Jolie’s ”Taking Lives” finally takes shape

The story is typical. Not the actual story itself, which is also rather typical, but the story about getting a hot novel from page to screen. Once intended as a starring vehicle for Gwyneth Paltrow, it appears the wheel of fate has finally stopped spinning the wrong way for the adaptation of Michael Pye’s 1999 thriller novel, which is expected to begin shooting in Montréal this May with Angelina Jolie and Ethan Hawke in the lead roles.

Picture will be a reteaming of sorts, as the latest screenwriter on the project is the white hot scribe David Ayer, whose spec script for “Training Day” helped nab Hawke his first ever Oscar nomination.

In Pye’s novel, Martin Arkenhout, a seventeen year old Dutch student hitchhiking through America, who begins a Talented Mr. Ripleyesque scheme of taking over the identities of his murder victims, beginning with his first traveling companion, whom Arkenhout finds dead one morning due to a hit-and-run. Over the course of ten years, Arkenhout perfects his abilities, crisscrossing the globe as someone else just as his previous identity is about to be blown. On Arkenhout’s trail is Jose Costa, a employee of a London museum recently deputized to find Christopher Hart, an art professor who has stolen several priceless drawings, who has just become Arkenhout’s most recent victim. Discovering Hart/Arkenhout’s trail leads to a small town Portugal that is also his ancestral home, Costa begins to devise a cat-and-mouse game that will catch his suspected thief without alerting the local authorities. The plans of both men are thrown for a loop when each falls for Maria Mattoso, a local lawyer in the small provincial town they are living in.

Suffice to say, the story has been radically modified from the original novel. Story now revolves around, a respected FBI profiler who has been called in by French Canadian inspectors to stop a serial killer with the ability to take on the identity of each new victim. Ethan Hawke plays the now-Anglicized John Costa, but despite the character’s more obvious connection to the original story, he is not the FBI profiler. Jolie’s character, Grace Vanderholt (replacing the Maria Mattoso character from the novel) plays the fed. Martin Arkenhout is now Martin Asher, rich boy from a small rural Canadian town, whose we know is insane because he constantly tugs on his earlobe, whose was severely affected by the hit and run death of his twin brother at age 16, and was previously thought to have been killed in a car accident himself at age 18.

The latest draft of Ayer’s script, turned in just 12 days ago, does not pretend to turn Montreal into some American city. The police officers in this story, Inspectors Laval and Reynaud and their boss Director Gillet, are bilingual, resorting to their native tongue in the presence of the American agent out of habit.

While researching this story, I came across a number of extremely positive reviews for the novel, one going so far as to lament the inability of Alfred Hitchcock to direct what would be a story right up his alley. Hyperbole perhaps, but it seems the book had its fans. So why change the entire tone and storyline of the popular novel so quicklyr The first announcement about the film project, with Paltrow as the FBI agent, was less than a year after the book’s publication, and as the subsequent actresses attached to the role (Cate Blanchett, then Jennifer Lopez) shows, the lead was never intended to be male. We may never know the answer.

DJ Caruso, who made his feature directing debut last year with the barely seen “The Salton Sea,” replaced Tony Scott last November as helmer.


“Taking Lives” Scorecard
Director: DJ Caruso
Producers: Mark Canton, Bernie Goldman
Writers: David Ayer, Jon Bokenkamp
Casting Directors: Deborah Aquila, Tricia Wood
Production Start Date: May 2003
Shooting Locations: Montreal
US Distributor: Warner Brothers