Taking Lives: Unrated Director’s Cut
January 30, 2005
Taking Lives (2004) was released the same year as the Ashley Judd film, Twisted and shares the same dubious honor of being a generic thriller starring an extremely talented actress who should know better. So, what went wrong? The performances by the talented cast are good. The problem lies in the direction and the screenplay which are too formulaic, evoking a been-there-done-that feeling. Warner Brothers has released two versions of this Angelina Jolie vehicle: the theatrical R-rated version and a six-minute longer, sexier, more violent unrated version.
When a corpse is found brutally murdered at a Montreal construction site, the local police call in Special Agent Illeana Scott (Jolie), an FBI profiler to help them out. This doesn’t sit too well with one of the detectives on the case (Martinez) who doesn’t hide his contempt for Scott. Another man is killed in the same fashion but this time a witness (Hawke) interrupted the killer’s ritual. Scott interrogates the witness, James Costa, and concludes that he doesn’t show any signs of being the killer. Over the course of her investigation their paths cross and she finds herself drawn to him even as the killer closes in.
The lack of originality in this movie is evident right from the opening credits which is very similar to the one used in Seven (1995) right down to the Nine Inch Nails-eseque music provided by Philip Glass. From there, the film settles into a fairly straightforward mystery thriller where the killer can be guessed early on.
Taking Lives does have its merits. Director D.J. Caruso uses the old architecture of Montreal to create an ominous gothic atmosphere and establish a specific sense of place. The dark, noirish mood is also reminiscent of Seven with a dash of Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train (1951). However, Caruso is never able to elevate the generic script into something unique that we haven’t seen before. The film is beautifully shot but lacks substance. The relationship between Illeana and James isn’t believable. There’s no real heat between them until the steamy sex scene but it is too little, too late.
Angelina Jolie does a fine job but like Ashley Judd in Twisted, she doesn’t have much to work with. There is not much to her thinly-sketched character and she tries to create an interesting, flawed person but the writing isn’t there to support her. Ethan Hawke is more successful in breathing life into his character. His style of acting is more natural and organic than Jolie’s.
“Crime Lab: A Taking Lives Documentary” is broken up into four featurettes that can be viewed separately or altogether. First up, is “The Art of Collaboration” in which director D.J. Caruso talks about his firm belief in rehearsals a few weeks before filming so that the cast can bond. The actors gush about the script and its classic thriller structure.
“Profiling a Director” is a brief look at Caruso’s vision of the movie with particular attention to specific visual touches.
“Bodies of Evidence” features the cast talking about their characters and motivations.
Rounding out the featurettes is “Puzzle Within the Puzzle,” which examines the editing by Anne V. Coates (The Elephant Man, In the Line of Fire) and her approach to the movie and her craft.
There is a theatrical trailer.
“Gag Reel” is a pretty standard collection blown lines and assorted goofs.
Taking Lives is a stylish, competently made thriller that lacks any kind of originality which is a shame considering the superb cast that is on display here. Like Judd, Jolie really needs to work with a significant director with a strong vision. One hopes that her role in Oliver Stone’s upcoming epic, Alexander (2004), will break her Oscar jinx of making substandard movies and fulfill the promise she showed with her performance in Girl, Interrupted (1999).