Review: Taking Lives

This umpteenth serial killer procedural opens with a prologue fully acclimated to the motifs of its inspiration.

Taking Lives
Photo: Warner Bros.

Seemingly patterned from the classic Patricia Highsmith template, D.J. Caruso’s Taking Lives opens with a prologue fully acclimated to the motifs of its inspiration. The overripe ambiance is pure Bryan Singer when a reticent outcast hooks up with a hotshot military escapee and the two hit the road amid coy glances and strains of U2’s “Bad.”

“You and I are about the same height, man,” says Shyness before kicking Strength’s backside into an oncoming truck and assuming his identity. Cut to two decades later: a spate of similar murders have occurred and a panicked Montreal PD recruits Angelina Jolie’s F.B.I. Special Agent Scott (note the masculine signifier), who draws intuitive clues by laying in a victim’s shallow grave and eating a steak dinner while staring at squalid, Muppet-like crime photos.

Scott closes in on the murderer while fending off a rival detective (Olivier Martinez, challenging Jolie for the most pursed lips in show business), flirting with a prime witness-cum-prime suspect (Ethan Hawke), and deciphering the killer’s mother (Gena Rowlands, indomitable but bored), whose cruddy basement is the site of the film’s cheapest non sequitur. Putting a woman in command is synonymous, of course, with putting a woman in peril.


Much like its antagonist, Taking Lives is too eager to conform. The filmmakers deliberately abandon the psychosexual potential of a character study for more of the same old genre routine, while Philip Glass’s score (basically flute and percussion leftovers from The Fog of War) brings noise, not credibility, to the proceedings. Desperate to conjure third-act surprises and patronize to test-audience predispositions, the plot only grows more rote, but the only real victim is the sadly floundering Jolie. Despite the serious thriller packaging, Jolie is indeed sillier here than in either Lara Croft: Tomb Raider flicks or Original Sin. Her poker-faced, Clarice Starling-with-bustier role is totally at odds with her natural camp persona.

 Cast: Angelina Jolie, Ethan Hawke, Kiefer Sutherland, Olivier Martinez, Gena Rowlands, Justin Chatwin, Jean-Hugues Anglade, Paul Dano  Director: D.J. Caruso  Screenwriter: John Bokenkamp  Distributor: Warner Bros.  Running Time: 103 min  Rating: R  Year: 2004  Buy: Video, Book

Joe McGovern

Joe McGovern is a freelance writer and editor. His work has also appeared in Entertainment Weekly, The Village Voice, Premiere, and Matinee Magazine.

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