Judge Joel Pearce has finally seen his life-long dream: a film make entirely of clichés.
"All of these men have something in common, something he desires—simply a life different from his own"—Illeana
Although it is technically well made, Taking Lives has nothing new to bring to the table. It's playing the same thriller game that we've seen countless times before. It is worth watching for fans of the genre, though, and Warner has given it a very solid transfer.
Facts of the Case
Everyone have their cliché counters ready? A serial killer in Montreal has put local police in a panic. The inspector (Tchéky Karyo, Bad Boys) calls on young, brilliant, attractive female FBI agent Illeana Scott (Angelina Jolie, The Bone Collector). There, she meets up with two police officers: Duval (Jean-Hugues Anglade), a nice one who likes Illeana, and Paquette (Olivier Martinez, S.W.A.T.), a hotshot young detective who thinks they were doing fine without her.
Illeana, when she isn't posting up crime scene photos all over her hotel room, tries to protect a witness to one of the murders named James Costa (Ethan Hawke) and manages to get into a long string of suspenseful situations, sex scenes, and chases.
Taking Lives is a collection of plot devices, twists, characters, and scenes taken from a dozen other serial killer thrillers from the past decade or so. I found myself constantly second-guessing the script and finding that I was right just about every time. There was something truly special about the shock endings of Seven and Silence of the Lambs. They worked because we didn't expect them, and weren't looking for that type of surprise. Unfortunately, that was dozens of thrillers ago, and we now go in expecting the least expected resolution.
All of the expected scenes are here. There's the creepy bass-heavy credit sequence using extreme close-ups of the killer. The detectives search through the killer's abandoned apartment. Illeana checks out the killer's room in his childhood home by herself. There's an on-foot chase through the Montreal Jazz Festival crowds. We understand the killer's pathology because of his childhood. There's a red herring so obvious that he might as well have carried a sign. The end is too silly and preposterous for words.
It's a shame, too, because Taking Lives is a well-crafted thriller with a great atmosphere, fantastic cinematography, and a couple of the best shock scenes I've seen in a long time. The cinematography is appropriately dark, but the color palette is varied enough to mark each location.
The performances are generally quite good, although none really stand out. This is a solid role for Angelina Jolie, whose agent Scott is everything we've come to expect from a female FBI agent that can get inside killers' heads. She is strong enough to be believable but human enough to be vulnerable. The supporting cast is also good, with Olivier Martinez, Tchéky Karyo, and Jean-Hugues Anglade delivering exactly what's needed for the Montreal police team. Less solid is Ethan Hawke, who is all over the map as the scared witness to the murder. I know he has the acting chops to carry this kind of role and more, so I don't know why he seems so flaky here.
Even though most of the film seems a bit too familiar, several scenes stand out. The big car chase is great, and the resulting explosion is awesome. In fact, there are several great car crashes, if you're into that kind of thing. The investigation scenes are very creepy, and have great shock moments that never come in the direction you suspect. The murders are grisly and disturbing. If this had been the first thriller I had ever seen, I have a feeling I would be raving about it right now.
The transfer of the film does justice to its slick look and feel. The colors and black levels are right on, with impressive details even in some really challenging crowd scenes. There are no signs of digital flaws or artifacting. Warner is still able to deliver some of the best video transfers on the market, and this disc is evidence of that. The only major complaint is what looks like some sloppy cuts in the aforementioned sex scene. This could be unclean transitions into the unrated material.
The audio transfer is somewhat less thrilling, as it seems loaded up on the front. A well-designed active sound stage is critical for creepy films, and a few scenes of Taking Liveswould have greatly benefited from some more action in the rear channels. Aside from that, though, this transfer fares well. The dialogue is generally clear, the only problems cropping up with the strong Quebec accents of some of the characters.
In terms of special features, the disc comes up short. There is a gag reel, which is somewhat entertaining but would have fit in far better on a comedy. At least they didn't put it over the credits. The other major feature is a documentary, broken up into four sections. I don't know why they bothered, because each section is only a few minutes long. There is a lot of self-congratulatory fluff, but there are a few instances of interesting conversations about the choices that were made during production. So much of this featurette looks at the ways that the crew wanted to make Taking Lives stand out, which makes it even more sad that it ended up looking so pedestrian.
Fans of the serial killer thriller sub-genre will definitely want to give Taking Lives a rental. If nothing else, it has a great look and some genuinely scary moments. Just try not to guess where everything is going and enjoy the ride. It doesn't have the creativity or originality to make it worth repeat viewings, though, so I can't recommend it as a purchase.
Because it's made well, I am going to release all involved. This much talent and skill should be put into more original movies, though, and I expect much more from director D.J. Caruso once he is willing to step out of the mold a bit more.
Give us your feedback!
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
Review content copyright © 2004 Joel Pearce; Site design and review layout copyright © 2014 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.