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Angelina Jolie plays FBI profiler Illeana Scott in this edgy cat-and-mouse thriller also starring Ethan Hawke, Kiefer Sutherland and Olivier Martinez and directed by D.J. Caruso (Eagle Eye,Two for the Money). For 20 years an elusive serial killer has assumed his victims identities. But now theres a breakthrough: Scott is assigned to the case and its her job to know what makes a killer tick. But somehow this killer knows even more about Scott.
For more about Taking Lives and the Taking Lives Blu-ray release, see Taking Lives Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on April 22, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Starring: Angelina Jolie, Ethan Hawke, Kiefer Sutherland, Gena Rowlands, Olivier Martinez, Tchéky Karyo
Director: D.J. Caruso
» See full cast & crew
Taking Lives Blu-ray Review
Limp thrills and chills abound in this wholly unoriginal thriller...
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, April 22, 2009
Hollywood has long been infatuated with serial killers... so much so that filmmakers and studio executives actively pursue any script that looses a murderous mastermind on an unsuspecting city. Like vampires before them, serial killers have emerged as modern culture's beasties-du-jour; nightstalking monstrosities who spend their time hunting helpless prey, shattering the hopes and dreams of innocent families, and baffling any agent of righteousness who dares cross their path. If I walked into a videostore right now, I could scan its newest releases and literally point out dozens of cookie-cutter flicks that clumsily celebrate the unsettling rituals and maniacal pursuits of this rare breed of deviant. Sadly, Taking Lives is just such a film.
Loosely based on author Michael Pye's 1999 novel of the same name, Taking Lives introduces a Mr. Ripley-esque chameleon named Martin Asher (initially played by an extremely effective Paul Dano) who assumes the identity of anyone he kills. Many years after faking his own death, Asher accidentally runs into his mother (Gena Rowlands, wearing more makeup than I thought humanly possible), a secretive widow who recognizes her supposedly-deceased son by the unique sheen of his bright blue eyes. While Mrs. Asher visits the police to make a report, Martin ditches his latest identity to kill again. But when a smug art dealer (Ethan Hawke) witnesses the crime and lives to tell the story, an intuitive FBI profiler named Illeana Scott (Angelina Jolie) is tapped to help the police (portrayed as inept lackeys by Tchéky Karyo, Olivier Martinez, and Jean-Hugues Anglade) with their investigation. Soon enough, Illeana and her personal brigade of officers are protecting their witness from Asher, trying to unravel his bizarre methodology, and concocting plans to catch him.
Director D.J. Caruso (Disturbia, Eagle Eye, and the tragically overlooked Val Kilmer indie The Salton Sea) apparently approached Taking Lives with an overwhelming desire to create an embarrassing, thinly-veiled shrine to Se7en. His cinematography oozes the same bleak grays and muddy browns, his killer's psyche begs for the same endless analysis, and his vulnerable protagonists struggle with the very same debilitating flaws. A variety of key scenes have even been unmistakably ripped directly from Fincher's masterpiece. Nevertheless, Caruso's characters are poorly conceived (the French-Canadian detectives are no Mills and Somerset), most scenes limp and falter (a bedridden scare pales in comparison to the awakening of Sloth), and the film fails to draw its audience deep into Asher's depraved mind (sorry, no duality here... just cheap parlor tricks). Fans may cry foul and drop words like "homage" into the debate, but originality is far too crucial a component in a serial killer genre pic to overlook the director's inability to generate fresh ideas.
It doesn't help that Jon Bokenkamp's script -- written, revised, and rewritten twice more for good measure -- nearly collapses under page after page of overwrought dialogue, contrived procedural developments, and, worst of all, a predictable series of twists, turns, and reveals. The opening ten minutes of the film alone offers so much information about the killer, his methods, and his intent, that I grew bored waiting for all the characters to catch up with everything I had already deduced. Se7en immediately hurled viewers into the ambiguous muck of its central mystery... Taking Lives doesn't have the patience or polish to do anything of the sort. I'll concede that I was initially intrigued by Jolie's nuanced performance and the wiles of her unconventional character, but the moment her storyline began to change course and cling to the rules of every other tiresome erotic thriller, I found myself stewing over what could have been. Had Taken Lives popped up in the late '80s or early '90s, it probably would have been a far more memorable thriller. Instead, it proves itself to be little more than a hollow copycat; an all-too-familiar procedural aimed squarely at those who already enjoy every by-the-numbers serial killer flick that lands on their local videostore's shelves.
Taking Lives Blu-ray, Video Quality
The biggest surprise to be had while watching the Blu-ray edition of Taking Lives is that its 1080p/VC-1 transfer is often hindered by a variety of distracting technical issues; an especially odd development considering the film is only five-years old. Macroblocking regularly disrupts the picture, banding appears at regular intervals, and image integrity occasionally suffers from overzealous artificial sharpening. Pay particular attention to the white walls of the interrogation room when Jolie meets Hawke -- heavy artifacts swarm the background, aliasing afflicts object edges, and minor contrast wavering yanks the viewer out of the experience. Unfortunately, the soon-to-be-lovers' first interview isn't the only scene undermined by rampant digital clutter and unnecessary post-processing interference. Granted, I didn't detect the presence of any detail-smearing noise reduction (as evidenced by the film's moderate grain field and a host of well-refined textures), but another restorative round would have made it all look much better.
Thankfully, Caruso's palette remains strong and stable throughout, black levels are fully resolved (minus a few brief but problematic nighttime shadows), and overall clarity offers a substantial upgrade over the standard DVD's bland and murky presentation. Likewise, delineation is impressive, fine detail is decent, and depth is convincing regardless of how bright or dark the image becomes. I'll even go so far as to say the transfer is slightly above average... so long as no one misinterprets my sentiment as anything resembling satisfaction. All things considered, it's apparent Warner has tossed an old transfer onto a Blu-ray disc in the hopes that fans will be too smitten by a low price point to care about any encoding mishaps.
Taking Lives Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Easily the high point of the release, Warner's stirring Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround track is a welcome addition to an otherwise forgettable disc. Dialogue is crisp, evenly balanced, and nicely prioritized within the at-times lively soundscape. Directionality is particularly remarkable during several chaotic sequences (most notably a car chase that ends with a bang, a scuffle that spills onto an apartment floor, and a climactic struggle in an old farm house). Low-end extension is also aggressive and earthy, delivering suitably solid support at every turn. Rear speaker activity is a bit light -- after all, Jolie spends most of her time slinking around quiet crime scenes -- but the entire soundfield does a fine job enhancing the authenticity of interior acoustics and the immersive properties of the film's ambient effects. Ultimately, anyone who's looking forward to picking up Taking Lives will be more than pleased with the sonic prowess of its lossless track.
Taking Lives Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Don't be fooled by the hefty block of special features listed on the back cover. Taking Lives offers little more than an awkwardly-inserted gag reel (SD, 3 minutes), a theatrical trailer (SD, 2 minutes), and a shallow, behind-the-scenes featurette (SD 21 minutes) divided into four parts: The Art of Collaboration, Profiling a Director, Bodies of Evidence, and Puzzle Within a Puzzle.
Taking Lives Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Despite Caruso's best efforts, Taking Lives falls far short of the bar set by Se7en. A superficial spiritual successor perhaps, but one that lacks the originality, compelling storyline, and engaging characters of Fincher's classic. The Blu-ray edition isn't anything to get excited about either. Even though it boasts a commendable TrueHD audio track, its hit-or-miss video transfer and anemic supplemental material are disappointing to say the least. Ultimately, approach Taking Lives with some caution: Warner's low price makes this a tempting bargain bin purchase, but I would recommend checking out the movie itself before committing too much cash to this release.
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Taking Lives Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Today on Blu-ray - April 7th - April 7, 2009
When making a film about a controversial subject, it is often difficult to represent the subject matter in a way that will appeal to general audiences. Tread too lightly on the subject, and the message can be lost or misunderstood; tread too heavy, and the message ...
• Warner Announces 10 Blu-rays for April 7th - December 18, 2008
Warner Home Video has announced that they will bring 10 of their most popular catalog titles to Blu-ray on April 7th. These titles include 'The Wedding Singer: Totally Awesome Edition', 'American History X', 'Final Destination', 'Point of No Return', 'Taking Lives: ...
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