|Because this film tries to adhere to all the standard angles of a psychological thriller, there will be several viewers of this film who will be constantly one step ahead of the game as far as being able to predict "whodunit" before any of the characters in the film can figure out the "mystery." In a mistake that seems to have been made by the marketing department (or perhaps the person or group of people responsible for cutting together the trailer), seem to reveal too much in the two and a half minute preview.|
Although the motivation behind the killer's actions is explained little by little, finding out the "why" is not as interesting a journey when the audience already knows the "how." Angelina Jolie, playing the off-kilter FBI detective "Illeana," says it herself in the film's trailer: "taking lives, that's what Martin Asher's been doing for almost twenty years..." After simply viewing the trailer and hearing the rest of what Jolie's character has to say, the audience already knows that the killer assumes the identity of each person he's killed. And for some reason, the filmmakers actually take the time to allow the characters to "discover" this information for the entire first half of the film.
This despite the fact that it's information that a great many people in the audience will already have if they've seen the trailer. It's not exactly a mistake on par with, for example, showing the identity of the true killer (which, if you pay attention, they do in the trailer), but it takes a lot of suspense out of the film nonetheless. And a psychological thriller is a type of film that relies almost entirely on its ability to make the audience squirm in anticipation of being handed the next piece of information.
So the question must be asked: can the actors in a film, simply by creating convincing characters, make the lack of surprise in a given film seem less of an error?
Unfortunately for viewers of this film, the cast just doesn't blend well enough into the story to create a fully engrossing story. It's like knowing what's going to happen at the end of a romantic comedy: 99% of the time, the two leads will get together and if the actors are at the top of their game, it won't matter that the audience knows the ending from the get-go. This same idea can be applied to a thriller or a mystery. If the audience is made to truly care about what happens to a set of characters, it doesn't matter what viewers might know beforehand, because the audience is going to be sucked into the story by the actors.
Certain areas of this film might also cause viewers to laugh where no comedy was intended. Although there are a few entertaining exchanges between various characters, there are a few instances when it might be difficult. Like the strange working relationship between Jolie's character and the Montreal police detective, "Paquette," who is played with much cynicism by Olivier Martinez. Paquette borders on masochistic in his treatment of Illeana as he is constantly pissed-off that an American FBI agent has been called in to help on the case. The antagonism between the two characters is constantly on the fore-front and becomes an annoyance late in the film when it doesn't lead anywhere.
Something that this film does very poorly is the way it engages in throwing red-herrings at the audience. Part of the rule book concerning this genre of film is the use of several "misleads" to pull the audience off the trail of the real killer. But it's blatantly obvious when a character's action or piece of dialogue is supposed to throw you off the trail. The "clues" aren't random; they are entirely planned. The difficulty in throwing the audience a few bad clues is that those pieces of information should be readily identified as clues. If the audience knows its seeing a clue, then it's going to be that much more easy to disregard what their seeing as an intentional smoke-screen.
Although the sparks fly in more than one scene between Jolie and Ethan Hawke (he plays "Costa," an art dealer and a witness to a murder), their sexual chemistry is hardly enough to compensate for the weakly plotted screenplay. The effectiveness of the dialogue is definitely variable (sometimes it's good, sometimes it's laughable), but it's not what brings the picture to its knees. It's a difficult fight to create a thriller that's going to fool today's sophisticated movie-going audiences and the creators of Taking Lives seem to have lost the war, even if a few of the battles are in their favor.
Review by Kelsey Wyatt.