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Taking Lives

Bottom line: First-rate production values and Angelina Jolie cannot overcome threadbare material.
Friday, March 19

The cities of Quebec and Montreal actually playing themselves for once is just about the best thing in the otherwise pedestrian psychological thriller "Taking Lives." Shooting largely in the old towns of both French-Canadian cities, director D.J. Caruso establishes a film-noir atmosphere that has an intriguing blend of Old and New World. Angelina Jolie plays a role that definitely feels like something she has already done, but she does add an unmistakable dash of excitement and glamour. Otherwise, it's a struggle to differentiate this cop vs. serial killer tale from many others that now crowd video shelves. Young males will give "Taking Lives" a solid opening weekend, but Jolie's Special Agent Illeana Scott is no Lara Croft.

Illeana, an FBI profiler, has a knack for tracking down serial killers
she's Sherlock Holmes with curves. Illeana can merely look at a suspect and determine he's a left-hander from Vancouver with a bad childhood -- or lie in a grave, which is where we first see her, and determine the exact method by which a victim was murdered and buried.

Illeana gets called into a case that has the Montreal police baffled. (How and why Canadian authorities would bring an American agent in on a Canadian case is never made clear.) A body has turned up at a construction site, and on almost no evidence whatsoever, Surete du Quebec director Leclair (Tcheky Karyo) decides a serial killer is at work.

The film actually opens in 1983, when a drifter (Paul Dano) impulsively kills a guy he is traveling with and assumes his identity. In present day, a distraught mother (Gena Rowlands) pleads to bored Quebec City police that she just saw her son, whom she believed dead for two decades. She cautions them that he is very dangerous.

The viewer's only quandary at this moment is whether Ethan Hawke, who claims to be Montreal art dealer James Costa, looks enough like that kid in 1983 to be him, or is he simply what he says he is -- a good Samaritan who happened along just as a prolific serial killer was finishing off another victim?

Initially, Illeana treats him as a suspect. But signs point to him being the next target of the killer, since he got a good look at the man, thus requiring police protection and Illeana's continual presence in his life. A strange attraction grows between them that may, in her words, "cloud my judgment."

Meanwhile, Illeana becomes convinced that the killer has been on the rampage for years, each time assuming the life of his victim. But her methods clash with those of her Montreal police colleagues, hotheaded Paquette (Olivier Martinez) and the more even-keel Duval (Jean-Hugues Anglade). Then Kiefer Sutherland turns up rather late in the story, playing yet another of his furtive and menacing characters.

Jon Bokenkamp's script, based on Michael Pye's novel, delivers the requisite thriller sequences -- the chase through a large crowd, a detective prowling in a dark house only to discover that she is not alone, a body that falls out of nowhere, a car that roars down the wrong way of a bridge. The movie loses considerable punch, though, with a drawn-out ending, when the culprit is revealed but doesn't receive his comeuppance until much later.

The filmmaking here -- Amir M. Mokri's moody cinematography, Tom Southwell's stylish mix of locations, Anne V. Coates' meticulous editing and Philip Glass' unusually low-key but evocative music -- is surprisingly graceful for a conventional thriller. Clearly, much care and intelligence have been lavished on discouraging, routine material.

Warner Bros. Pictures
Warner Bros. in association with Village Roadshow Pictures presents a Mark Canton production
Director: D.J. Caruso
Screenwriter: Jon Bokenkamp
Based on a novel by: Michael Pye
Producers: Mark Canton, Bernie Goldman
Executive producers: Bruce Berman
David Heyman
Director of photography: Amir M. Mokri
Production designer: Tom Southwell
Music: Philip Glass
Costume designer: Marie-Sylvie Deveau
Editor: Anne V. Coates
Illeana: Angelina Jolie
Costa: Ethan Hawke
Hart: Kiefer Sutherland
Mrs. Asher: Gena Rowlands
Paquette: Olivier Martinez
Duval: Jean-Hugues Anglade
Leclair: Tcheky Karyo
Running time -- 103 minutes
MPAA rating: R

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