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