March 18th, 2004
"Taking Lives" is an elaborate riff off of David Fincher's "Seven," down to the cinematography and opening credit sequence. If you can get past the familiarity and the needlessly elongated final act, "Lives" provides a solid genre entry, assisted by good performances from Angelina Jolie and Ethan Hawke, and a decent follow-up film for talented "Salton Sea" director D.J. Caruso.
When a string of Montreal murders begin to connect to one another, the police chief (Tcheky Karyo, “La Femme Nikita”) brings in American FBI profiler Illeana Scott (Jolie) to help find the killer. An ace with details and the criminal mind, Scott tries to trace the steps of the psychopath with questionable help from the local law enforcement squad (including Jean-Hugues Anglade and Olivier Martinez). When a witness to the latest murder (Hawke) surfaces, Scott finds a real chance to catch the bad guy, but her attraction to the witness threatens to cloud her judgment, allowing the psychopath a chance to escape again.
A veteran television director, Caruso made his feature film debut with 2002’s “The Salton Sea,” a wild and unpredictable methamphetamine drama that failed to garner a significant release, but delivered on the promised goods, and introduced a bright filmmaking talent to the screen. Two years later, Caruso has returned, this time comforted with a guaranteed wide release, and a film that is much easier to swallow. In fact it was already swallowed, in 1995, as a little film called, “Seven.”
The idea barrel has run dry when it comes to serial killer movies. Everybody and their mother have attempted one since “Silence of the Lambs” cooked up an Academy Award win over a decade ago. “Taking Lives” is a standard cat-and-mouse thriller that is, at times, a direct carbon copy of David Fincher’s exceptional “Seven,” down to the disappointingly identical opening credit sequence. But if you’re going to rip off a serial killer film, “Seven” is the one to siphon from.
“Taking Lives” is entertaining and suspenseful, and features one genuinely earned “boo!” jump in the middle of the film. Bolstered by good performances from Jolie, Hawke and a supporting cast made up of the highlights in French talent working today, “Lives” might be awfully familiar, but it remains a very agreeable affair. Caruso sticks to the basics: fetishizing the minute details of the crime scenes, moody bleached photography, and goofy but enjoyable implausibility. It appears Caruso is holding back on really letting this film kick down the doors and amaze, but his competent, conventional direction is welcome in a genre continually ransacked with stinkers.
The climax is where my biggest gripe about “Taking Lives” comes in. Of course, there is a twist ending – to skip one is not an option anymore these days. But “Lives” takes its sweet time to end, which doesn’t blend with the tight pace found in the rest of the film. Laboring to find the right tone and level of comeuppance to finish the film on, “Lives” begins to assume the position of the sibling thrillers it was rising above in the earlier 80 minutes. What starts off with a bang ends with a whimper, and it comes dangerously close to sullying the entire film.
My rating: B