Taking Lives

Technically competent thriller that merely lacks thrills.

Released in 2004, certified UK-15. Reviewed on 25 Apr 2004 by Scott Morris
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It's easy to write about things that you enjoy, largely because you'll enjoy writing about them as well. Easy as it is to get caught up in rapturous praise, it's just as satisfying and cathartic to tear strips from something that you hate, bile spilling with a near-visceral thrill. This I have noticed from my writings on this here corner of the InfoWebHighwayNet. The vast middle ground that the average film by the very definition of average inhabits is something that's a little harder to scribble about, as it's tough to find interesting things to say about a film that you didn't find very interesting.

Sadly, Taking Lives falls into that category rather neatly. It's particularly sad in this instance, as it's a film I really would have liked to have liked, if you'll forgive the truism. It's full of actors I've a great degree of respect for, the production values throughout are very high and on paper at least it has all of the component pieces of an entertaining little thriller. Something seems to have gone a shade awry in the assembly process however, and it leaves the flick in something of an entertainment no-man's land.

Set in Montreal, allowing a well taken opportunity for an appearance of the word 'aboot', the discovery of a mangled corpse by a police team headed by Leclair (Tchéky Karyo) leads to him calling in the services of FBI Special Agent Illeana Scott (Angelina Jolie), student at the Agent Starling wing of Quantico. Before she's had much of a chance to do her freaky profiling stuff, lying in graves and staring pointedly at gruesome photographs of the victims and suchlike, the killer strikes again. This time there's a witness.

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Mild mannered artist / art dealer Costa (Ethan Hawke) arrives too late to do much with another smashed up victim other than dirty his shirt with spilt blood. After a probing from the slightly peeved, thunder stolen local coppers Duval (Jean-Hugues Anglade) and Paquette (Olivier Martinez) they're convinced that his version of events check out although they're a little worried that whoever this nutty killer chappie is might see Costa as unfinished business. After Costa reveals he's due to meet a potential client with the same name as one of the aforementioned stiffs, the coppers decide to use Costa as bait.

Not an idea that Costa's tremendously chuffed with, but the proximity to Illeana provides some compensation as the two prove rather compatible, leading to Scott wishing to bail out of the case. In the end, she stays around to witness the suspect Hart (a barely present Kiefer Sutherland) showing up, causing a ruckus and being disposed of in rather hurried short order.

Now, the one procedural bone you can pick with the film is that no-one's ever going to buy this supposed climax seeing as it comes a little after an hour into the film. Either there's a strangely long denouement to the affair or there's a forthcoming bait 'n' switch of bad guy. It's not too much of a surprise when the latter occurs, which is a disappointment in a thriller. Still, the abrupt parachuting in of the supposed focus of attention doesn't provide a tremendously satisfying pseudo-conclusion so perhaps it's for the best.

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The whole experience is a bit of a disappointment, if truth be told. Certainly it's a polished affair. It has the statutory jumpy bits, plot twists, frantic screaming and car chases (sadly ending with the standard Ford C4 Explodalot doing what it does best). There's not really a bad performance in the film, and it's not using any more offensive logic jumps than you'd see in the bulk of films similar. At points it establishes a decent dark 'n' moody ambience that's been the norm since Se7en.

Jolie might star in a few dodgy films from time to time but she's one of the few people to put her celebrity status to a positive use without making a song a dance about it. Ethan Hawke seems damned to put in consistently decent performances without ever breaking into mainstream consciousness. The only thing taken in isolation in this film I can really work up an enthusiasm about disapproving of is Philip Glass' score, an artist I've never appreciated although his contribution here is up to his usual minimalist soundscape schtick which will no doubt be lapped up by his fans.

When everything's put together, it's just not a film that's easy to give much if a monkey's about. If you've not seen as many of it's genre counterparts you might be a little more forgiving and a little more involved with the trials and tribulations contained herein, but otherwise you might be better served renting out Insomnia. The consistently excellent production values of Taking Lives makes it a watchable enough film but not one that's either memorable or noteworthy, and given the standards of everyone involved it rather saddens me to say so.

Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 2/5 TippyMarks.

D.J. Caruso
Cast list:
Angelina Jolie (Illeana)
Ethan Hawke (Costa)
Kiefer Sutherland (Hart)
Gena Rowlands (Mrs. Asher)
Olivier Martinez (Paquette)
Tchéky Karyo (Leclair)
Jean-Hugues Anglade (Duval)