The new thriller "Taking Lives" is set in Montreal and anyone who sees the movie without having visited that city could be forgiven for thinking that electricity has not yet made it to southern Canada. Or, given Amir Mokri's perpetually underlit cinematography, that the region's entire power supply is provided by a quartet of wan crepe chefs working a bicycle generator on the outskirts of town.
The darkness that makes you strain to see who's in a room in any given scene, the shadowy interiors, the sickly blue-green tint to the shots are appropriate, though, as this is a thriller in the "Seven" school of moviemaking. We know that from the credits, shown to us in grime-encrusted police microfilm with jerky camera movements and sudden flashes of white light. We're right into the humorless city-as-hell mode of the contemporary serial-killer thriller, and the only thing that keeps the movie from being unpleasant is that the predictability is comforting. We know what's coming so we don't have to worry about some hidden horror sneaking up on us. The crime scene photos and the autopsy scene close-ups of limbs turned into ragged stumps aren't fun but they're such obvious gross-outs that it feels like more trouble than it's worth to be revolted by them.
Angelina Jolie plays an FBI special agent called in by her friend, a Montreal homicide detective (the always charming Tcheky Karyo, given next to nothing to do), to investigate a series of murders in which the victims (all men) are found with their faces bashed in and their hands cut off. Jolie quickly connects the recent killings to a string of murders going back 20 years. She surmises that the killer is adopting the identities of his victims, living off their credit cards and cash, and moving on to a new identity when it suits him. She also figures out that a local artist (Ethan Hawke, who gets some comedy out of his character's jumpy nerves) who witnessed the latest killing is the murderer's next likely victim.
"Taking Lives," which was adapted by Jon Bokenkamp from a novel by Michael Pye, at least avoids turning the killer into the sort of charming uber-genius, which has made serial killers the real heroes of the movies they've been featured in since "The Silence of the Lambs." But the psychological reason Bokenkamp provides for the killer's M.O. is right out of '50s movie Freudianism. ("Taking Lives" is not recommended for parents expecting twins.)Next Page | Jolie has the hallmarks of a talented actor
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