Starring Angelina Jolie, Ethan Hawke and Kiefer Sutherland
Directed by D.J. Caruso
Opens Friday, March 19
I hate twist endings. They represent a gimmicky staple in Hollywood thrillers that, too often, value cinematic trickery over good storytelling. But audiences love to be fooled, so movies with trick endings and repeated plot twists arent going away. In Taking Lives, a new thriller about the hunt for a serial killer, the plot twist is certainly alive and well. Thankfully, the cheap device is put to relatively good use in this spooky, popcorn tale that recalls some of the finer films in the genre without ever quite matching them.
Taking Lives opens in 1983 with an awkward-looking teenager (Paul Dano), who boards a bus and meets another teen breaking away from his family. When the bus breaks down, the two rent a car and continue their journey. After getting a flat tire, the dorky, quiet one, who introduced himself as Martin, unleashes a sudden burst of insanity and launches his new friend into the path of an oncoming truck when the latter kneels down to fix the flat. After bashing his former travelling companions face in with a rock, Martin walks off into the surrounding fields with the dead kids guitar and ID.
This long and effective lead-in makes way for the opening credits, which display the names in the impressive cast Angelina Jolie, Ethan Hawke, Olivier Martinez, Kiefer Sutherland and Gena Rowlands over eerie shots of microfilm newspaper clippings documenting unsolved murder cases. The look and feel of the sequence, replete with shots of someone (presumably the killer) shaving off excess skin cells from his fingertips, is reminiscent of Seven. Although Taking Lives only comes close to matching the intelligent, moody and unnerving feel of David Finchers masterful thriller in its opening credits, the film is more entertaining than most movies of its ilk in recent memory.
Jolie stars as an unorthodox FBI agent, known for her reliance on psychology and intuition, who is beckoned to Montreal to help catch a serial killer on the loose. The profile is a young male who "takes lives" he kills other reclusive young men and then literally takes on their persona. When a successful artist named James Kosta (Hawke) comes forward claiming to have witnessed the killer at work, the police try to use him as bait. And when Jolies guarded agent reluctantly falls for Hawkes sweet and charming Kosta, the case becomes even more complicated and personal.
With its French-Canadian setting and strong (rather, strong-looking) cast, Taking Lives is elevated above its genre cliches. The Montreal location with its disorienting, but sexy, feel is ideal as it complements themes of alienation and loneliness. In this way, the city may emerge as the true star of the movie. Displaying its unusual blend of cosmopolitan urbanity and quaint sense of history, the Montreal shown here leaves more of an impression than the killer.