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"Taking Lives"

IT IS actually a smart thriller. Many twists might seem like the clichés one expects in this genre of films. But here, there is a strange unpredictability to the predictability and you end up tense, wondering what is coming next.

This film involves a tough, cool and unflappable FBI agent, trailing a serial killer. And she is the type of detective you will only find in the movies. The sort who solves cases and deduces about the killer by lying in the victims' grave and communing with the surroundings. Which is how FBI special agent Ileana Scott (Angelina Jolie) is introduced in Warner Brothers/Village Roadshow Pictures, "Taking Lives."

The audience is introduced to the killer when he is a twerpy, gawky teenager. He is shown befriending a boy about his age and then pushing him in front of a speeding car. Not only does he kill, he mutilates the body and then assumes that person's identity ... till he finds his next victim. Weird but presented convincingly!

Move to a couple of years later when the killer spends most of his time murdering loners and assimilating their identities. And on his trail are Montréal detectives, Olivier Martinez and Jean Hugues Anglade. When they don't make much headway in the case they are made to cooperate with special agent Ileana. Of course they don't like it. The story then builds on Ileana's obsession with solving the case, comparing it with the killer's obsession for details.

Anyway, some kind of a breakthrough is made when they catch an art dealer, James Costa (Ethan Hawke), trying to revive a victim of the killer. He is petrified, but having seen the killer provides a sketch. The chase is then on. He is enlisted by the Department as a decoy to nab the suspected killer, Hart.

The film reels forward without a break, in a manhunt that the director executes with skill.

While the film does a reasonably good job of explaining how the killer is able to continue with his murders without being caught, it stretches the imagination.

It is a unique idea (adapted from a book by Michael Pye) and one supposes a film can always take the bizarre angle in murder mysteries.

Shot in Montreal and Quebec, there is French dialogue with subtitles giving a European feel to it.

Angelina Jolie makes for an effective agent — in mysterious ways of operating.

Ethan Hawke does a good job too. He is multifaceted and your doubts about him won't be realised till the scenes before the climax that could seem like a huge contrivance. Creepy nevertheless!

CHITRA MAHESH

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