Taking Lives
Grade: B-
Year: 2004
Director: D.J. Caruso
Writers: Michael Pye & Michael Bokenkamp
Genre: Thriller
Rated: R
By The editor

A mad killer starts taking lives in D.J. Caruso’s “Taking Lives” and it will be up to an FBI agent to help solve the case that’s rocking Canada. Angelina Jolie is Special Agent Illeana Scott, but we’ll just call her Wonderwoman for now. She’s a master profiler, an expert interrogator, and has all the instincts a true movie FBI agent needs to solve the latest case.

Now I will try my best to explain the gist of the movie; not an easy feat when such a film is brimming with plot holes and continuity errors. Getting through it all takes patience, but a few genuinely scary moments is what buys my recommendation. The movie opens with a young character (Paul Dano) who buys a bus ticket that will take him as far away from home as possible. He meets a fellow traveler and commits a horrible crime in the process that starts a chain reaction of, yes you guessed it...taking lives.

The killer eventually grows up but not before he assumes the identity of all his victims for at least a short while. Here’s the first fuzzy part of the plot as we don’t know how he pulls off the task of becoming a new person. We guess all the victims have no friends or family so there’s no one to complain when the victim doesn’t show up at the dinner table. The killer targets men his age to make the identity theft (not the kind American Express can save you from) a little easier. As he gets older, so do his victims.

In the present day, the killer, whom we’re not yet sure is played by, is about 30 years old and runs into an almost-victim named Costa (Ethan Hawke) who provides the police with a sketch that kinda’ looks like Kiefer Sutherland. His character, Hart, immediately becomes the prime suspect though Agent Scott knows to keep Costa just as high on the list. Does Hart turn out to be the killer? The rules of Kiefer Sutherland-in-a-thriller tell us yes, but the rules of modern thriller movies tell us no. Which formula triumphs? Muwahaha.

The investigation Scott and the local police do is typical to most crime thrillers. The locals aren’t pleased (they never are) that a specialist has been called in to lead the investigation, but we quickly learn she’s damn good at her job…until the sex part of course. That’s a big no-no in law enforcement.

The film is gruesome as the camera does not shy from the many cadavers and cut up body parts on display. And yes, Agent Scott is one of those detectives who plasters her wall with grizzly crime scene photos just because, well you know, that’s what Hollywood detectives do.

Some other clichés I noticed: The killer eludes the cops by running through a crowded street during a Mardi Gras style fiesta as the shooting fireworks drown out all cries from the cops, the killer timely ends his monologue to kill a victim just before the train goes under a pitch-black tunnel, the lead detective (Jolie) has passionate sex with a prime suspect (Hawke) even though an important character was killed just a few hours ago, Agent Scott runs frantically to get to a scene even though from her perspective she doesn’t yet know someone’s in trouble, Scott uncovers hidden rooms in suspects’ homes that reveal clues about the killer, and bodies fall out of unlikely places. I didn’t so much mind the last one as it was effective.

As for the conclusion, what we’re expected to digest in the end is a little far-fetched and consequently the least satisfying part of the film. How Agent Scott could bring herself to do what she does is out there in the deep end of the Hollywood swimming pool.

“Taking Lives” is by no means a great movie. Heck, the title alone voids this flick of any award nominations, but I couldn’t help but admire TV’s D.J. Caruso’s first attempt at a mainstream movie. He successfully creates an engaging movie with a few instances that had the entire test screening I attended out of their seats faster than most horror movies I’ve seen over the last few years.

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