Dir: DJ Caruso. US. 2004. 103 mins.
Serial killer thrillers don't come slicker than this good-looking Montreal-set production from Mark Canton and Warner Bros. Boasting a stellar cast led by the larger-than-life Angelina Jolie, Taking Lives is an enjoyable studio outing in the vein of Copycat or The Bone Collector but, don't believe the ads, it should never be mentioned in the same breath as classics of the genre like The Silence Of The Lambs and Seven.
About as psychologically probing as an episode of CSI, the film, adapted from a no-doubt more lucid novel by Michael Pye, is riddled with plot-holes and narrative non-sequiturs. Director DJ Caruso, who made the moody The Salton Sea, goes all-out for style in his handling of the drama seemingly at the expense of suspense, surprise or logic. Only the dumbest of viewers will be unable to see what's coming when the so-called twists are revealed.
The value in the marketplace of a polished Hollywood item like Taking Lives is not to be underestimated. It may not be particularly good, but it looks and feels like a classy adult film which will appeal to a wide grown-up audience. The attractive cast, led by bona fide movie-star presence Jolie and her megawatt lips implausibly playing a top FBI profiler, and Warner's always shrewd marketing will ensure a healthy theatrical life and plentiful ancillary revenues for years to come.
Taking Lives is the story of a twisted serial killer called Martin Asher who, as the lengthy prologue shows, ran away from home as a child and committed his first murder - smashing the face in of a teenage loner and stealing his identity ('taking his life').
Cut to present day Montreal, for once doubling as itself, and local cops are puzzling over another corpse. Police boss Hugo Leclair (Karyo) is so concerned about the murder that he calls in FBI agent Illeana Scott (Jolie) to the case, much to the consternation of his lead detectives Paquette (Martinez) and Duval (Anglade).
It's clear from the start when we see Scott lying in the grave where the body was discovered that she's good at what she does, and sure enough, before long, she has traced the killer's mother Rebecca Asher (Rowlands) and persuaded a witness to a second murder called James Costa (Hawke) to draw a perfect likeness of the suspect.
Costa starts fearing for his life when his art workshop is broken into and the cops consequently start protecting him. The impregnable Scott even finds herself attracted to the witness and asks Leclair to leave Montreal for fear of compromising the case, but he refuses. A mysterious stranger (Sutherland, who has barely any screen time) who fits the description of the killer gets away from Scott during an art opening, and the following day, the stranger kidnaps Costa when Duval carelessly leaves him alone for a minute. A desperate chase begins.
Of course all is not as it seems, although the revelations in the film's last half hour are lame, and given little explanation in the frantic narrative. A final showdown between Scott and the killer takes place six months after the events in the main body of the film in her family's farm in Pennsylvania.
Shot by Caruso with every genre cliché and trick of lighting under the sun, plus buckets of dry ice, Taking Lives is a showcase for the pouty talents of Jolie, whose extraordinary looks and natural screen charisma make her eminently watchable even if rarely believable in character. Hawke is a fine leading man as the scared and sexy Costa, while old pros Rowlands and Karyo act as solid anchors for the drama.
Philip Glass, who is getting busy in Hollywood - he also scored last week's opener Secret Window, - provides an appropriately intense score.
Prod cos: Mark Canton Productions, Warner Bros Pictures in association with Village Roadshow Pictures.
Worldwide dist: Warner Bros/Village Roadshow Pictures.
Exec prods: Bruce Berman, Dana Goldberg, David Heyman.
Prods: Mark Canton, Bernie Goldmann.
Scr: Jon Bokenkamp from the novel by Michael Pye.
DoP: Amir Mokri.
Prod des: Tom Southwell.
Ed: Anne V Coates.
Mus: Philip Glass.
Main cast: Angelina Jolie, Ethan Hawke, Kiefer Sutherland, Olivier Martinez, Tcheky Karyo, Jean-Hugues Anglade, Gena Rowlands