Director: D J Caruso
Cast: Angelina Jolie, Ethan Hawke, Oliver Martinez, Kiefer Sutherland, Tcheky Karyo with Paul Dano and Gena Rowlands
Plot: FBI profiler, Agent Scott (Jolie) is called in to help a Canadian police force deal with a killer who assumes his victims’ identities.
Taking Lives is the kind of film that will grab your attention from a bargain bin. It boasts some great stars, yet you are likely to never have heard of it before. Truthfully, it is a tad underwhelming, yet it is hardly offensively bad, as some critics would have you believe.
We are introduced to Angelina Jolie’s work-obsessed Agent Scott who is brought into a case to assist a Canadian police force who are in way over their heads, when a serial killer brutally begins killing people. The bodies lead back to several cold cases, telling us that we are dealing with a trained serial killer. As the title implies, the killer kills people and assumes their identities. We are given a pretty standard detective flick, in the same vein as Se7en, with several red herrings and some pretty brutal scenes.
This film struggles with the fact that we have been here so many times before. It’s a nice idea, but as we get to know Angelina Jolie’s conflicted detective, Ethan Hawke’s charming witness and the mysterious figure of Kiefer Sutherland lurking in the shadows, we cannot help but draw comparisons to earlier, better films. This is the kind of story that works better as a novel. The action is pretty slow-burning, as we work towards the answer to the case and most of the actors are relegated to just looking suspicious (Sutherland in particular is wasted: you can see the actor waiting for his natural charm to be used, but it never is). It is the kind of film that relies on a final twist to determine its success and frankly, the twist is a disappointment.
Empire magazine is correct in stating that there just aren’t enough suspects to make the mystery thrilling enough. The true culprit is easy enough to guess (just assume that there will be an insane amount of plot holes when the twist is revealed and your deduction is probably spot-on) and the final climax is a little daft. Don’t get me wrong, the ending was cool in its own way, but it isn’t the action finale we really wanted. It almost feels like a TV programme: on the small screen, the slow-burning plot and exposition would have been comfortable, but for a movie, it is painfully dull.
I will give it credit where its deserved. The acting is good. Angelina Jolie was nominated for a Razzle for this movie, but she is fantastic here. Her character is a bunch of clichés thrown together, yet Jolie keeps her sympathetic. Ethan Hawke is given a good script to allow his charm to flow. Oliver Martinez is fun to watch as the cynical cop that really doesn’t like Agent Scott. There is even an early appearance from Paul Dano, as the young serial killer. It is the kind of performance, which has cemented him as a major player in Hollywood. The characters and script are good here, yet they all seem to be wasted on this dull, predictable detective plot.
On the bright side, it has some pretty decent scares. It will lull you into a false sense of security with its predictability, only to make you jump out of your seat with a surprising scare. It’s cheap horror, the kind I would criticise if the film was meant to be scary, but in a detective flick like this, it is a nice change of pace. When the film drags, a few jumps really liven up proceedings.
Final verdict: Slow and predictable, Taking Lives wastes some good actors and scares on a genre that has had its day.