While Taking Lives may not be a top of the shelf serial-killer thriller, it at least has a creepy vibe to it and some decent performances from Angelina Jolie, Ethan Hawke and the woefully underused Kiefer Sutherland.
Genre(s): Crime, Thriller, Drama
Warner Bros. | Unrated – 109 min. – $28.99 | April 7, 2009
Directed by: D.J. Caruso
Writer(s): Michael Pye (novel); Jon Bokenkamp (screen story)(screenplay)
Cast: Angelina Jolie, Ethan Hawke, Kiefer Sutherland, Olivier Martinez, Gena Rowlands
Theatrical Release Date: March 19, 2004
Features: Featurettes, Gag Reel, Theatrical Trailer
Number of Discs: 1
Audio: English (Dolby TrueHD 5.1), English (Dolby Digital 5.1)
Video: 1080p/Widescreen 2.40
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Italian, Norwegian, Portuguese, Swedish
Region(s): A, B, C
THE MOVIE – 2.5/5
This is my third viewing of Taking Lives in the five years since its release (theatrical, DVD and now Blu-ray), and while my hatred for the film has died down, I still can’t say it’s a great thriller, more tolerable than anything else. That said, I still stand by my original theatrical review.
Original Review (with minor edits):
You can chalk up the newest Angelina Jolie thriller, Taking Lives as another movie with one too many twists that not only misleads the audience (which is the purpose of a twist, and that’s fine) but also tries to shock with an ending they would not see coming. However, there’s only one teeny-tiny problem with that- what if you could see the finish line? Would you care? Some answers may differ, but I say no.
Taking Lives is about FBI Profiler Illeana Scott (Jolie), who is called into Montreal in order to solve several strange murders that are linked to one man. But, Agent Scott is not your ordinary profiler. She has the unusual technique of being able to find information that regular police cannot, use her natural intuitive to catch the killer. This time, the killer may be a man who faked his own death back in the 80s. Helping in the case are Canadian police Captain Le Claire (Karyo) and Detectives Paquette (Martinez) and Duval (Anglade).
The killer’s identity is found out after the man’s mother, Mrs. Asher (Rowlands), runs into her son. Martin Asher, who not only witnessed the death of his twin brother, but also a lack of love from his mother that, apparently, was the cause for him to become a mass murderer. He is like a “hermet-crab”, taking the lives of the people he kills.
One night Asher apparently got sloppy as James Costa (Hawke) witnesses one of the murders and saw the man who did it. Scott and company also figure out that Costa is most likely next on Asher’s list and try to trap the elusive killer.
Taking Lives starts out well enough with both an opening sequence showing Asher’s first kill after running away from home and then the titles that looked like they were inspired from another psychological drama/thriller, Se7en. The film also seemed to have that certain dark look that I liked in Se7en and add in some unusual and gruesome murders, I thought it was going in a good direction. Unfortunately, due to poor plot pacing and the fact I figured out what was going on within the first half-hour, I almost lost all interest, if it weren’t for the lovely Oscar-winner Angelina Jolie.
Jolie is yet another actress who has some good talent, and is beautiful to boot, but is stuck with a bad script, poor pacing, and bad character development. She does a fine job with what she had, but it still could not overcome the bad elements that I just could not get off my mind.
This time, though, she has capable and talented supporters including not only Ethan Hawke, but also Tcheky Karyo (Bad Boys), Olivier Martinez (Unfaithful) and Kiefer Sutherland (TV’s “24”). All of the aforementioned actors do alright but if the main character is poorly written, what does that mean for the supporting ones? Ethan Hawke is a good actor (but whose mannerisms are starting to remind me of Tom Cruise) but his character is frankly uninteresting. The same goes for Karyo as well. In the case of Martinez and Sutherland, these two were underused and could’ve easily gone to minor actors (although in the case of Sutherland, I see why).
Plot-wise, Taking Lives did not suffer merely because of some bad dialogue or poor character development; it was the story itself that was in a desperate need of repair. Since this was based on a novel, I’m not quite sure if the twists came from the author or from screenwriter Jon Bokenkamp who’s only writing experience comes from a couple small films over the past couple of years. In any case, after seeing the Stephen King inspired Secret Window, it seems authors and screenwriters alike (famous or not) try to go beyond “pushing the envelope” and instead try to deceive the audience with nifty camera work or a supposedly complicated screenplay rather than focusing on what really drives a good, solid movie- characters.
There’s a certain point in the script where it seems like it’s the end (and by this point I already knew what was going to happen) but then the twist gets thrown in and now everyone in the audience should be clued in to the next twist coming up. And that to a certain extent lowers the tension.
The direction by D.J. Caruso whose repertoire includes several TV series stints such as “The Shield”, “Dark Angel” and “Robbery Homicide Division” as well as films like Black Cat Run and Mind Prey (TV movies) and The Salton Sea (his feature film debut). Starting out, I actually enjoyed the dark and bleak nature Caruso was presenting but it is overshadowed by the elements that, I believe, I’ve repeated several times in this review. And subsequently, Caruso has broken out with the minor hits Disturbia and Eagle Eye.
Overall, Taking Lives has some elements of Se7en as well as the TV show “The Profiler” but it falls short because of one source really: the screenplay. The acting is pretty decent and the actors that were assembled were good but never put to effective use. If you’re a fan of the psychological thriller then maybe you’ll be able to appreciate it (even if you know what’s what and who’s who) but perhaps you may enjoy this movie better renting it on DVD.
Note: This “extended cut” (previously known as the “Unrated Director’s Cut”) runs about 9-minutes longer and features extra character development and a longer sex scene (woo hoo).
SPECIAL FEATURES – 3.0/5
The Blu-ray has ported over all the features (all in 480i/p SD) from the DVD:
Crime Lab: A Taking Lives Documentary (21:15)
The Art of Collaboration talks mainly about director D.J. Caruso’s thoughts on trying to band together the cast so they have good, fun chemistry. Intertwined with clips from the movie are the usual interviews with cast, director and producer. This is a common thread with the other three parts.
Profiling a Director props up director D.J. Caruso and, again, more interviews about why he’s the perfect director for this genre such as close angles on the actor’s eyes, or close-ups on other items, etc. Even as someone who didn’t care about this film, I think they’re going a bit far with this praise. Yes, the direction is quite dark at times and reminds one of Se7en but the story, or the lack there of, takes away the good about the style.
Body of Evidence covers the casting of Taking Lives. More interviews with cast and crew about why Ethan Hawke was great for the role. How Angelina Jolie was sort of the male character while Hawke was like the “femme fatale”. There’s also a bit of coverage on supporting players: Kiefer Sutherland, Gena Rowlands, Olivier Martinez and Tchéky Karyo. I will agree, this is a solid supporting cast but again, the story takes away from that.
The last part, The Puzzle within the Puzzle goes through the editing process… actually it’s more interviews and clips rather than anything behind-the-scenes. Like the other parts, this one has little to offer to the viewer.
The only other “valuable” feature is a gag reel (2:47) that is funny including several attempts by Jolie to break a mirror. There’s also a theatrical trailer (2:26) that shows a possible solid suspense thriller that never came into fruition.
VIDEO – 3.25/5
Taking Lives is presented in its original 2.40 aspect ratio (on a 25GB BD disc with VC-1 codec) and while the picture is probably a step up from the DVD, it’s not an overly impressive high-def (1080p) transfer. Skin tones don’t look all that bad but the picture itself is soft and I did tend to notice some minor dust/scratches throughout.
AUDIO – 3.75/5
The film is given a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track that sounds pretty good for a middle-of-the-road catalogue title. The creepy score by Philip Glass as well as the action sequences comes through all channels nicely enough while dialogue sounds crisp and clean via the center channel. We’re not talking reference material or anything, but it is a solid Blu-ray outing. A standard Dolby Digital 5.1 track is also available.
OVERALL – 3.0/5
While Taking Lives may not be a top of the shelf serial-killer thriller, it at least has a creepy vibe to it and some decent performances from Angelina Jolie, Ethan Hawke and the woefully underused Kiefer Sutherland. The Blu-ray, however, is not all that impressive. Since you can get a new copy of the DVD pretty cheap, I’m not sure if it’s worth the extra cost (even though the BD can be had for $14).