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USA 2004
Directed by
D.J .Caruso
103 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Sharon Hurst
3 stars

Taking Lives

Synopsis: Special Agent Illeana Scott (Angelina Jolie) is called in to assist the Montreal Homicide Branch with a gruesome case that appears to be the work of a serial killer. Her methods are unorthodox, relying much upon her intuition. When she allows herself to become emotionally involved with painter James Costa (Ethan Hawke), a key witness in the case, her intuition begins to cloud. Costa soon finds himself a possible next victim and decides to take big risks to help the police catch the killer.

Taking Lives is a tolerably slick thriller. Although it breaks little new ground, using a real FBI profiler as a script consultant keeps the credibility quotient high and it does coin an interesting word: “lifejacking” – the idea that a killer takes over the life and identity of his deceased victim, then when he has had enough, he murders another and, like a hermit crab, moves into a new persona.

Director Caruso has a good eye for detail and is especially fond of larger-than-life close-up shots and grisly detail of the murders. This can at times be a little confronting but adds to the gruesome realism of the subject matter. The tension is terrifically sustained in many of the scenes and there were a couple of moments where I literally leapt out of my seat in fright. The film’s obligatory chase scene is also one of the better ones, using real cars in real traffic, and being more believable than many others that rely on over-the-top special effects.

Choosing to film in Montreal gave the filmmakers a touch of class – the elegance of the city contrasts with the hideousness of the crimes, whilst the Montreal Jazz Festival serves as the real-life backdrop to another chase scene. Being a French-speaking city there is a European feel to the film and Caruso wisely has his Montreal detectives speak both languages, which also emphasises the aloneness of Scott, an American.

Angelina Jolie has never been one of my favourite actors. She is so striking to look at, it’s often hard to get past her looks to see the performance, and this one I found to be patchy. Ethan Hawke, however is anything but. His performance is impressively nuanced, revealing a multi-faceted character and convincing us all the way. The supporting cast is excellent. Tcheky Karyo as Police Director Hugo Leclair plays his role with both suaveness and conviction. The animal magnetism of Olivier Martinez is brought to bear on Detective Joseph Paquette, who seriously doubts Scott’s abilities, and is somewhat threatened by this woman in a man’s role. Rounding out the French trio is Jean-Hugues Anglade as Detective Emil Duval, an all-round nice guy. Kiefer Sutherland brings a menacing presence to his small but significant role. Adding to this excellent cast is Gena Rowlands as Mrs Asher, who believes she has seen her son Martin, presumed dead in a car accident 19 years ago. The black underbelly of her character hides beneath a polished veneer and she plays it to perfection.

Thriller buffs may pick the twist too easily but Taking Lives is still worth seeing for what a cast of good actors and a skilled director can do with a run-of-the-mill plot.




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