The serial killer horror sub-genre is graced with some of the greatest films of all time, pictures that can induce terror, shock, or disgust as easily as they can dispatch a background character. The standouts all have a way of taking the ordinary and turning it into the extraordinary, without having to pander to the audience or startle them with fake scares. They rely on well developed characters who think like real people, rather than acting for the sake of plot development, or throwing celebrity of the week actors in the middle of an inept story, hoping that star-power will outshine the muck. It’s easy to take a walk down memory lane to remember the hysteria of Fritz Lang's 'M,' the psychopathic relentlessness of David Fincher’s 'Se7en,' the methodical, unnerving tension in Jonathan Demme’s 'The Silence of the Lambs,' the yuppie outlash at an entire subculture in Mary Harron’s 'American Psycho,' or even the taunting homage to the Zodiac killer in Don Siegel’s 'Dirty Harry.'
Sadly, it's even easier to trip over all the potholes from cinematic blunders that litter the genre; movies that are all style, no substance, that can actually feel a bit demeaning to sit through. D.J. Caruso's turn at serial killer fare in 'Taking Lives' is anything but thrilling, but, to it’s credit, may induce the urge to kill.
A ruthless murderer is, well, murdering what seem to be random people in Montreal, and the clueless Canadian Police need assistance. Cue Illeana Scott (Angelina Jolie), an FBI profiler with bizarre methods, who takes on the case. Almost as soon as Scott joins the investigation, an attack by the killer is witnessed by art dealer James Costa (Ethan Hawke), who seems to want get in Scott's pants more than he wants to be protected from the man he may be able to identify. Lives have been taken, and it is up to the international tag team of hard justice to put an end to this killer's game.
Let’s be honest: the only reason this film hasn't been completely forgotten to the sands of time is the fact that Jolie, perhaps the most lusted after celebrity ever, bares all and thrashes around in an Elizabeth Berkley in 'Showgirls' manner. There is nothing else going for this film. The twists are predictable, the plot convoluted, and the performances as a whole are subpar, as if the actors knew they were working on a real stinker. We are given every cliche in the book, from decomposing bodies jumping out at the camera, to the cross departmental tension between Scott and the Canadian police on the case (Any non-American police presence is detrimental, emotional, and irrational, while a single American can apparently out-think an entire force). The film just feels recycled, not a single scene seems original or fresh.
If the film didn’t date itself enough with it’s mediocre modern aged police procedural shtick, the application of an opening and closing song by U2 circa 1984 truly helps that ship set sail. The film wants to be gritty, mysterious, tense, and sexy, yet the first and last sounds we hear are pretentious rock songs about drug addiction. Putting Bad in this film just makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, which, when put in a film that makes no sense either, may actually make sense. There are far too many better ways to spend an hour and a half of your life, and, it’s scary to say, that even the later Caruso films/Hitchcock rip-offs ('Eagle Eye' and 'Disturbia') would be better ways to waste time than 'Taking Lives.'
The 1080P VC-1 encode for 'Taking Lives' is similar to the film itself, in that it's sometimes on the money, but there are consistent issues that pop up to prevent it from becoming anything memorable or special.
Colors pop brilliantly, from the bright green fields in the opening segment that are so rich they border on neon, to the sharp reds found in Mrs. Asher's painted nails and scarf. I also got a kick on how gorgeous the shots of bright lights (streetlights, for example) shone through the rain on the car windshields to create fantastic reflective blurs. While rich and diverse, the colors also band occasionally, which is just one of many random issues with this transfer.
The amount of detail in most shots is worth noting, including the amazingly sharp title sequence. Grain levels are consistent and completely non-intrusive. The picture is always deep, while up close objects sparkle, such as Jolie’s famous puffy lips showing the small cracks and curves with such clarity that even Octomom would feel they were done justice. Skin tones felt fairly authentic, though occasionally had a bit of yellow in them. Interestingly enough, in the “scrubbing” scene, Jolie’s tattoo removal was clear as day, as her left forearm had a pale white glob while the rest of her body was red from cleaning, a testament to the detail level in this release. Black levels were deep and crisp.
Beyond the banding, there were a few other issues that are worth noting. There was an occasional soft/dull shot mixed in, while a fair amount of noise and some artifacting and blocking occasionally gave off an ugly, distracting look. There is a bit of dirt in the film that can fluctuate from a relative non-issue to something that pops up numerous times a minute. I saw some moments where the whites of eyes had a blue tint, despite the rest of the shot not having any such tint. Also, shortly before the sex scene (which may be more famous than the movie itself due to who is in it), the picture jumps a few times, while the brightness of the shot changes with it, which I found to be a bit off. In short, this is a fairly nice upgrade, but it is far from perfect, with plenty of random detracting elements.
Like many other Warner titles, 'Taking Lives' defaults to the lossy Dolby Digital track, and with no pre-movie menu, it can be annoying to switch over (and to remember) to the lossless Dolby TrueHD mix. Fans will be in for a treat though, as the audio is worth the price of admission.
The film has a fairly front heavy mix, with the rear channels hardly getting any meat on the bones they're tossed at random, as they are used for score, and the occasional atmospheric sound, such as the few windy scenes. The lack of activity from the rears is pretty much my only complaint about this release, as it didn't truly immerse me in the film. Any film with as many rain shots as ‘Taking Lives’ should have the rain noises present in every speaker, and that is not the case here, as even a crowded club scene has hardly any random noises from revelers.
Dialogue is somewhat soft, but it is always quite clear, and blends naturally with every other audio element. I got a kick out of the difference in pitch and clarity when the film went back and forth from the interrogation room, to the recording station, with the dialogue changing from sharp to muffled, and back again. High and low end noises are crystal clear and sound superb. The bass randomly gives a kick here and there, it’s use is effective, though maybe just a slight bit under-utilized compared to other films in the genre. This is a solid audio mix, to be sure.
'Taking Lives' arrives on Blu-ray in the "extended cut" which is identical to the sexier, scarier, unrated director’s cut that is advertised on the package of the DVD and HD DVD releases. The disc opens with a Blu-ray promo, then quickly delves into the film, sans menu.
If you're into flicks about killers, there may be some parts of 'Taking Lives' that you'll find intriguing...they're just smothered by the parts that are a flat out predictable bore and lack both originality and suspense. The video is average, the audio is very well done, while the supplement package is a bit self congratulatory and lacking in any real depth. You can skip this one.