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TAKING LIVES
Unrated Director's Cut

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Angelina Jolie, Ethan Hawke, Kiefer Sutherland, Oliver Martinez, Tcheky Karyo, Jean-Hughes Anglade, Gena Rowlands
Director: D.J. Caruso
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Warner Bros.
Features: See Review
Length: 109 Minutes
Release Date: August 17, 2004

“You have something…THAT I WANT.”

Film ***

I believe it's very safe to say that there will be another thriller which will be able to match up to the level of Seven, The Silence of the Lambs, or even the fairly recent Identity. These three films, from my perspective, have come to very much define the thriller genre. However, that doesn't mean we can't enjoy the ones that are served up every so often. Some of them come off as horrifically bad, while others manage to strike the viewer quite fast and unexpectedly.

Fortunately, the latter effect is found in Taking Lives. Though in the end, it may come off as bringing nothing qualifying as "new" to the thriller genre, it does have style, sharp pacing, and even quite a few scares in store. It also gets extra credit for the strength of the cast and for making use of a unique setting.

The movie's opening is perhaps the film's single most effective sequence. It opens during the 80s, where a loner agrees to give a ride to a young man heading for the military. While traveling on a countryside highway, the car blows a flat tire. The driver, not knowing how to fix a flat tire, leaves it for his companion, who does know how to do so.

As he's changing the tire, the driver spots a truck approaching. He then cracks a quick smirk, and then kicks the man into the truck's path, causing a horrific accident. The boy then walks to the corpse, obtains the guy's wallet, and immediately starts mimicking the guy's walk and talk methods as he leaves the scene.

Cut to present day, where a series of extremely bizarre killings in the Montreal area have caused the local police to turn to the FBI for help. American agent Illeana Scott (Angelina Jolie) is then summoned to Montreal to offer possible insight into the killer's motives and special techniques. Although she is cooperating with the authorities, she is resented by a good many of them, particularly Det. Parquette (Oliver Martinez).

A breakthrough in the case is discovered when a witness comes forward. He's an art dealer named Costa (Ethan Hawke), and he claims to have seen the killer take out the last victim. He even says he can offer a good-enough sketch of the man they're looking for.

In addition, a murder victim's mother (Gena Rowlands) claims that the dead body found is actually not her son. Not only that, but she claims to have seen her son alive and well on a ferry just recently. She also admits that he is indeed a deeply disturbed individual.

The trail leads to Martin Asher (Kiefer Sutherland), a corrupt art dealer who was believed to have been killed more than 20 years ago. It also becomes evident that Asher maybe more than not happy with Costa. The two have done some art business in the past, and the returning from the surface Asher may have something of an ax to grind with the secret witness.

The rest of the plot I will leave untouched. As in the case of many thrillers, it's always easy to end up revealing too much in a review. Let's just say that Taking Lives does have a good surprise or two along the way. In addition there are times when the movie has the ability to make one jump out of his or her seat.

If the film has a flaw, it's easily the romantic development between Scott and Costa late in the story, which I felt was too distracting and completely unnecessary. Forgive me for sounding a little non-macho, but as much as I enjoy getting the opportunity to see Ms. Jolie in the slightest sensual moment, I simply found the brief sex scene between Jolie and Hawke to be nothing more than tacked on.

Overall, Taking Lives is indeed one of the more satisfying suspense fests to come around in quite some time. Credit director D.J. Caruso, whose last film was the brilliant and heavily underrated The Salton Sea, for displaying a strong level of cinematic style which is a thriller's primary necessity. As a result of this movie, I think Caruso has what it takes to be on that same level with that of Brian De Palma. Now, if that isn't strong praise, I don't know what is.

Video ****

Warner once again delivers a striking and all around stunning looking disc. The anamorphic picture is nothing short of spectacular, resulting in endless clarity throughout the entire film presentation. The lush scenery of Montreal has never looked more unique, thanks to the enormous level of detail in the picture quality. There's a good amount of dark sequences, all of which appear most outstanding. Colors are extremely well handled, gracing the screen in a superb natural form.

Audio ****

The 5.1 mix is nothing short of a pure knockout. Sound quality always plays a big part in delivering the many jolts in a suspense thriller, and this disc illustrates this fact brilliantly. Dialogue is crisp and delivered with remarkable clarity. The chilling score by Philip Glass is very much a high point, and the many sequences of thrills and chills pay off big time in this ultra-strong audio performance.

Features ***

Even with the absences of a commentary track, Warner still managed to produce quite an impressive release, features-wise. Included are four behind the scenes documentaries, "The Art of Collaboration", which tells how the filmmakers came to work together, "Profiling a Director", an in-depth look at director D.J. Caruso, "Bodies of Evidence", featuring interviews with the cast members, and "Puzzle Within a Puzzle", which looks at the editing process. Lastly, there is a gag reel and a trailer.

Summary:

Taking Lives serves up style and chilling suspense at a most satisfactory level, making it a much worthy entry in the thriller genre. It's a formula movie, but a very well made one, and it definitely has moments of cinematic suspense.

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