There are many reasons to like "Taking Lives." The film is stylishly directed (homage paid to Alfred Hitchcock and David Fincher) by D. J. Caruso who last did "The Salton Sea," a wicked piece of film-noir that slipped through the cracks in 2002 and didn't receive half the success it deserves; it stars Angelina Jolie and Ethan Hawke, actors who bring both method and class to their roles; and it features a graphic but impressive opening sequence. But "Taking Lives" is an unfortunate crime thriller whose screenplay supports it on a foundation of weak characters and bad plotting. Perhaps the biggest thing going against it is a story that holds little suspense. Ironic given that it goes to great lengths to use every red-herring imaginable to throw us off the killer's scent. But by its end, the film's false pretense fails and our common sense prevails.
Angelina Jolie is Illeana Scott, a prolific FBI agent dispatched to Montreal, Canada to assist Captain Leclaire (Tchécky Karyo) in catching a serial killer who assumes the identities of the people he murders. In Canada Illeana not only has to put up with Parisian French accents (note to director: Quebec French actually sounds very different than Parisian French) but also junior detective, Paquette (Olivier Martinez) who despises her. As the killings continue the police get more desperate for answers. One sunny day in walks James Costa (Ethan Hawke), an art dealer who witnessed the latest homicide. James saw the face of the killer and he draws a picture for the cops. There is an interesting appendage to the story - a woman called Mrs. Asher (Gena Rowlands), mother of our villain; she claims that her "dangerous" son died 20 years ago. Confused? Don't be because "Taking Lives" provides all the answers eventually at the cost of raising hard questions about their plausibility. I didn't see the big twist coming but why should that matter when the ending feels like a heartless effort to one-up the shocking, emotionally-charged finale of the revered "Se7en."
Small consolation, it was pleasing to see the fierce attraction between the lead characters. Jolie's Illeana is a no-nonsense profiler whose life revolves around dead bodies (in one particular scene she is having dinner with pictures of horribly disfigured dead bodies beside her). Hawke's James, on the other hand, is our classic drip, a nice guy who even confesses that "good guys never get the girl" in an attempt to woo Illeana. Their virgin romance provides a refreshing counterpoint to the violence that surrounds them and adds another dimension to the impending risk to James' life from an unknown killer who wants him buried. I must also comment on Gena Rowlands who portrays Mrs. Asher, an iron-fisted woman with a dark past. The menace Rowlands builds is formidable; her performance is part melancholic, borderline psychotic. I wanted to learn more about her relationship with the killer in his youth. This would have been infinitely more compelling than the scenes of forensics and car chases. But we can't have everything we want. C'est la vie. - Adnan Khan