form a bond and join forces to thwart the serial killer, Peter Foley (William McNamara). Foley's specialty is like that of a great forger since he reproduces in sequence some of the most heinous serial killers of this century. This turns out to be a fascinating plot device and the script treats each small point, like how the sequence is determined, carefully. Soon the killer draws the doctor into his diabolical schemes, and the tension reaches higher and higher fever pitches. The tightly drawn violins of the music by Christopher Young add immensely to the overall feeling of dread and impending doom.

The script by first time screenwriters Ann Biderman and David Madsen is brilliant and the dialog is smart. Like PULP FICTION the writers know how to push the edge of the envelope, but they never step out of the bounds of good taste and reasonableness no matter how gruesome the material. The whole character of the agoraphobic is one which is so easy to make into caricature which they skillfully avoid. They even know when to introduce laughs to cut through the tension. The story is made highly creditable and believable from start to finish. The ending is perfect, and they avoid several possible cliched epilogues. These writers are in total control of their material. I look forward to many more movies from them.

As good as the script is, there is a throw away part in it of an old love interest of M. J.'s, a cop named Nico (Will Patton) and of Nico's jealousy of Reuben. This subplot was not of the same quality as the rest of the story, and if Nico's entire role had been purged, the story would have been tighter and stronger still.

The subtle but effective cinematography by Laszlo Kovacs has just the right blend of lightness and darkness to give an eeriness to everything without ever overpowering any of the scenes. The editing cuts at all of the right moments for maximum intensity. The makeup, especially on the doctor, adds to the realism.

Now for the real star of COPYCAT, the director, Jon Amiel. Like the first time screenwriters, there is nothing in his background to suggest greatness. His few previous pictures included SOMMERSBY and the TV miniseries "The Singing Detective". Both of these were good shows but nothing outstanding. Here he keeps his actors and actresses so tightly wound and yet under control at the same time that is a joy to watch such directorial craft in action. I sure hope he decides to do many more thrillers. I can't wait.

Copyright 1995 Steve Rhodes

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