Sunday, October 9, 2011

Taking Lives

By s. Sunday, October 9, 2011 , , , , , ,
(103 min, 2004)
Director: D.J. Caruso
Writers: Michael Pye (novel), Jon Bokenkamp (screen story)
Stars: Angelina Jolie, Ethan Hawke and Kiefer Sutherland

Everything you saw I wanted you to see.

“This desperation
In temptation
Let it go”

- U2, “Bad”

A successful FBI agent, Illeana Scott, is summoned to help out Quebec law enforcement in Montreal. Her task is to hunt down a serial killer who assumes the lives and identities of the people he kills as he travels across North America. This forces Illeana to adjust to working in a strange city with a police team with which she doesn't really fit in

There are many movies, which are underrated, almost hated, that I love. In case of “Taking Lives” both the critics and the public disliked the movie. But it is one of my favorite thrillers, probably due to the heroine in this movie. I don't know how much of it is thanks to the script and how much praise should go to Mrs. Jolie herself, but agent Illeana Scott is one of my favorite female characters.

Here is a woman, who loves her work so much, that she eats her dinner staring at the photos of dismembered bodies. Some of you may think it's sick - and it's understandable. But that woman is so focused on catching criminals that she is not afraid of the great risk – trying to go inside murder's mind. That's why she lies in the fresh graves, looks at the photos, tries to figure out her target's next moves. This is a woman driven by amazing passion, the character who's strong and confident. And prepared for anything, including sacrifices to get the job done. She's a loner, wears a wedding ring although she is not married, just to scare off possible admirers. Illeana chose the job because of traumatic incident that happen years ago and the blame she carries with her, although what happened was not her fault. She's subtle and quiet, but has a sense of humor and stands up for herself whenever it's necessary. And she is incredibly observant – movie does great job showing that by focusing on Jolie's eyes a lot.

What I particularly loved about the movie is the similarities between Illeana and the murderer she is chasing. After all, that is the person who kills and impersonates other people, steals their identity. Illeana does a little bit of it on her own, trying to get into the skin of the murderer. They are both alone, can't trust anybody. Nobody understands them, even if agent Scott is doing her best, she is still considered to be weird by her colleagues who in some cases resent her.

About the murderer, who by the way works in the similar but way more gruesome manner than the one in “Talented Mr. Ripley” - it's a well constructed character, who works in a distinctive pattern and has the reasons of doing so. He (or maybe she?) is clever, smart, great at covering the tracks. The film does good job at multiplying the suspects and leaving hints that could implicate literally everyone in the movie. And the big reveal is great, even better in director's cut version of the movie.

There are many suspects in the movie - in fact, because of Illeana's seemingly strange behavior it's not certain if she isn't the killer herself. The movie includes many intense characters – Costa, witness in the case (Ethan Hawke), the mother of the suspect (Gena Rowlands), mysterious dangerous man (Kiefer Sutherland) and cops who work with Illeana.

The film features much talked about sex scene, which was encountered with overwhelming and needless criticism – the scene was necessary – it shows how much Illeana was really depending on a chance for happiness of her own – notice how much her character changes after it, she is more relaxed, smiles, hopes for the best. Plus the scene was well done and as much as it comes off as a bit creepy, it also leads to fantastic scene with Illeana in the bathroom, later on in the movie.

“Taking lives” is heavily inspired by “Se7en”, which is most clear in the opening credits sequence. I think it's something that shouldn't be criticized – pretty much everything has been done in movies already, so if you have to steal, you should steal from the best. The film maintains suspense and has few scenes that are scary and unexpected. I know it's a cheap shot – something awful appears suddenly with the accompaniment of freaky, loud music. But it works – few times my heart skipped a bit. The prologue of the film is well done and gets you interested.

One of the biggest criticism of the movie dealt with the red herrings left for the audience to throw them off the right track. I'd agree that it is a weakness – good red herring is always a fantastic device, but the one that creates plot holes and cannot be explained other than by coincidence is not a smart idea. Thrillers should be meticulously constructed, the writer should check everything, tie all the lose ends. It's not the case of “Taking lives”, but I liked the movie so much I can forgive occasional weaknesses of the script. Plus you have to give credit to the writers for making the answer for who the murderer is not too easy – I read about people who knew very early in the movie who it was, but as for me – I was surprised by the discovery.

As with “Se7en” we have very sullen cinematography and score here. I enjoyed the music, composed by Philip Glass, that was very subtle at times and when it was necessary filled with intense, suspenseful feeling.

“Taking Lives” has very strong performances – especially by Jolie, who, I cannot believe, was nominated for Razzie award for this movie – her performance is the best thing about this film - and Gena Rowlands. Everyone else is also doing great job, especially Olivier Martinez, who plays impulsive cop who works with Illeana. The script is definitely not flawless, but the movie is very stylish and thrilling. The ending scene provides nice twist, which unlike many films, is not forced at all and gives the viewer even more reasons to admire Jolie's character. I'd definitely recommend that movie, it's nowhere near as good as the classics from which it borrows like “Se7en” or “The Silence of the Lambs”, but it's still a very good thriller.


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