When detectives in Montreal (Tchéky Karyo, Olivier Martinez) handling a local homicide investigation reluctantly ask for an outsider's help to get inside the head of a cunning serial killer, Special Agent Illeana Scott (Angelina Jolie) from the FBI joins the case. Her intuitive approach and special training are put to the test when an unexpected attraction sparks a complicated romantic entanglement with a key witness (Ethan Hawke). And as the case seems to come to a deadly conclusion, Agent Scott is in for a big surprise.
Review by Louise Keller:
A superior psychological thriller with a charismatic cast, Taking Lives takes us on a full-on thrilling ride filled with twists and interesting bumps along the way. The script from Michael Pye's novel, focuses on the characters and their relationships, and some of the film's greatest pleasures come from their diversity. After all, this is a film whose heroine sleeps and eats surrounded by photos of mutilated corpses, and we become fascinated as we become privy to her relationships - with Tcheky Karyo's police chief, Olivier Martinez's brash, resentful cop and Ethan Hawke's nervous, uncertain witness. Watch carefully for clues along the way - they are subtle, but there nonetheless - and be prepared for a tense, unpredictable journey, accompanied by music by Philip Glass.
Angelina Jolie holds our attention from the very first moment that we see her on screen, lying in an open grave, willing herself to see the world's from both the victim and the killer's perspective. She is shot in profile, with her extraordinary lush lips showcased like perfectly formed mountain slopes on the horizon. From that moment on, much of the film is shot incorporating her perspective, allowing us to get a different slant on both events and the most simple of things. Jolie gives a terrific performance, marrying a credible professional eccentricity with a beguiling sense of mystery. And she looks a million dollars. Girls and guys will ogle - and for very different reasons.
Shot in French-speaking Montreal, there's a European sensibility about the film that gives it edge: there are ultra tense moments, a hint of romance and a thrilling car-chase action sequence. Director D.J. Caruso judges the material well and keeps us on the edge of our seats.
Taking Lives engrosses from the very start with an intriguing opening that sets up the premise to great effect. The entire cast is hand-picked - you can't get better than Kiefer Sutherland's ominous Hart, Gina Rowland's mother with a secret, and the early scenes when French heartthrob Martinez displays his obvious resentment of Illeana's preferential treatment, offer a welcome respite of humour.
The conclusion may be a little over the top (the sceptics may see it coming), but it never spoils what is a thoroughly enjoyable genre film.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Serial killers have a habit, as it were, of showing up in thrillers because writers keep exploring how they tick. In complete ignorance, of course, except for some dross they have picked up from other thrillers. And perhaps bits of human nature they have observed. But since each story of a serial killer tackles a unique individual who has taken a drastic step outside society, each story offers fresh opportunities. It's carte blanche for the writer - a chance to go out and push the human envelope.
Michael Pye's novel has been artfully adapted by Jon Bokenkamp, and vigorously directed by D.J. Caruso, with a top cast working at their peak. As a slick thriller, Taking Lives is as good as any and better than some, throwing us off the trail quite successfully, and engineering a false ending. Technically excellent, the big chase scene is superbly executed and all the action/stunt work is top class.
Best not to get too detailed here or risk spoiling the film, but it's worth noting the elements that differ from many Hollywood films in this genre. For a start, the outsider called in to work on the case is female. She is also from the US, while the murders and the investigation are in Canada. Montreal, to be precise, which gives the filmmakers a chance to give us a sense of place away from middle America, Los Angeles or New York.
Another difference is in the use of French with subtitles; not frequently but often enough to notice. Most studios are terrified of subtitles for commercial reasons, believing that the mass market is too lazy to read them. It's a put off. But someone must have convinced them that it works in this case, perhaps on the basis that the film will appeal to an intelligent audience which has no problem reading a dozen lines of dialogue scattered through the film here and there.
I also like the fact that the title makes economical sense once we discover the killer's motive. His motivation is another matter. Here, the ground is far from fresh, but it doesn't matter, we're having a good time with Angelina taking control, intuitively following the trail of a twisted man who is literally taking lives.
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ANGELINA JOLIE INTERVIEW
TAKING LIVES (MA)
CAST: Angelina Jolie, Ethan Hawke, Kiefer Sutherland, Gena Rowlands, Olivier Martinez, Tchéky Karyo
PRODUCER: Mark Canton, Bernie Goldmann
DIRECTOR: DJ Caruso
SCRIPT: Jon Bokenkamp (based on the novel by Michael Pye)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Amir Mokri
EDITOR: Anne V. Coates A.C.E.
MUSIC: Philip Glass
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Tom Southwell
RUNNING TIME: 108 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: April 15, 2004