Combustible Celluloid
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With: Angelina Jolie, Ethan Hawke, Kiefer Sutherland, Oliver Martinez, Tcheky Karyo, Jean-Hughes Anglade, Gena Rowlands
Written by: Jon Bokenkamp, based on the novel by Michael Pye
Directed by: D.J. Caruso
MPAA Rating: R for strong violence, including disturbing images, language and some sexuality
Running Time: 103
Date: 03/16/2004

Taking Lives (2004)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Shell Game

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Taking Lives is the eleventh Angelina Jolie film I've seen and the eleventh one to fail on some level or another. And yet I've come to like her a great deal. In addition to her obvious beauty and the interesting ways in which she fills the giant-sized movie screen, she's capable of great things, as evidenced by her Oscar win for the deeply flawed Girl, Interrupted, her unfailing English accent in the Tomb Raider films and her excellent performance in this new film.

As FBI profiler Illeana Scott, Jolie steps above the usual sexy-young-thing-as-seasoned-professional stereotype and becomes a carefully guarded, slightly gloomy figure who has had to turn down too many men in a dangerous and unwomanly profession.

This time she has been sent to Montreal to help find a killer who has been taking on a new "shell" every few years, killing people with similar builds and ages and stealing their identity. That way, no murder is ever reported and he can't get caught. But Jolie, along with Montreal police officers Oliver Martinez (Unfaithful) and Tcheky Karyo (The Good Thief), discovers his pattern.

Unfortunately, as directed by D.J. Caruso (The Salton Sea), Taking Lives begins to fall apart at the halfway point, as certain plot turns make less and less sense. It begins when a witness -- and the killer's next potential target (Ethan Hawke) -- enters the men's room at a crowded club to find it completely empty and totally spotless (setting us up for one of those sudden-jump false scares).

Without giving too much away, the police suddenly forget some of their most basic training procedures allowing the killer to get away with murder. The ending is the most ludicrous of all and will most likely leave viewers with a sense of ennui and loss.

Kiefer Sutherland co-stars as one suspect and Gena Rowlands appears as the killer's mother. Again, without saying too much, the actor who plays the killer suddenly changes his whole performance after he's found out. He acts normal before, then begins strutting around, chewing his lines and generally acting like a psycho killer, which, frankly, is simply boring.

Only Jolie keeps a thread going from the film's good first half to its bad second half. If only because of the monkey-typewriter theory, I can only hope that Jolie will eventually select a good script. And then, look out.

DVD Details: It looks as if Warner Home Video has released Taking Lives in two different editions, the preferred uncut, widescreen version (with 6 more minutes of footage), and the complete-waste-of-time, Blockbuster-friendly pan-and-scan theatrical version. Due to some error or misunderstanding, I was sent this fourth version, which I didn't even bother to take out of the wrapper. It comes with 4 "probing" documentaries, a gag reel and a theatrical trailer. The movie comes with optional French or English soundtracks and optional French, English and Spanish subtitles.

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