Someone in the area of Montreal, Quebec, has been murdering men and then stealing their identities—taking their lives, so to speak. Police Director Hugo Leclair knows this is the work of one serial killer, but he and his detectives, Paquette and Duval, can't quite put the pieces together.
Hugo reaches for a past acquaintance, FBI profiler Illeana Scott, to help him solve the case, and it pays off. When the team lucks upon a witness to the killer’s most recent crime, Illeana uses her skills at psychology to coax the frightened witness into helping. But everything—and everyone—is not as it first appears. What follows is a taut psychological thriller full of more twists and turns, swoops and surprises than the Space Mountain roller-coaster. Only in the last five seconds of the movie do viewers finally get the big picture.
Illeana displays tenacity, courage and a strong sense of duty, as do all the detectives. In a backdoor way, the importance of a parent’s unequivocal love for all her children is emphasized through a negative example.
Two Montreal detectives, unnerved by Illeana’s ability to almost effortlessly assess a man’s personality, call her a witch.
Illeana quickly determines that there is a sexual element to the serial killer’s method. Illeana has sex with a local art dealer. The scene is explicit, and includes breast nudity, multiple "positions" and lots of "motion." A nude (male) corpse is seen from a distance and in a photo. Illeana is observed taking a bath (nothing explicit). F-words are used to reference sexual acts. Rough slang is assigned to sexual anatomy.
A young man pushes a friend in front of a speeding truck, which kills him and then crashes spectacularly, killing its occupants. The camera lingers on a bloody body in the wreck. Illeana frequently lingers over gory crime scene photos, even at the dinner table. She also tapes them to the overhead canopy of her hotel bed.
A dead body falls from a false ceiling. A detective finds a severed finger with a ring still attached. A long-dead body is exhumed and laid out on a coroner’s table, as is a charred body. A decomposing corpse is dug up by a backhoe in a construction site.
The killer smashes in the face of a victim with a large rock. He also cuts off the hands. A pregnant woman is stabbed in the stomach. A man is stabbed in the chest with scissors. The killer garrotes a victim. A doctor jabs a needle into an open wound and then sews it up. A man slaps a woman in the face—hard. Illeana and the shadowy killer wrestle in a basement, and her head is smashed against the wall, allowing the killer to escape. A man smashes through a window and crashes to the sidewalk about six feet below. Another is shot point-blank in the chest. During a car chase, one vehicle smashes into a parked truck, resulting in a huge fireball.
Crude or Profane Language
The f-word is used close to 20 times; the s-word nearly 10—once in French. Jesus' name is abused a couple times.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Two teenagers drink beer on a bus. One character smokes frequently. (The way he lights his cigarette becomes a clue.) Illeana has wine with a meal.
Other Negative Elements
Agent Scott is unorthodox in her methods. She’s first seen lying in the open grave intended for the victim of an interrupted murder, an act she says helps her get into the killer’s mind. She also disregards the rule of law by breaking into a house to look for evidence, telling the chief of police he can blame it on “a headstrong FBI agent not familiar with the rules.” (As if they have different rules on search-and-seizure in Canada?) One detective resents Illeana because she is a woman.
The writer and director of Taking Lives have put together a real thriller that keeps the audience guessing from the beginning to the very end—literally. No matter how prepared you might be, you will jump in your seat a few times if you see this movie, and you’ll change your mind frequently as to the identity of the killer. That said, Taking Lives deserves better treatment than it got—by the director, not the critics. Far too much time is spent focusing on gory crime scenes, dead bodies, and explicit sex and violence.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Angelina Jolie as FBI Special Agent Illeana Scott; Ethan Hawke as James Costa; Tcheky Karyo as Police Director Hugo Leclair; Kiefer Sutherland as Hart; Oliver Martinez as Detective Joseph Paquette; Jean-Hugues Anglade as Detective Emil Duval; Gena Rowlands as Rebecca Asher
D.J. Caruso ( )