Taking Lives

Taking Lives, directed by D. J. Caruso, is a film about a serial killer, based in part on the 1999 novel by Michael Pye. The title refers to someone who not only kills victims but also assumes their identities, similar to a hermit crab that moves from one shell to another in its lifetime. While credits roll but before the story begins, several frames appear as slides of headlines and forensic evidence. In 1983, teenage Asher (played by Paul Dano) gets on a bus somewhere in Québec Province, headed for British Columbia. Another teenage passenger with a guitar decides to sit alongside and tells Asher why he has decided to run away from home. When the bus breaks down, Asher buys a car and they proceed west. Soon, the car has a flat tire, and Asher watches as his companion changes the tire. But when a van approaches, Asher pushes his friend into the path of the vehicle, whose driver who swerves to avoid running over him and dies as his vehicle crashes. When his friend does not die immediately, Asher uses a rock to finish the job; he then swaps the identity of his victim and walks away. Fastforward to 2003. There have been many unexplained deaths of drifters over the past twenty years, whose charge cards have been used by their assailants. On day, Montréal police (despite occasional filming in Québec City) discover James Kosta (played by Ethan Hawke) over a dead body, presumably giving mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. When Kosta is brought to the police station for questioning, Captain Hugo Leclair (played by Tchéky Karyo) decides that there is something fishy and calls upon Illeana Scott (played by Angelina Jolie), an FBI Special Agent who specializes in serial killings, thereby upsetting officer Joseph Paquette (played by Olivier Martinez), who was originally assigned to the case. Illeana, trained at Quantico with Leclair, concludes that the killer is a hermit crab. (But she does not go a step beyond, surmising that the victims must have been gay, attacked by someone homophobic.) Kosta soon reports that he is being stalked by someone, later identified as Hart (played by Kiefer Sutherland). Having identified himself as an artist, Kosta draws a picture of Hart and agrees to serve as bait to lure the stalker into the arms of the police while trying to come on to Illeana. One day, Hart appears in his art studio and tries to strangle Kosta, whose screams summon a police bodyguard. However, the police officer is shot dead on arrival in the studio, and Hart evidently forces Kosta into a car and soon races over a bridge across the St. Lawrence River. Illeana goes to the studio, finds the dead police officer, and tries to chase Hart and Kosta on the wrong lane of the bridge. Eventually, Kosta outmaneuvers the car, killing Hart, but emerges with serious wounds. After the wounds are stitched up, Kosta finally scores with Illeana. However, Kosta’s mother (played by Gena Rowlands), then goes to the same hospital to identify Hart’s body just as Kosta returns to have his wound re-stitched because of overexertion in bed with Illeana. Obviously, that is not the end of the murder mystery. The next part of the film does not disappoint Officer Paquette, who has been waiting for an opportunity for an I-told-you-so riposte. MH

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