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Taking Lives

movie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Taking Lives

Starring: Angelina Jolie, Ethan Hawke
Director: D.J. Caruso
Rated: R
RunTime: 103 Minutes
Release Date: March 2004
Genres: Action, Suspense

*Also starring: Kiefer Sutherland, Olivier Martinez, Gena Rowlands, Jean-Hughes Anglade, Paul Franklin Dano, Richard Jutras

Review by Jerry Saravia
2 stars out of 4

Peter Bogdanovich once made a startling comment about Orson Welles's "Touch of Evil." He said that it took more than twenty viewings before he realized there was a plot. That means he was taken in by the innovative style and atmosphere of the film. Indeed, "Touch of Evil" is one of the best noir thrillers ever made, and all the more innovative for its strong, stark photography and sublime use of overlapping sound. Amazingly, "Taking Lives" is superbly shot and tightly edited and has a strong sense of atmosphere as well. Well, at least for the first hour, until it becomes as overdone as a sirloin steak. And I do not believe there is much of a plot either, so don't ask me to watch it nineteen times.

Angelina Jolie plays Illeana Scott, a soft-spoken FBI agent assigned to a murder case in Montreal. For some reason, the French-Canadian cops do not have access to FBI agents in their own country so they get one from Washington, D.C. Perhaps FBI has no offices in Canada (though I am sure there must be some) or none of the agents look like the babelicious Angelina Jolie. Ah, a better reason. The murder involves a disfigured body, presumably with the eyes buried underneath the skin! Ms. Scott has to find the villain, and so we meet two potential suspects. One is James Costa (Ethan Hawke), a successful gallery owner who had witnessed another crime involving someone's head getting bashed in. The other is a mystery figure played by Keifer Sutherland, whom I can't say much about because I am still not clear what his relation is to the story. So who killed whom? What is the deal with these disfigured bodies? And how about the basement sequence where the presumed killer is hiding under a bed? Or the concerned mother (Gena Rowlands) who says her son is still alive?

What we have here is a film full of red herrings and twists that lead nowhere. All I can say is that I guessed who the killer was from the beginning. Therefore, we lurch forward waiting for some element of surprise, something to make us guess that our initial suspicions were false. Or perhaps we can learn a little something about Jolie's agent, whose only noticeable quirk is that she sleeps on the area where murder victims are found. Outside of that, she is not half as interesting as Jodie Foster's Clarice Starling in "Silence of the Lambs," the model by which all female enforcers are to be judged. Ethan Hawke is less charismatic than usual, but he does try. The French Canadian cops (two of whom are played by Jean-Hughes Anglade and Tcheky Karyo, both from "La Femme Nikita") are given little screen time except for the tough cop (Olivier Martinez) who hates Ms. Scott and even gives her a good wallop. Only Kiefer Sutherland comes across with presence and vitality. His one superb moment is done with no dialogue - he tries to get Hawke's attention by tapping a glass partition with the ring on his finger. That singular moment has more suspense and verve than almost anything else in the movie.

"Taking Lives" has a brilliant opening credits sequence (no doubt inspired by "Seven") and, as I said, the first half of the movie has the intensity of an above-average thriller. But then the movie veers into a hot lava bed of melodrama (that includes a car chase and a fiery explosion!) and closes with a cheap trick that gives new meaning to the word "implausible." It is the sort of cheap, false, dishonest ending you might expect in an Angelina Jolie movie. Anyone care to remember "Original Sin"?

Copyright 2004 Jerry Saravia

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