Taking Lives
review by Gregory Avery, 20 March 2003

When we first see Angelina Jolie, she is lying in a grave. Not her's, someone else's. In Taking Lives, she plays Illeana Scott, an F.B.I. profiler who, by performing acts such as this, is able to determine that the grave, found during excavation on a construction site, was dug to a very specific length and width, and was made by someone who wanted to be caught (hence the construction site locale). Her colleagues are baffled.

The story has her character winging to Montreal to help the local Sureté find a, yawn, serial killer, and the filmmakers have the good sense to surround Jolie from the start with three really good actors -- Tcheky Karyo (excellent in last year's The Good Thief), Olivier Martinez, and, in his first screen appearance in a while (at least around here), Jean-Hugues Anglade (looking a little gaunt, but it has been over ten years since Betty Blue). As policemen, their characters tend to look just a little bit condescendingly at Illeana, which she defuses with some ripostes in a couple of scenes that are genuinely funny . In fact, the film, despite a tendency to try and create dramatic tension and mood by having long stretches of dialogue delivered at a near-mutter, turns out to be rather enjoyable for a time. The director D.J. Caruso shows, as he did previously in The Salton Sea, an ability to find the unusual in everyday surroundings (and vice versa), and he can get an is-it-this, is-it-that? speculation going and maintain it in an admirable fashion. As a result, you give the film a lot of latitude, but there are also some good things to be found in their own right.

Ethan Hawke seems to have loosened up, for the better, as an actor, playing an artist who spotted the killer and even tried to save one of the victims, and there's one remarkable scene between him and a character played by Kiefer Sutherland who at first may be the murderer, but may also be after the artist for something else. Gena Rowlands appears as a woman who brings in a whole set of circumstances involving twin brothers, possible dark secrets involving abuse, and a son whom she openly tells the police is dangerous. (The elevator scene she appears in provides the one really good, honest jolt in the film.) A pre-credits sequence, a whole story in itself during which we see a perfectly nice guy obliterated in a way which caused you to regard it as perfectly heinous, is beautifully executed and sets things up just so for everything that follows.

The scenes where characters are shown skulking around through dank, semi-lit rooms full of maundering furnishings and perfidies bring to mind similar odysseys in Seven, but, with the display and examination of cadaver photographs and even some cadavers themselves, corpses seem to have become some sort of "de rigueur" stroke at the moment -- as if displaying an inurement to ruined or decomposing flesh were some sort of badge of initiation. (One of the reasons why it occasionally strikes one as odd that no less than Philip Glass was obtained to provide the music for the film, rather like seeing his name pop up in the opening credits for Candyman 12 years ago. Glass' music for Taking Lives isn't quite up there with his shimmering, classic score for Mishima, but it's perfectly fine otherwise.)

But, oh, guys and gals, there is the ending. Just about the only thing that has been said about this film in advance was that it contained a real big surprise in the very last scene. It's a surprise, alright. I haven't had such a reaction to a movie in a theater since Jim Belushi turned up alive at the end of Traces of Red. Aside from that (what? you think I'm going to pull a spoiler, here?), the conclusion contains the somewhat distasteful element of a man striking a terrified, and pregnant, woman repeatedly, and in such a way so that she always lands on the floor front-first. (Actually, that's alright, because... Ahem, that's all we're going to say about that.)

As Illeana, Angelina Jolie, speaking with a voice that bears just a little of the pang of her Lara Croft accent, looks like she has prepared impeccably for her role, but I also wonder if that is also putting a buffer between her and the audience. Some actors immerse themselves in a role so fully, but it is also so that they can express themselves emotionally in an honest, truthful, and vibrant manner. In Taking Lives, Jolie doesn't have that soft-focus, beautiful-on-a-pedestal quality that she had, in full tilt, in Beyond Borders, where her work had the opposite effect of making her look empirical rather than believable. But it's still there, to some extent, in this picture. Jessica Lange has related how, after the emotional work she put into Frances, Kim Stanley, with whom she worked in the picture, advised her to make a comedy, right away. (Which she did: Tootsie.) I'm still not ready to write off Angelina Jolie, but maybe she should do a comedy?

Directed by:
D.J. Caruso

Angelina Jolie
Ethan Hawke
Kiefer Sutherland
Tcheky Karyo
Olivier Martinez
Jean-Hugues Anglade
Gene Rowlands

Written by:
Jon Bokenkamp

R - Restricted.
Under 17 requires
parent or adult







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