Taking Lives comes close to being an effective psychological thriller, but after a creepy start and a few good jolts, it meanders into the familiar copycat territory of bygone thrillers done better.
R for violence, disturbing images, language, sexuality
Angelina Jolie (Lara Croft: Tomb Raider) fits right into her character’s skin. Illeana Scott’s a hardworking, overly dedicated FBI special agent who feels comfortable lying in shallow graves or musty old beds while trying to imbibe all the psychological disturbances of crime scenes. She’s one hard-nosed chick who tapes photos of corpses to her bedroom ceiling for those little bits of nocturnal inspiration.
It’s a perfect role for Jolie, who manages to bring humanity to a tricky character, one that in lesser hands could have been merely a caricature.
Called on by Captain Le Claire (Tcheky Karyo, La Femme Nikita) to help solve a series of murders in Quebec, Illeana finds herself under the scrutiny of her French Canadian colleagues as she uses her rather unorthodox methods in interrogating suspects and assessing situations.
Based on the novel by Michael Pye, which in turn takes its cue from Patricia Highsmith’s series of novels following the exploits of the murderous Mr. Tom Ripley, Taking Lives tells of a young man with no identity of his own, a man who spends his life killing others and taking on their diverse lifestyles.
Technically speaking, the film is top notch. Philip Glass (Secret Window) provides an effective score that is at times reminiscent of Bernard Herrmann’s work for Hitchcock.
The film also benefits from D.J. Caruso’s stylish and flashy directing. Re-teaming with his cinematographer from The Salton Sea, Amir M. Mokri, the two do achieve a genuine creep factor in the early going, one that promises the escalating chills of David Fincher’s films, particularly Seven.
Helping keep that promise afloat through the first half are Jolie and an impressive cast that includes Gena Rowlands (Gloria) as the killer’s mother and Keifer Sutherland (Dark City), who continues to show his broad range as a slimy dealer of assorted goods.
However, Ethan Hawke (Dead Poets Society) seems a bit out of his league as James Costa, an artist who witnesses one of the gruesome murders. He’s a nice guy who develops a crush on Agent Scott while they work together to capture the killer. Hawke lacks the heft to completely pull it off.
It’s disappointing that the film’s considerable collection of talent is foiled by a story that fails to keep the chills going. One of the major buzz killers is an embarrassingly out-of-place romantic liaison that seems to be ripped from a totally different novel, that being any randomly-picked Harlequin romance.
There are also credibility issues with some of the characters’ reactions, with some scenes included specifically as a ruse to mislead the armchair detectives in the audience.
A quick snip here and there of one or two scenes would have allowed the identity of the culprit to remain a mystery, right up to a more satisfying, nail-biting conclusion. Instead, the killer is unmasked midway through the third act, leaving the rest of the film as merely an exercise in the inevitable.
As hard as it tries, Taking Lives fails to rise to the “higher chill” level of modern-day classic thrillers like The Silence of the Lambs and The Sixth Sense. By this film’s end, the chills achieved early on are eased back to standard room temperature.