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Taking Lives

Starring Angelina Jolie
Screenplay by Jon Dokenkamp
Based on the novel by Michael Pye
Directed by D. J. Caruso

IN SHORT: Buy the big popcorn. [Rated R for Strong Violence, including Disturbing Images, Language and some Sexuality. minutes]

We suspect the source material must've been a real meaty read (i.e.. a really big fat book) because its film jams so much into the running time that the muttering audience behind us lost it. Their out loud commentary shifted from "this is [expletive deleted] frightening" to "this is stupid" faster than we could blink. In film time that means at least an hour though, in that hour, if you blink at the wrong time you may miss some plot point or otherwise important nugget of information.

As always, we don't compare to, and don't think you should have to read, the Source Material. We can always tell when an adaptation tries to jam every element of a pot boiler into the script because those scripts tend to pop the clutch, so to speak, as does Taking Lives. The good part is that the murder mystery slash thriller doesn't start getting silly until close to the end and what silliness there is is offset by moments of supreme tension. If we count correctly, this is the second made-for-the-big-screen effort by director D. J. Caruso -- 2002's The Salton Sea is one of the few to nail a perfect ten from us. Taking Lives' combination of indie-ish visual style (too many close ups on elements that don't help tell the story) and Philip Glass' score (as much as we like Glass, the music doesn't draw you into the movie) fail to duplicate that feat. Sometimes it works. Sometimes not. Most of the time it holds enough attention that you can put the popcorn shoveling hand on autopilot.

We begin with a flashback, the first killing committed by a youthful, long haired Martin Asher. (played as a adult by Kiefer Sutherland). A montage of newspaper headlines moves us through the years as the body count climbs. In the present day Canadian detectives, members of the Surete du Quebec are stumped. The lead detectives on the case(s), Joseph Paquette (Olivier Martinez) and Emil Duval (Jean-Hughes Anglade) are none too pleased when their boss, Director Hugo Leclair (Tcheky Karyo) calls in an ex-CIA trained buddy, FBI Special Agent Illeana Scott (Angelina Jolie) to profile the case. She will help figure out the gimmick of the title, long spilled in pre-release publicity but one good enough that we'll keep it secret, just in case you haven't been tipped.

Scott joins the team just as the killer gets his first unlucky break -- a witness who stumbles across the latest killing early enough that the killer has no time to perform his trademark defacement of the body. The cops get a break because the witness is an art dealer named James Costa (Ethan Hawke) who has enough talent to sketch out a likeness of the killer. This follows an even bigger, and much less believable, clue as concerned mother Rebecca Asher (Gena Rowlands) comes forward to warn police that the son believed dead for the last twenty years is not. Knowing her son is alive and reading about the serial killer in the papers makes Rebecca put 1 + 1 together and, heck if we know why she thinks it since he's been "dead" for decades, realize that her son is the serial killer.

The killer, of course, will come after the witness. It may be because (he) doesn't like to leave loose ends. It's more likely that doing so will push the witness into the arms of the fair cop who has repressed sexual desire for years to concentrate on her job as a law enforcement official. That allows the movie a reason to continue once Scott proves that American cop know how is quite superior to the Canadian brand. Yes, there are enough twists in the plot to keep most folk happy, even if you shift into the "this is silly" point of view.

Those wishing for a film worthy of Cahiers du Cinema should pass. Everyone else who just wants to get elbow deep in popcorn should know that Taking Lives is not a standard slice 'n' dice with big name stars. There is one attack that is incredibly shocking -- a least for this critic, who never finished the hard-core-violence-in-film-appreciation class -- but the setup is such that our audience was tittering before it happened. It was shocking enough that they all shut up real fast after. The film ain't Psycho, but it does supply enough stuff, good and/or silly, that we weren't shifting in our seat.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Taking Lives, he would have paid . . .


dateflick level for those young enough to be able to throw popcorn at the screen, if the time comes.

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