If ever a film defined hypocrisy, that film would be 'Untraceable.' Here's a movie that purports to be about the degeneration of a tabloid media that wallows in violence and sadism for profit, and the appetites of a culture that pays to indulge in its worst instincts. Yet 'Untraceable' traffics in every cliche of "torture porn" excess and smothers its lurid thrills in big-budget gloss, to become the very evil it purports to be against.
Continuing her career tailspin since snagging a Best Actress Oscar nomination for 'Unfaithful,' Diane Lane stars as FBI Agent Clarice Starling, er, Jennifer Marsh, who spearheads a division dedicated to investigating and prosecuting criminals on the internet. Waging war on the "front lines" of cybercrime, Marsh and her puppy-dog-eared charge Griffin Dowd (Colin Hanks) wade through all manner of perversity day-in and day-out, but even their jaded eyes will be shocked when they discover a new website called "Kill With Me," which features live videos of real-life murders.
The sicko behind this internet hub (Joseph Cross) is particularly creative. Concocting ever-more-elaborate Mousetrap-like kills, the greater the number of internet users that log onto the site, the faster the victim dies. As Marsh and her team get closer to tracking down their "KillTube" perpetrator, the more complex his backstory will become, and as the film progresses, the killer's hidden ties to the mass media make his mode of killing far more than just a gimmick. Eventually, Marsh herself will be pulled into his games, leading to a nail-biting conclusion.
On the surface, 'Untraceable' is a slick, if routine, serial killer procedural. We're seen all of this before in flicks like 'Bone Collector,' 'Zodiac,' 'The Watcher' and, of course, 'The Silence of the Lambs.' There is mild pleasure to be had in watching the always-capable Lane unlock the clues to the killer, and a bit of suspense in watching the lengths the Cross character will go to in retaliation, but 'Untraceable' hits far too many of the same, tired genre beats, to the point that the film's "plot twists" provoke zero surprise, from the abduction of one of Lane's co-workers for a kill, to her formulaic romance with a fellow FBI agent, to the seen-it-coming-from-a-mile-away moment when she discovers that the killer has been watching her and her family with an internet cam set-up in her own house. Yawn.
The true sin of 'Untraceable,' however, is the blatant hogwash of its central conceit. It's certainly a provocative (and sadly plausible) scenario. Had the filmmakers showed some restraint with the gore and violence, they might have made an effective statement against the exploitation of pain and suffering for profit. Instead, the movie escalates with a series of ever-more-gruesome murder scenes no different than any of those seen in the 'Hostel' or 'Saw' flicks. How can the movie expect us to be horrified by the events we are witnessing, and to swallow its condescending moralizing, when it parades a sadism so gleeful that it's no less viscous than its own serial killer? 'Untraceable' is oft-putting and tasteless, and the fact that it's as well-made as it is only makes its sins that much more despicable.
Without a doubt, 'Untraceable' is competently crafted. The direction by Gregory Hoblit ('Hart's War,' 'Frequency') shows a nice eye for shiny, ominous visuals, and the he keeps the pace moving enough that we're never bored. The performances are also far superior to the material, particularly Lane, the truly unsettling Cross, and the likable Hanks (who is slowly emerging out of the shadow of his famous father to prove himself a capable actor in his own right). But 'Untraceable' is still an unpleasant, misguided and just plain tacky film, one whose cynical motives ooze from every frame. Whatever its positive qualities, 'Untraceable' is pretty much indefensible.
'Untraceable' is presented in 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 video (2.40:1). It's a very polished film, one that may overdo the style a bit but it's otherwise solid.
The source is super-slick, with no blemishes and rich, deep blacks. Contrast feels a bit flat (particularly in the mid-range), and there are occasions when some shots appear too bright, thus washing out the shadows. Colors are also intentionally stylized, with some desaturation and a strong skew towards pale blue and green. Thus fleshtones aren't particularly natural, and I didn't find colors all that appealing in the end. Sharpness and depth are strong, however, with a fine level of visible detail and no intrusive edge enhancement. There is a bit of noise, but otherwise this is a clean encode. I wasn't blown away by 'Untraceable,' but all in all it looks good.
Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround tracks (48kHz/24-bit) are provided in English and French, along with Spanish and Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround dubs (640kbps). English, French, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles are also included.
The audio is involving and atmospheric. I was impressed by the sustained ambiance of the surrounds, which are almost constantly pumping out some sort of effect, whether it be rain or Christopher Young's superior score (which is flush with mood). Granted, 'Untraceable' is not an action movie, so the rear channels never overwhelm, but it's still effective. Dynamics are also healthy, with surprisingly deep bass and a bright, vibrant presence to the rest of the mix. Dialogue is also nicely rendered, as well as balance. 'Untraceable' enjoys a strong soundtrack.
Sony brings 'Untraceable' to Blu-ray day-and-date with the standard DVD, and they share the same basic suite of extras. It's a straightforward if generally solid package. (All the video extras are in 480p/i/MPEG-2 video only, with optional English, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles.)
'Untraceable' is a troubling film. It purports to be a diatribe against the exploitation of violence masquerading as a thriller, but it's pretty exploitative on its own (albeit well made). This Blu-ray is very good, however, with nice video and audio and plenty of extras. I'd give this one a rent if you're a fan of the genre, but ultimately, I found 'Untraceable' to be a hollow experience.