10 Years: “Taking Lives”

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The psychological thriller is a difficult genre to successfully make a film out of. Whether or not anyone likes it is another matter altogether, but to have all the pieces come together for a good film, that works, is the crucial part.

When it comes to the Warner Bros. Pictures film “Taking Lives”, for a film that wasn’t much liked by critics, it still came quite close to perfect.

This psychological thriller stars Angelina Jolie (“Maleficent”, “Kung Fu Panda 2”), Ethan Hawke (“Boyhood”, “The Purge”), Kiefer Sutherland (“24: Live Another Day”, “Pompeii”), Olivier Martinez (“Revenge”, “The Physician”), Tcheky Karyo (“De guerre lasse”, “No Limit”), Jean-Hugues Anglade (“Braquo”, “L’autre vie de Richard”), and Gena Rowlands (“Parts Per Billion”, “Yellow”).

The film was directed by D.J. Caruso (“Standing Up”, “I Am Number Four”) and written by Jon Bokenkamp (“The Blacklist”, “The Call”). The film is loosely based on the novel of the same name by Michael Pye.

The film opened on March 19, 2004.

Now I’ll admit, I’m really biased, I immediately fell in love with this movie, and that feeling hasn’t wavered a bit. The only thing that’s changed is the way I watched it this time. Even though it’s still the same thing, it still felt different somehow. Perhaps it’s that I have a different appreciation for a lot of what goes into the final film.

While the level of acting wasn’t anything great, believe me, it’s no “Girl, Interrupted” or “Unfaithful” or even “Training Day”, but it wasn’t bad. I didn’t lose sight of the characters at all because some line was delivered badly, or wasn’t well written, or the characters were just too uninteresting. If that had been the case, I may not have enjoyed it all that much. Everyone was incredibly fascinating to watch, and that’s partly due to how the film was shot and showcased every little tick that came with them.

I think, in part, the reason why I never noticed the manner in which it was shot was because it’s been so long since I saw this film. I also didn’t focus all that much on technical aspects either. This time I thoroughly enjoyed being immersed in this world all the more. What cinematographer Amir Mokri (“Transformers: Age of Extinction”, “Man of Steel”), did may not be all that original, but it was well executed. Firstly, there was hardly ever a straight on shot of anyone or anything. A lot of angles were used, and not just for a different vantage point, but it seemed like it was to provide a different kind of texture to the film. Traditional shots and other typical approaches could’ve been used, but it would’ve made the film far less interesting or unique. Each shot provided so much and really allowed you to see everything they were. Which is where the slightly unoriginal aspect comes in.

Mokri used a lot of close ups of what was going on with hands, eyes, mouths and other bits of scenery, from Jolie’s character’s point of view. That makes sense, as she’s a profiler and supposed to pay attention to everything. But it wasn’t just for her character as a way to explain some type quirk, but I felt it allowed me the opportunity to feel more and immerse myself more in the story.

The next thing that I was completely sold on, which remembered a little bit about, was the score. I’m obsessed with score no matter the film, but in this one, the way it was composed ended up giving something special. The score from Phillip Glass (“Notes on a Scandal”, “The Hours”), who I’ve heard some of, was exactly the type I’d expect from him. Unlike what someone like maybe Marco Beltrami, he scored the “Scream” films, would’ve created, there weren’t a whole lot of dark, deep and intimidating tones. This score was more like something John Williams would’ve done. A lot of orchestral instruments, more like those you’d hear in classical music or some lesser heard instruments were used. For me it set a very specific type of tone, that at times was equally creepy and intriguing. If only there was a soundtrack I could buy.

Whether or not one thinks that the acting was bad or just decent, the biggest problem I saw came from the end of the film. There was a shot that shouldn’t have been used as long. It should’ve been cut to another angle and progressed forward. The result could’ve been pulled off a whole lot better.

For a thriller, this one managed to pull you in and take you for an interesting kind of cat and mouse journey, all while making you wonder. It had a much improved story and was able to remain consistent as well as make sense. It may not be a perfect thriller, but it certainly came close and tried its best. I don’t fully understand why so many critics disliked it.

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