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Taking Lives: Unrated Directors Cut

The mark of a true midlist movie is that it seems so much like things we've seen before, and in few cases is this more apparent than in the 2004 thriller Taking Lives. Angelina Jolie stars as Illeana Scott, an FBI profiler loaned out to the Montreal police after they discover a body at a construction site and believe they may be on the trail of a serial killer. A single woman with a singular devotion to her profession, Illeana soon arrives at a theory: After a woman (Gena Rowlands) claims that she recently saw her long-dead son on a ferry-boat, a history of unsolved murders in Canada is pieced together, all indicating that the killer has been brutally murdering his victims beyond recognition over the past two decades and then assuming their identities, one after the other with sociopathic precision. And when local gallery owner James Costa (Ethan Hawke) happens upon the murderer, seen with another victim in a dimly-lit parking lot, he finds himself caught up in the investigation, at first as a suspect, and then as a valuable witness. Costa's eyewitness sketch leads Illeana and her Montreal colleagues (Olivier Martinez, Tchéky Karyo) to the trail of Hart (Kiefer Sutherland), who coincidentally schedules a dinner with Costa, posing as an art buyer. Learning the truth, Costa wants nothing more to do with the affair. But soon he's convinced by the police to act as bait so they can trap their elusive prey. It's not hard to enjoy Taking Lives as a pulpy bit of fun, considering the above-average cast attached to the project. But it's almost as much fun simply picking out moments when the movie apes everything that's come before it in its genre. The opening credits, with shaky typography and a killer sanding off his fingerprints, is so shamelessly ripped from Se7en that they might as well have thrown in a Nine Inch Nails tune. FBI profiler Illeana is little more than a female version of Thomas Harris's Will Graham, seen in both Manhunter and Red Dragon (yes, her profiler's gift seems to come at the cost of some physiological trauma). At least two sequences involve the sort of haunted-house searches that always require "X-Files" flashlights scanning the inexplicable dry ice that fills small, darkened rooms. A foot-chase after the killer runs smack-dab into the heart of a local street-carnival (do killers always plan to be caught near convenient street-carnivals?). That there will be a plot-twist is a given, but this one can been seen from so far away that the only thing interesting about it is how the script will give it some sort of rational justification. And there's a sex scene that involves the sweeping of breakable objects from a nearby table in order to provide a clear horizontal surface for immediate copulation. (Ever notice that nobody says "Wait a minute — these wine glasses belonged to my grandmother. Let's mack on the rug instead.") Taking Lives offers no surprises, right up until the killer is finally exposed and on the run. And it must be said, up to that point it's a harmless exercise in Hollywood filmmaking. But for those who bother to stick around, there are three things that make it become something so surreal it's almost worth the wait (spoiler alert): 1) Gena Rowlands dies in a manner so gruesome that it elicits outright laughter; 2) Ethan Hawke's ability to transform his character is surprisingly good, even if the surprise could be seen a mile away, and 3) The final scene between Hawke and Jolie seems to be taken from an entirely different movie, and while once again it underscores Hawke's gift for passive-aggressive intimidation, it plays like some bizarre trailer-park hillbilly-wife smackdown starring Scott Glenn and Debra Winger. With sharp objects. Warner's DVD release of Taking Lives features a solid anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Supplements include five "making-of" featurettes, viewable separately or in succession, and outtakes. Keep-case.

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