out of 4
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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
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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