THE BLACK SHEEP is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATH. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Dig in!
Taking Lives (2004)
Directed by DJ Caruso
“There’s enough talent and story twists to make this one a part of the Black Sheep family..”
Everything comes in cycles from bell-bottoms to punk music to Madonna to whether eggs are healthy or gonna kill us. And it’s no different with movies either with spoof comedies, buddy cops adventures, and the entire Western genre coming in and out of fashion. Just give a genre enough time and moviegoers will tire of it. Give the same genre even more time and moviegoers will beg for it once again. It’s a damn weird cycle that keeps going round and round.
One of those genres is the serial killer thriller. Oh sure, it never completely disappears, but for a time it seemed like some crazed killer and some burned out cop played their game while gracing theaters every few months. Now…not so much. They still get made, but mostly direct to DVD where 99% of them offer few thrills and even fewer original ideas. If you asked me (and obviously no one has) the modern serial killer perhaps started with Silence of the Lambs, but it was style and meanest of Seven where the genre stayed for about ten years much like the Quentin Tarantino effect where seemingly all movies suddenly imitated it. Not that that’s a bad thing as long something new comes from it.
The 2004 flick Taking Lives falls under this category. Its become one of those lost in the shuffle, forgotten about, and left to rot which is a damn shame because ten years after its release, the thing holds up pretty well, just like Angelina Jolie herself. Sure, it’s not Seven or even From Hell but it deserves another look because it has everything you could want from the genre. A mystery that keeps on being mysterious until the end. Brutal violence. Hot sex (with a still nudie game Jolie). A cold-blooded killer. A haunted investigator who can’t escape her past. And Canada (kidding, but at least the film actually admitted it was filmed there instead of faking it for once).
Actually, what works best about Taking Lives comes from the very obvious title where a serial killer who hates himself and his life so much that he decides his only true way to live comes from killing poor, unsuspecting saps and taking over their lives. He’s “taking lives.” And to do so he kills in brutal fashion by bashing in heads. Its an interesting con-man concept that works well. I actually didn’t remember the level of violence when I saw this years ago. Perhaps it’s the unrated version now, but there’s moments of gore here that could rival most horror movies. It generally surprised me, which isn’t always easy.
Taking Lives isn’t without fault, of course. At times, it gets a little silly, especially during the moment where everything comes together for super detective Jolie in a very uninspired Keyser Soze moment. Then there’s Jolie herself who was going through her dark and brooding phase. Ten years out it comes across fake and forced. She’s just too damn pretty for that shit. And then there’s the third act of the movie which I won’t spoil, but it tries so hard to be clever that it ends up just stupid.
The Seven influence remains all over Taking Lives as it has that same dark, brooding style like when Jolie visits the killer’s apartment and it has everything minus the hanging pine tree car air fresheners. Even worse are the opening credits. Of course, in place of Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman comes Brad Pitt’s wife and several foreign actors pretending to be French-Canadian. Still, it’s too easy to say Taking Lives is simply a Seven rip-off. With Jolie, Ethan Hawke, and Kiefer Sutherland there’s enough talent and story twists to make this one a part of the Black Sheep family. This one didn’t revitalize the genre nor did break the mold, but you know sometimes a movies is simply entertaining, and Taking Lives is certainly that.