Universal // 1999 // 118 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Nicholas Sylvain (Retired) // June 5th, 2000
Two cops on the trail of a brutal killer. They must see as one, they must act as one, they must think as one, before the next victim falls.
An underrated murder mystery, The Bone Collector should keep you glued to the screen for two hours, though perhaps you shouldn't see it in a dark room!
You may feel like you have seen The Bone Collector before, because ever since The Silence of the Lambs various movies have come along which plow the same ground, sometimes with evident success (Se7en AKA Seven) and more often without (Kiss the Girls). Given this series of similar films, some critics seem to feel that the grotesque serial killer genre has been mined for all of the gold that it will yield and that no filmmaker should dare to enter this territory again. This unfortunate viewpoint could cause you to miss out on movies that may not attain the rarefied heights of The Silence of the Lambs, but that still can pack some decent thrills and chills.
The Bone Collector begins by introducing us to Lincoln Rhyme (Denzel Washington), a police forensics wizard whose career is forever changed when an accident leaves him a paraplegic, able to move only his head, two shoulders, and one finger. He is well cared for by devoted nurse Thelma (Queen Latifah) and supplied with an array of high tech computer and audio/visual gadgets that allow him an amazing degree of ability from the confines of his bed, but he is a profoundly depressed man. His plans for suicide are placed on hold when beat cop Off. Amelia Donaghy (Angelina Jolie) stumbles across the body of a noted New York City developer and through patient work mixed with moxie discovers vital evidence indicating that the developer's wife has been kidnapped and is going to be murdered in just a few hours.
Rhyme is still the best around, so his former partner, Det. Paulie Sellitto (Ed O'Neill) and his cohort, Det. Kenny Solomon (Mike McGlone) are dispatched by the Chief of Police to cajole Rhyme into putting his razor sharp mind to work. Rhyme eventually agrees, but only when he is given Off. Donaghy to act as his on-site assistant. He likes her instincts for forensic work, but he has to use his own mix of persuasion and compulsion to get her to sign on. Along with a team of officers and a friendly laboratory technician, Eddie Ortiz (Luis Guzmàn), Rhyme sifts through the clues and deciphers the location where he thinks the woman is being held.
When the rescue goes awry, it falls to Donaghy to enter the crime scene and find the evidence left behind by the killer. In a scene both eerie and grotesque, she forces herself to get the job done, rebelling only when Rhyme demands a particularly macabre forensic procedure. Another set of meticulously planted clues are collected, but Rhyme can glean little from them as to the killer's identity. While Rhyme thinks and Donaghy recuperates from the severe stress of her new job, the killer selects a new victim for a different, yet fatal, fate.
Rhyme, Donaghy, and the team return to the evidence, trying to find the quiet meaning hiding within the complex puzzle that the killer has assembled for them. Painstaking analysis and inspired deduction leads them to the third victim, this time found dead without any chance of recovery, as if the killer is emphasizing a point. Despite the increasingly boneheaded interference of Captain Howard Cheney (Michael Rooker), Rhyme and Donaghy discover that the combination of three small clues from each crime scene leads them to a stunning find that spells out not only the crimes that have occurred, but also the next one to come. The pressure is intense and the race against time is on again. When Donaghy finds the victims, the final set of evidence at the scene leads her to the killer's lair. To her grave dismay, she realizes that the killer has one last victim in mind, for whose death all of the other murders were mere prelude. In the aftermath of the bloody, vicious battle against a determined foe, Donaghy finds that she and Rhyme have found new strength in each other, and share a sentimental moment with friends and family at Christmastime.
While I agree that The Bone Collector is not as fresh or innovative a film as its critically acclaimed predecessors, it retains an ability to keep the audience interested with its own unique twists. The young, inexperienced protégé teamed with an older, incredibly wiser expert is not an original concept by any means, but here the twist is to have the junior partner literally be the eyes, ears, and hands for her senior who is a paraplegic confined to a bed. Thankfully, the movie does not wallow in an exploitation of Lincoln Rhyme's condition, but rather contrasts it with his previous near-celebrity status to convey his present emotional life.
Some glimpses into his partner's life are seen, but the audience is left to muse upon Amelia Donaghy's inner turmoil. Did she abandon a teenage modeling career to follow in her dead father's footsteps as a police officer? If so, why does she have such a powerful reluctance to build her career? Why does she give in to Lincoln Rhyme and become what she so resisted? We are given some clues, but are ultimately left to draw our own conclusions. This is a light touch that is sadly missing in many Hollywood films, as a certain untidiness in a film is welcome and avoids unnecessary, distracting exposition. We do not need to have every last detail spelled out to us like children, thank you very much!
Attention to detail is evident as well, though perhaps many critics missed this in their haste to trash The Bone Collector. The use of technology to allow Lincoln Rhyme to put his forensic talents to use is appropriate and realistic, if a bit on the pricey side. However, given his professional stature prior to his accident, as well as his salary as an police forensic expert and insurance from his police union, the implausibility of his huge, well furnished apartment and array of high tech toys is attenuated. The explanation and use of forensic techniques was intelligent and realistic as well, at least to this prosecutor's eyes. Furthermore, the camera movement and editing show us many characters, major and minor, with just the angle and lingering moment to cause us to wonder if this is the killer. Red herrings are vital to preserve a mystery, and The Bone Collector does so in ingenious fashion.
The predominant flaw in the story is the revelation of the killer and the climactic battle. The clues left behind at the various murder scenes are subtle, fragile, obscure, and maddeningly resistant to quick solutions, which are all perfectly suited to a trained killer who is purposely engaging in a battle of wits with the foremost forensic expert of his time. To do otherwise would not create a sufficient challenge of wits and rob the killer of his purpose. This being said, the introduction of the killer is arbitrary, as no facts are revealed prior to the revelation that would have allowed us to put the finger on him (or her), short of psychic ability (or cheating). A secondary flaw is the cardboard plot-device character of Captain Cheney, who is present merely to needlessly complicate the case with wrong-headed bluster and incredible density of thought.
The video is a solid modern effort. The picture is generally crisp and clear, with well saturated colors, solid blacks, and accurate flesh tones. I did not notice any digital enhancement artifacts and there was only a mere handful of blips or specks of dirt. The only flaws that I noticed tended to occur in a handful of the dimly lit indoor scenes, where some film grain became apparent as well as a mildly distracting level of video noise in the picture, as if the bandwidth of the video stream could not quite keep up with the high demands of the scene. Fortunately, this is not a serious or sustained problem.
The audio comes in both 5.1 surround flavors, DTS and Dolby Digital. Listening first to the DTS track, I was thoroughly impressed at both the fully enveloping feel of the soundfield and at the level of perceptible detail. Actions, conversations, and atmospheric effects come from all over, with accurate placement, which help to create an immersive environment. As impressive is how clearly I could hear the individual conversations taking place at the same time in some scenes, to the point that I could concentrate on each and understand them completely, or just how distinct the atmospheric effects (i.e. raindrops) were. The Dolby Digital mix is no slouch either by any means, but I would still have to give DTS the edge for creating a crisp, lively, theatrical experience. However, I am a fiend for extras, so I love a disc where I can have Dolby Digital, DTS, and extra content!
A word of warning: if you try the DTS track and have your equipment set for typical Dolby Digital playback, you might wish to take the volume down a few notches, else you might blow your ears out. Also, other reviews have noted that the Dolby Digital and DTS tracks are actually ES/EX encoded to allow those of you properly equipped to utilize a rear center channel.
Denzel Washington (Malcolm X, Much Ado About Nothing, Virtuosity) deserves particular applause for his portrayal as Lincoln Rhyme. Portraying a character with only your face, voice, and eyes is a challenge for any actor, but here Denzel Washington manages to give us a man who is a complex, convincing, fully textured human being. Angelina Jolie (Gia, Pushing Tin, Gone in 60 Seconds) certainly looks more attractive than your average beat cop, but there is no false body language or inappropriate emoting to detract from her solid acting. She can be tough and intelligent in her profession even as she suffers her own emotional pain. Ed O'Neill may make you forget about "Married with Children" as he gives us a straight-ahead, believable take as an average working-stiff Detective. Queen Latifah (Jungle Fever, Set It Off, Sphere) is a natural as Rhyme's strong-willed caretaker, and Michael Rooker (Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, Days of Thunder, Mallrats) is wasted as the moron Captain in charge.
For a disc not labeled as a special edition, the package of extras is well done. The "Spotlight on Location" featurette (approximately 22 minutes) is primarily interviews with the major cast and crew along with clips of the film, with only modest insight into the production of The Bone Collector. The commentary track with director Philip Noyce is somewhat dry but filled with technical details about the making of the film and the choices that were made during production. The cast and crew bio/filmography section is rather standard (but more comprehensive than many) and the production notes are somewhat bland, adding slightly to the featurette's details of production. Rounding out the content are the theatrical trailers for The Bone Collector (matted to 1.85:1 and in Dolby Surround), The Skulls (shown at 1.85:1 and in Dolby Digital 5.1), Fear, and Cry Freedom. The animated menus are creepy and use movie images and 5.1 sound to good effect.
Aside from some minor video issues that may or may not have been correctable, and some weakness in the story, I can't find much to criticize. Thank you, Universal!
A tense, entertaining thriller, The Bone Collector is a must-rent so long as you like a multiple murder mystery film with its share of dark, creepy, and occasionally grisly scenes. With the package of extra content, you can't go far wrong with a purchase ($27 retail) either.
In view of meritorious service to the DVD community, Universal and the disc are released without delay. It is so ordered!
Review content copyright © 2000 Nicholas Sylvain; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* DTS 6.1 ES (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 EX (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
Running Time: 118 Minutes
Release Year: 1999
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Spotlight On Location Featurette
* Commentary Track
* Production Notes
* Cast and Crew Bio/Filmography
* Theatrical Trailers
* DVD-ROM Content
* Official Site