If anything can be said about Angelina Jolie, that doesn't involve her Billy Bob marriage or her...assets, it's that she plays a bad-ass chick in most of her movies. She's been giving us that sly look of her's since Hackers, and she does it well. Unfortunately for her, that sly look isn't exactly cutting the mustard at the box-office, as she hasn't had a hit since the first Tomb Raider movie in 2001. If anything can be said about Jolie's new movie, Taking Lives, it's that it is definitely not one of those movies that the trailer ruins. But that doesn't mean it's any good though, does it? No, not really.
Taking Lives starts out in the early 80s, with a dorky drifter befriending a much cooler kid on a bus. The bus breaks down and they buy a crappy station wagon and they're back on the road, until they get a flat tire. And when a truck drives by, the dork kicks the cool kid in front of the truck and kills the kid, taking his identity and moving happily along his way. Years later, when some bizzare murders happen in Montreal, they find a connection with the drifter and Special Agent Illeana Scott (Jolie) and the Montreal fuzz have to track down this life-taker.
The one thing that I liked about this movie is that it goes farther and deeper than most of these twist-o-rama movies we see. Most of these movies give us one big twist, which we can usually see coming, and top it off with some explanation and blah blah blah and it's over. But in Taking Lives, they take it further then you might expect, which was very nicely done. They see it through to the end a lot more than most movies, instead of ending on an ambiguous note, and I liked it a lot. Sometimes, the ambiguous ending can be better than this type of ending, but I liked the way this one ended. Granted, you can see most of this coming 10 steps ahead of time, but still, it was nice to see more than usual in this type of movie.
The acting here is decent. Jolie does a good job as Scott, showing a little more range than her previous roles I've seen her in (O.K., no I haven't caught her Oscar-winning role in Girl, Interrupted. Only so many hours in the day...). And with the exception of Ashley Judd (See: my Twisted review) I really couldn't see anyone else playing this role besides Jolie. It just seemed to fit her very well. Ethan Hawke, in his first movie since his Oscar-nominated role as Jake Hoyt in Training Day, is great, as usual. I've always thought he was a fairly underrated actor and he does a great job here, as the starving artist Costa. He also has some great range and he has probably the best performance in the movie. But, while Kiefer Sutherland was good, I'd liked to have seen more of him, and Oliver Martinez's performance as the token negative cop is just bothersome.
The script, however, is not so good. The characters are developed about as much as film exposed to sunlight, and the plot is incredibly predictable. While I didn't predict that it would take the story as far as it did, most of it was predictable. I think they just used a tad too many subtleties and let some things draw out too long that you can just tell what's going to happen next. The very end is done nicely, but it just seemed like they tried to give us too many hints, and ultimately, for me, they did. And they use a cliche bit where Martinez and some of the other Montreal cops are talking French, thinking Jolie won't understand, and then she busts them on it. Come on. It's been done so many times before, it was just annoying. But the premise about "taking lives" is pretty cool and I like how they went about that. Still, besides the premise, there is really not a whole lot of new material here, in how they go about the rest of the story.
Director D.J. Caruso, who's last movie, The Salton Sea, I just loved, does an O.K. job here. To his credit, he really does know how to scare the crap out of you, because there are some of the jumpiest moments I've seen at the theater in quite awhile. The only problem is, these jumpy moments just seem to be self-serving, with no real tie-in to the story. I just think he needed a better script. Maybe if he would've gotten Tony Gayton, who wrote The Salton Sea, on board for a re-write, this review might have a different tone to it. But, alas, he didn't.
Taking Lives is a movie about living a different life to forget about your own. It features some decent performances, some decent direction and a sub-decent script. This is a movie that almost makes you wonder how important the studios think a decent script is worth to a movie. The theory seems to be that star-power and slick promotion will be enough to make a mint for the studios. When will they realize that this isn't always the case...