Taking Lives

(D. J. Caruso, USA, 2004)


I consider myself a good barometer to gauge the skilfulness of a whodunit – since I am one of those innocent viewers who almost never manage to correctly pick the identity of the killer.

It does not auger well for Taking Lives that, at the thudding into place of its first red herring, even I could tell exactly who the villain was – leaving around eighty dull minutes of the movie left to unfold.

Taking Lives lazily picks over the remains of a dozen previous serial killer films and television shows. Angelina Jolie, as FBI profiler Illeana, at least retains some quiet dignity in the middle of this mess. As usual, she must "get inside the head" of a mysterious psychopath who adopts the identities of each of his victims.

However, unlike The Silence of the Lambs (1991), the fact that the story must hold onto its lame, whodunit mystery element means that it is incapable of actually exploring this intriguing premise.

Instead, the film turns up the heat between Illeana and a sensitive art dealer James (Ethan Hawke), an unfortunate passer-by who spotted the killer and now lives in fear. Meanwhile, director D. J. Caruso handles the material in a flashily empty way – brandishing moody cinematography by Amir Mokri (Blue Steel, 1990) and an even moodier score by Philip Glass.

Many modern thrillers play with plot implausibilities, and some (such as Wild Things [1998]) even get away with outrageous cheating when it comes to scattering red herrings in our path. This is forgivable if the film takes us somewhere unexpected, or dares to probe some sensitive psychosexual issue.

There is one moment near the end of Taking Lives (impossible to describe without spoiling the plot) that made me sit up and wonder: is this movie secretly about something interesting? But that moment is immediately squashed by the blundering machinery of the plot – the sure sign that yet another thriller has wasted its potential.

© Adrian Martin April 2004

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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