Taking Lives (R) ★★

Review Date: March 19th, 2004

Unfortunately, Taking Lives doesn't add any brilliance to the exhausted spot-the-serial-killer psychological thriller--but as uneventful as it is, it does get props for a clever ending.


A dead body with a smashed-in face and cut-off hands is uncovered at a Montreal construction site. The local authorities are all over it, but police inspector Hugo Leclair (Tcheky Karyo) thinks it might be bigger than just a random murder and decides to bring in his good friend, Special Agent Illeana Scott (Angelina Jolie), an FBI profiler who relies on her intuition rather than conventional crime-solving techniques. She proves it by immediately lying in the victim's grave to get a ''sense'' of what happened to him. (Wow, we've never seen that before.) The Montreal detectives on the case, Paquette (Olivier Martinez) and Duval (Jean-Hugues Anglade), are skeptical of her ways, especially Paquette, who thinks she's just plain nuts (we're with ya, Paquette) and resents her involvement. The investigative team catches a lucky break when witness James Costa (Ethan Hawke) pops up, claiming he stumbled upon the killer mid-murder (but not in time to save the victim) and can identify him. With Costa's help, Illeana gets a clearer picture of her ''profile,'' discovering he is a chameleon-like serial killer who ''life-jacks'' his victims, assuming their lives and identities. At first, she's hot on his tracks, but the usually detached Illeana is thrown for a loop when an unexpected attraction develops between her and James. She suddenly feels like she is losing her touch; and surrounded by what could be a bevy of potential suspects, things get chillingly personal.


Jolie has done this before, sort of, in the 1999 The Bone Collector, in which she played a homicide detective who works with a quadriplegic partner to catch a serial killer, so inhabiting Agent Scott is not new territory for her. Neither is acting in the steamy love scene she gets to share with Hawke, which, as we all know, is something Jolie can do well. What is surprising for a movie of this type, however, is the fact the uptight, emotionless FBI profiler actually gets to have sex, which brings out Scott's more human qualities. The ultra-smooth Hawke, whom we haven't seen since his Oscar-nominated turn in the 2001 Training Day, also does some intriguing things with his character, who may or may not be the bad guy (see below). The rest of the cast, however, falls into conventional psycho thriller compartments--the good cop (Anglade), the bad cop (Martinez), the concerned confidante (Karyo), and the person who provides key information about the serial killer's background (his mother, played by Gena Rowlands)--without shedding anything new on the proceedings.


If you've seen one big-budget psychological serial killer movie, you've seen them all. You know that the one guy they want you to think is the killer really isn't. You know that the other, more unlikely guy probably is. You know somehow the hero--a smart cop, FBI agent, etc.--will eventually find his or her life in mortal danger. And finally, you know the killer rarely dies on the first attempt; he always comes back. What you hope is that, at some point, the filmmaker will throw a wrench in the works. Something you couldn't predict, even if given all the clues. Taking Lives director D.J. Caruso tries his best to do this. Through his camerawork, he sets up Illeana's hyper-sensitive skills of observation, as she notices everything around her, only to see those skills fail on her later--and aided by composer Phillip Glass' haunting musical score, the film reaches the predictable high points, fulfilling its thriller quota. Montreal also provides a change of pace from the usual grimy Big Apple, or other such gritty American locales prominently feature in such films. But what keeps Taking Lives in the running is its curveball at the end. If you don't mind wading through the rest of the movie's obviousness, the wait is worth it.

Bottom Line

With a great zinger at the end, Taking Lives just manages to squeak by as a passable entry in the psychological thriller arena.