Taking Lives (2004) - Unrated Director's Cut

Genre(s): Crime / Drama / Thriller
Warner Brothers || NR - 109 minutes - $12.98 || August 17, 2004
Reviewer: Brian Oliver || Posted On: 2005-01-16


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.:: F I L M ::.
The Film

S P E C I A L
.: F E A T U R E S :.

Special Features

A U D I O &
.:: V I D E O ::.

Audio and Video

.:: O V E R A L L ::.
Overall
.::MOVIE INFORMATION::.
Director: D.J. Caruso
Writer(s): Michael Pye (novel), Jon Bokenkamp (screenplay)
Cast: Angelina Jolie, Ethan Hawke, Kiefer Sutherland, Gena Rowlands, Olivier Martinez, Tcheky Karyo, Jean-Hugues Anglade


Theatrical Release Date: March 19, 2004


.::DVD INFORMATION::.
Supplemental Material:
  • Crime Lab: A Taking Lives Documentary
  • Gag Reel
  • Theatrical Trailer


Technical Information:
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Widescreen (2.35)
  • English (Dolby Digital 5.1)
  • Subtitles: English, French, Spanish

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.::THE FILM::.

IMAGE

I'll come out and say it, in case you didn't read my original, I hated Taking Lives. Now I enjoy looking at Angelina Jolie and somehow I managed to like the Tomb Raider movies, but I just never got into this so-called thriller, it's anything but. Taking Lives is a movie that has the "look" to be a decent psychological thriller but what is it trying to do? Is the audience supposed to be guessing who the killer is? If so, I knew from the beginning. Is it a why-dunnit? Well, half-way through I didn't care, so that's out.

Now, I recently got a movie pass from a video rental chain so I decided to rent this "unrated" version and maybe the extra 6 minutes will help or maybe I will find something compelling about it. I didn't. while the new scenes don' help, I don't think they hurt it either there's an extended sex scene showing off more of Jolie).

Original Review:
You can chalk up the newest Angelina Jolie thriller, Taking Lives as another movie with one too many twists that not only misleads the audience (which is the purpose of a twist, and that's fine) but also tries to shock with an ending they would not see coming. However, there's only one teeny-tiny problem with that- what if you could see the finish line? Would you care? Some answers may differ, but I say no.

Taking Lives is about FBI Profiler Illeana Scott (Jolie), who is called into Montreal in order to solve several strange murders that are linked to one man. But, Agent Scott is not your ordinary profiler. She has the unusual technique of being able to find information that regular police cannot, using her natural intuitive to catch the killer. This time, the killer may be a man who faked his own death back in the 80s. Helping in the case are Canadian police Captain Le Claire (Karyo) and Detectives Paquette (Martinez) and Duval (Anglade).

The killer's identity is found out after the man's mother, Mrs. Asher (Rowlands), runs into her son. Martin Asher, who not only witnessed the death of his twin brother, but also a lack of love from his mother that, apparently, was the cause for him to become a mass murderer. He is like a "hermet-crab", taking the lives of the people he kills.

One night Asher apparently got sloppy as James Costa (Hawke) witnesses one of the murders and saw the man who did it. Scott and company also figure out that Costa is most likely next on Asher's list and try to trap the elusive killer.

Taking Lives starts out well enough with both an opening sequence showing Asher's first kill after running away from home and then the titles that looked like they were inspired from another psychological drama/thriller, Se7en. The film also seemed to have that certain dark look that I liked in Se7en and add in some unusual and gruesome murders, I thought it was going in a good direction. Unfortunately, due to poor plot pacing and the fact I figured out what was going on within the first half-hour, I almost lost all interest, if it weren't for the lovely Oscar-winner Angelina Jolie.

Jolie is yet another actress who has some good talent, and is beautiful to boot, but is stuck with a bad script, poor pacing, and bad character development. She does a fine job with what she had, but it still could not overcome the bad elements that I just could not get off my mind.

It's a shame. Angelina Jolie is one of these actors who, following an Oscar win, takes some really questionable roles. Tomb Raider and its sequel for example (after subsequent viewing's, my enjoyment of those movies went down- so DON'T E-MAIL me and complain I'm being hypocritical) were average movies that were prompt up only by Jolie with no one else to back her up.

This time, though, she has a capable and talented supporters including not only Ethan Hawke, but also Tcheky Karyo (Bad Boys), Olivier Martinez (S.W.A.T., Unfaithful) and Kiefer Sutherland (TV's "24"). All of the aforementioned actors do alright but if the main character is poorly written, what does that mean for the supporting ones? Ethan Hawke is a good actor (but whose mannerisms are starting to remind me of Tom Cruise) but his character is frankly uninteresting. The same goes for Karyo as well. In the case of Martinez and Sutherland, these two were underused and could've easily gone to minor actors (although in the case of Sutherland, I see why).

Plot-wise, Taking Lives did not suffer merely because of some bad dialogue or poor character development; it was the story itself that was in a desparate need of repair. Since this was based on a novel, I'm not quite sure if the twists came from the author or from screenwriter Jon Bokenkamp whose only writing experience comes from a couple small films over the past couple of years. In any case, after seeing the Stephen King inspired Secret Window, it seems authors and screenwriters alike (famous or not) try to go beyond "pushing the envelope" and instead try to deceive the audience with nifty camera work or a supposedly complicated screenplay rather than focusing on what really drives a good, solid movie- characters.

There's a certain point in the script where it seems like it's the end (and by this point I already knew what was going to happen) but then the twist gets thrown in and now everyone in the audience should be clued in to the next twist coming up. And that to a certain extent lowers the tension down some (and in turn also lowered my rating which was going to be a generous 2 stars).

The direction by D.J. Caruso whose repertoire includes several TV series stints such as "The Shield", "Dark Angel" and "Robbery Homicide Division" as well as films like Black Cat Run and Mind Prey (TV movies) and The Salton Sea (his feature film debut). Starting out, I actually enjoyed the dark and bleak nature Caruso was presenting but it is overshadowed by the elements that, I believe, I've repeated several times in this review.

Overall, Taking Lives has some elements of Se7en as well as the TV show "The Profiler" but it falls short because of one source really: the screenplay. The acting is pretty decent and the actors that were assembled were good but never put to effective use. If you're a fan of the psychological thriller then maybe you'll be able to appreciate it (even if you know what's what and who's who) but perhaps you may enjoy this movie better renting it on DVD.



.::SPECIAL FEATURES::.

For a DVD release of even a lackluster box office thriller, this disc has little features to speak of. There's no commentary track(s) which I think I would've appreciated one with maybe the director (Caruso), the editor and perhaps even Jolie or a minor character. I don't know if the track would've been worthwhile, but it would've been somethign to make this disc worth its money.

Instead we get Crime Lab: A Taking Lives Documentary, a four part featurette:

The Art of Collaboration talks mainly about director D.J. Caruso's thoughts on trying to band together the cast so they have good, fun chemistry. Interwined with clips from the movie are the usual interviews with cast, director and producer. This is a common thread with the other three parts.

Profiling a Director props up director D.J. Caruso and, again, more interviews about why he's the perfect director for this genre such as close angles on the actor's eyes, or close-ups on other items, etc. Even as someone who didn't care about this film, I think they're going a bit far with this praise. Yes, the direction is quite dark at times and reminds one of Se7en but the story, or the lack there of, takes away the good about the style.

Body of Evidence covers the casting of Taking Lives. More interviews with cast and crew about why Ethan Hawke was great for the role. How Angelina Jolie was sort of the male character while Hawke was like the "femme fatale". There's also a bit of coverage on supporting players: Keifer Sutherland, Gena Rowlands, Olivier Martinez and Tchéky Karyo. I will agree, this is a solid supporting cast but again, the story takes away from that.

The last part, The Puzzle within the Puzzle goes through the editing process... actually it's more interviews and clips rather than anything behind-the-scenes. Like the other parts, this one has little to offer to the viewer.

The only other "valuable" feature is a two minute gag reel that is funny including several attempts by Jolie to break a mirror. There's also a theatrical trailer that shows a possible solid suspense thriller that never came into fruition.



.::AUDIO & VIDEO::.

IMAGE

They skimped out on the special features and surround sound wise, they only offer one Dolby Digital track. While I can't really complain because it didn't sound too bad, it just didn't (like the movie itself) have any "oomph" behind it. The film looks ok, though I felt it looked a little too muted and some of the coloring on the actors skin seemed a bit off (and I don't think it had anything to do with the darkness).



.::OVERALL::.

Just like I liked the Tomb Raider movies, I can see why one may find some entertainment with Taking Lives, I personally, though, found little about this suspense thriller to be thrilling at all. The characters aren't interesting and the plot goes from uninteresting to all out absurd by the climax. If you liked Taking Lives then go ahead and buy this set, but if you just thought maybe it was OK, skip it because there are no features worth your time.