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Taking Lives - Preview & US reaction



Preview by: Jack Foley

AN INTRIGUING cast could help to elevate the latest serial killer thriller, Taking Lives, from the usual run-of-the-mill sort of thing.

The film finds Angelina Jolie as top FBI profiler, Special Agent Illeana Scott, who picks up the trail of a chameleon-like killer, who she seems to be ‘life-jacking’ - or assuming the lives and identities of his victims.

As her unorthodox methods begin to alienate her from the territorial police team she is working with, however, an unexpected attraction sparks a complicated romantic entanglement, which causes the consummate specialist to begin to doubt her own, finely honed instincts.

The film, directed by DJ Caruso, co-stars Ethan Hawke, Kiefer Sutherland, Olivier Martinez, Tcheky Karyo and Gena Rowlands. It is based on the best-seller by Michael Pye.

And it was the novel’s strong emphasis on character as the story's backbone, which first attracted screenwriter, Jon Bokenkamp’s attentions.

"What I loved about Michael's book was the unique nature of the killer. It makes you wonder, what drives him? What is he hiding from? Thematically, it's about feeling uncomfortable in your own skin."

Needless to say, the makers have credited Jolie with being their first choice, as it required a blend of intensity and objectivity, strength and vulnerability that epitomises the actress.

But more than anything, the producers wanted to ensure that the thriller worked on a realistic level.

Producer, Mark Canton, refers to Taking Lives as ‘a reality thriller’, because of the production's commitment to authenticity.

Cast and crew worked closely with SQ Sgt. François Dore in Montreal for scenes involving the police officers and consulted with experienced profilers on the story's larger thematic points, while principal players also met with two renowned professional profilers, both prior to and during production, to ensure that their characterisations rang true, and the work was not misrepresented.

One of these experts was Colonel Robert Ressler (Ret.), a former FBI profiler instrumental in establishing the groundbreaking Behavioural Sciences Unit at Quantico in the early 1970s, where profiling first developed as an investigative tool, and a pioneer in the practice of interviewing violent offenders in prison to establish a database of methods and motives.

The author of several books, Ressler continues to consult privately on cases world-wide.

He has also lent his expertise to a number of prominent Hollywood productions, most notably Red Dragon, Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal, and spoke with screenwriter, Jon Bokenkamp, and the filmmakers while the script was still being developed and provided the production with information from his own experience.

Although the film does not represent a specific case from his files, it incorporates a number of details from crimes he researched or investigated, such as the grisly and shocking way in which the killer dispatches a victim in an elevator in one of the film's pivotal scenes.
"Bob's insight was critical," Bokenkamp acknowledges.

"One day he sent me home with a stack of videotapes of interviews he had done with serial killers. It was incredibly disturbing. I never could have dreamed up half the things these guys actually did. What those interviews taught me is that you can't get any stranger than real life."

US reaction

Critics in America were not at all impressed with Jolie's latest, which continues her bad run, of late, with US releases.

The San Francisco Chronicle begins the negative notices, stating that 'to buy this picture, you have to buy Jolie's character, and the actress succeeds much of the time. But once her contained, job-obsessed agent gets involved with a man close to her case, much of what came before is negated'.

While the Hollywood Reporter felt that 'first-rate production values and Angelina Jolie cannot overcome threadbare material'.

The Boston Globe, meanwhile, felt that 'Taking Lives is so lifeless and beside the point that its DVD version should skip letterboxing and just be shown in a heavy chalk outline'.

And the Detroiot Free Press lamented that 'this is more disappointing than it might have been because Taking Lives has a low boil but constant simmer that has been rarely present in previous attempts to revive the insinuating creepiness of The Silence of the Lambs and Se7en'.

The New York Post, however, was impressed, stating that 'Taking Lives is smarter than your average serial-killer movie, thanks to unusually fleshed-out characters inhabited by a high- pedigree cast'.

While Variety found it a 'sombre, absorbing thriller that treads familiar psycho serial killer terrain with style'.

And the Chicago Sun-Times felt that 'Taking Lives is actually an effective thriller, on its modest but stylish level'.

But the Chicago Tribune felt that it is 'an unimaginative, protracted gore-fest that swipes from David Fincher's Seven like a cinematic pickpocket but only comes up with lint'.

And Entertainment Weekly felt that it is 'a Silence of the Lambs – meets – Talented Mr. Ripley knockoff with all the gore and premonitory 'darkness' and none of the intrigue'.

USA Today, meanwhile, felt that 'from the opening credits, Lives seems bound to recapture the queasy mood of 1995's Seven. But it's too dull to even pull off quease until a notably unpleasant climax'.

While the New York Daily News wrote that 'even with Angelina Jolie thrown in for forensic sex appeal, this dog won't hunt'.

And the Minneapolis Star Tribune felt that 'Taking Lives clearly aims to be a stylish, eerie chiller along the lines of Seven. Despite a nerve-wracking car chase and one jump-out-of-your-pants shock, the results are more like Three'.

But, we've decided to round this overview up on the positive note left by Globe and Mail, which concluded that 'best of all, it doesn't star Ashley Judd, who has made a wearying specialty out of playing tough-tender female cops. Danger-prone Angelina Jolie is on the case here - an improvement that pays big dividends throughout'.

 

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