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THE BONE COLLECTOR

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Denzel Washington, Angelina Jolie, Ed O’Neill, Queen Latifah, Luis Guzman, Michael Rooker
Director:  Phillip Noyce
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio:  Universal
Features:  See Review
Length:  118 Minutes
Release Date:  March 14, 2000

Film **

The Bone Collector tries to be a film more about the process of investigation and less about the results…the problem is, in a mystery oriented movie, the results need to be somewhat substantial, or it leaves you feeling like you’ve traveled a long way for nothing.

It’s a film that boasts two masterful performances, by Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie, and a terrific concept for a crime story:  the pairing of a ingenious but paralyzed forensic detective with a young, inexperienced patrol officer forced to become his hands and legs.  Unfortunately, the film is weighed down by far too generous helpings of typical Hollywood conventionality.  Why is it, in most of these films, that a woman can’t just be a cop without also looking like a supermodel?  (And as if to apologize for its obviousness, there’s a throwaway line about how the girl used to model…you know, before becoming a cop).  And why is it only in these kinds of films do homicidal maniacs always leave such carefully structured and overtly puzzling clues for his pursuers?  Well, so the audience can enjoy the guessing game, naturally, and hopefully never ponder why these guys can commit a murder and have so much time to play around with these things rather than getting away.

Lincoln Rhyme (Washington) is a brilliant forensics expert for the New York Police Department.  He has even written several textbooks on the subject, and made the rounds on the lecture circuit.  He has a mind like a steel trap:  he studies everything he can get his hands on, and forgets nothing.

During a routine investigation, an accident leaves him a quadriplegic, with movement only in his head and one finger, and with a tendency toward violent spasms.  His condition is gradually worsening, and he makes arrangements not to be left alive when and if the potential vegetative state ever arrives.

He seems to have given up on life, until a new series of bizarre and brutal murders breathes new energy into him.  A young patrol officer, Amelia (Jolie) stumbles onto a crime scene where a man has been buried in a railroad station.  She carefully photographs the evidence, and the pictures wind up in Lincoln’s hands.  He senses she might have the instincts to continue his work.

The film follows the investigation of the deliberately staged clues, and each one leads to a new victim, but of course, never in time to save them.  Before the picture is over, you’re going to witness among other things a woman scalded to death by a steam pipe, and a man picked apart by rats.

The scenes involving Amelia’s intrusion into the dark, eerie crime scenes under the strict tutelage of Lincoln in his medical bed, are well structured, and both leads bring a lot of juice to their respective roles.  But other parts of the film toy with unnecessary territory, including a couple of somewhat intimate scenes with Amelia and the crippled Lincoln that inspire more cringing than romantic possibilities…is it always necessary that there be a love angle?

And the film definitely cheats in a big way.  It wants you to suspect a certain individual early on, and so badly that when we see glimpses of the killer’s eyes behind his mask, they are obviously the eyes of that actor, not the one who ends up being the murderer.  The final revelation struck me as completely absurd and contrived, and I realized that the only reason the movie had gone so far out of its way to mislead us is to try and add some impact to the finale.  It didn’t work.

By the time the film ended, I was thinking back to all I had seen…the brutality of the crimes, the constant need to place the beautiful Jolie in settings with rats and disfigured bodies and manure…and without a satisfactory conclusion to it all, I could only conclude that the filmmakers got some kind of sick pleasure in showing us these things.  Granted, there are often brutal and unpleasant scenes in films like Eight Millimeter or Seven, but in the end, those films went someplace with it all, and had something very definite to say.  “Don’t shoot the messenger,” one of the characters quips in the film.  But what good is the messenger if he forgot to bring a message?

Video ****

This anamorphic transfer is outstanding…one of Universal’s best offerings.  Though the film ventures into many low light settings, there is never a hint of clarity problem, or for that matter, grain or compression evidence.  Lighting is carefully controlled, and objects appear shadowy without being murky, and definition of key figures and objects is never lost.  In the brighter scenes, colors are magnificently rendered and natural throughout.  One scene involves a tracking POV shot from the killer’s point of view in a night club, and the camera tracks through various zones of colors and shadows.  Everything is perfectly rendered. 

Audio ***1/2

The 5.1 soundtrack (choice of Dolby or DTS) has some good dynamic moments to pepper the longer, quieter ones.  Like Lincoln, it lays dormant for a while, but life is always waiting to spring into it.

Features ***

The disc contains a director commentary, a Spotlight on Location featurette, a trailer, production notes, talent files and some DVD ROM extras.

Summary:

Watch The Bone Collector for the pleasure of the performances.  Denzel Washington proves once again that he’s one of our best, taking a physically restricted role and injecting it with life, emotion and intelligence.  Angelina Jolie’s future keeps getting brighter and brighter, and her work in this picture, and eventual transformation into a perceptive cop gives the audience something to hold on to for the duration.