One positive thing that can be said about D. J. Caruso’s (The Salton Sea) Taking Lives is that it doesn’t feel like a carbon copy of every thriller out there. Perhaps it’s because the movie, for the most part, appears more concerned with telling a story than twisting its narrative into a pretzel. But the movie voids a lot of good will with a cheesy ending. This is just the kind of denouement I was hoping Taking Lives wouldn’t sink to, yet it does.Jolie, who has rarely been better, plays FBI profiler Illeana Scott, a Washington D.C.-based Sherlock Holmes who is on special assignment in Montreal, helping her old friend, Captain Leclair (Tchécky Karyo), hunt down a serial killer. The presence of an outsider is welcomed by one of Leclair’s men, Duval (Jean-Hughes Anglade), and despised by another, Paquette (Olivier Martinez). Meanwhile, Illeana immediately gets results, interviewing murder witness James Costa (Ethan Hawke), who puts her on the trail of Martin Asher (Kiefer Sutherland), a man thought killed 20 years ago, but whose mother (Gena Rowlands) now believes to be alive and in Montreal.
There is a twist of sorts in Taking Lives, but it’s less preposterous than has become the norm for this genre. Also, since the story is more about Illeana’s character than the whodunit aspect of the crimes, the surprise revelation doesn’t come across as the work of a cinematic P.T. Barnum. There is a car chase, but, rather than being the film’s action centrepiece, it is presented as a necessary plot device that’s short and to the point. Plot holes exist, but they are relatively well camouflaged. Nevertheless, the ending reeks of having been re-shot at the behest of displeased focus groups. It’s silly and contrived, and far below the standard established by the previous 85 minutes. Maybe I’m wrong – perhaps the fault lies in the source material, a novel by Michael Pye (which I haven’t read). Perhaps Caruso filmed what was originally in Jon Bokenkamp’s adaptation. Regardless of how it ended up on screen, however, the closing act represents Taking Lives’ Achilles heel.
The movie has two evident assets. The first is the location. American movies rarely take place north of the border (although plenty are filmed in Toronto, but the city is almost always standing in for New York), so the use of the French Canadian scenery represents a pleasant change-of-pace. The shift away from a New York or Chicago makes the film visually less formulaic. There are also some nice stylistic touches, including one legitimate scare that shocked me out of my seat.
The second plus is Angelina Jolie, who, after a series of hum-drum parts, is given an opportunity once again to remind us that she can shine on the big screen. She plays Illeana perfectly – an emotionally shuttered woman who slowly comes to realize what it means to fall in love. Although the character doesn’t start off like an ice berg, the melting of residual frost is wonderful to watch. This is more like the work of the actress who appeared in The Bone Collector than the one who starred in Tomb Raider: Cradle of Life. Jolie’s co-stars aren’t on the same level. Ethan Hawke is adequate, as are TchéckyKaryo, Jean-Hughes Anglade, and Olivier Martinez. Kiefer Sutherland is underused, hardly appearing more often here than in Phone Booth. I assume the heavy production schedule for “24” disallows him much time to make movies.
As far as thrillers go, Taking Lives exists on a level somewhere above that of the run-of-the-mill, routine film that believes unexpected (and often nonsensical) twists are the only way to hold an audience’s attention. On the other hand, in large part because of its sub-par resolution, it fails to attain the plateau inhabited by superior efforts. Or, to use a couple of relatively recent examples, it’s better than Twisted, but not as good asIdentity.
There are reasons to recommend this movie, but, in the final analysis, it falls short.
The Sunday Leader By Sohail Jamudeen