A Lonely Place to Die

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The Ascent rather than The Descent. With humans as the monsters. “

Five mountaineers are exploring the remote Scottish highlands, when they stumble across an underground box containing a terrified, near-dead young girl who speaks no English. Two of the party are sent, by the most direct but not child-friendly route, back to civilization to get help, but it’s not long before they discover the parties who buried the girl are not too happy with her removal. For they are two kidnappers, Mr. Kidd (Harris, who also plays a psychotic killer in The Borgias) and Mr. McRae who are negotiating with her father’s emissary, Darko (Roden) to pay the ransom, not aware that Darko has hired some ex-soldiers to resolve the matter. Having lost the child, the pair set out to recapture her, and don’t care how many bodies are left in their wake.

It’s only slowly that Alison (George, whom GWG fans may remember as Lauren Reed, Vaughn’s wife in Alias – the role here was originally intended to go to Franke Potente) comes to be the focus, but it’s clear that her maternal instincts have been aroused, and she’s prepared to do anything to protect the child, and she’s got the skills for the environment. That’s when the film is at its strongest, pitting Alison and her steadily-dwindling band of friends against Kidd and McRae. Once they reach civilization, it becomes notably less credible, not least because the “festival” conveniently going on in town (whose fireworks are needed to mask the gunshots), is so wildly inappropriate for small-town life. I grew up not far from where this was shot, and we certainly never had festivals involving topless women in body-paint. It’s a shame, as I liked how the protagonists were not your usual college students in peril, the staple of survival horror, but a little more mature and sensible. Not that this helps their longevity.

It’s always a difficult call whether the “final girl” genre should be included here. To me, the decisive factor is less how she takes on the monster, villain or nemesis in the last reel, it’s how she has behaved before that point. The Friday the 13th heroines, for instance, do little or nothing to justify the term “action heroine”. Here, however, Alison proves herself worthy of the title, almost from the first scene, which finds her half-way up a mountain-face. By the time she becomes the kidnappee’s sole hope, she has already covered miles both horizontal and vertical, fallen off a cliff, gone through rapids and survived her fair share of bullets aimed in her direction. Yeah, she qualifies, and only a clichéd last 20 minutes stops this from being thoroughly satisfactory.

Dir: Julian Gilbey
Star: Melissa George, Ed Speleers, Sean Harris, Karel Roden

Nikita: season two

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“More characters! ADD MORE CHARACTERS!”

When we last saw Nikita (Q), she’d gained some help for her struggle against Division in the shape of fellow defectors from the organization, Michael (West) and tech guy Birkhoff. But she’d lost protege Alex (Fonseca), who had stayed with Division to further her lust for revenge on those who’d killed her parents, while reclaiming her family fortune. Meanwhile, Nikita’s nemesis and former boss Percy had been usurped by Amanda (Clarke), and was now in a plexiglass box in the basement. Throw in Oversight, the government committee supposedly in charge of Division under Senator Madeline Pierce; CIA agent Ryan Fletcher and Pierce’s son Sean, who join Team Nikita; Owen, a rogue guardian, keeper of one of Percy’s black boxes… And I haven’t even got to Michael’s love-child, a source of much angst for all concerned.

I think the main problem with this sophomore season is clear: too many characters, resulting in plotting that’d be thrown out by a telenovela as far-fetched and convoluted. It was also notable that Nikita did significantly less heavy lifting on the action front, with Michael taking up more. Because, of course, no woman can survive without a man. Unfortunately, the increased focus on relationships – of multiple kinds – is probably almost inescapable on a network like the CW, even when a show gets buried in the “death slot” of Friday night. But it defused what made the show stand out: a kick-ass independent heroine, who could handle herself without relying on a team of men, and as a result, I frequently drifted off, either to sleep or to do something else more interesting. Which would be just about anything.

By the time of the last few eps, I would genuinely not have been bothered if the show had been canceled. But then, it returned to form: Percy escaped, getting himself a nuke and a satellite – nothing good can come of this. Focus on a genuinely threatening villain and the heroine, not the soap-opera “Mikita” ‘shipper bullshit, and I was engaged again. The end came almost full-circle – in part, I suspect because the makers didn’t know when they were shooting the final episodes, whether or not they’d be renewed. And, in the end, I am glad it has been given a third season, because there’s no show quite like it on television – despite the flaws, it’s flying the flag for genuine action heroines, almost solo. Still, how long my interest lasts when it returns, remains to be seen.

Star: Maggie Q, Shane West, Lyndsy Fonseca, Melinda Clarke

6 Guns

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Hannie Caulder with less cleavage. And no Christopher Lee.”

The Asylum studio are infamous for producing ‘mockbusters’ – straight to DVD look-alikes of big-budget movies, designed to benefit from their publicity budgets. These have included their own versions of Sherlock Holmes and War of the Worlds, but they do make their own original works, including cheesy delights such as Mega Python vs. Gatoroid, starring 80’s popsters Tiffany and Debbie Gibson. They come in for a lot of flak as a result – some justified, some not, for this is neither mockbuster nor cheesy, and is surprisingly solid, if you want a straightforward Western tale of revenge. Selina Stevens (Mears) has to watch as her husband and two young sons are killed by Lee Horn (Mead) and his gang; she is brutally raped and left for dead, beginning a decline into alcoholic despair. Having reached bottom, she meets bounty-hunter Frank Allison (Van Dyke), and asks him to teach her how to shoot – conveniently, just as Horn’s crew start to make their way back to town. The townsfolk’s repeated affirmations that they feel safer with Frank around, might have been a bit premature.

Ok, ‘original’ might be a bit of a stretch, as the storyline is more than a bit reminiscent of Hannie Caulder [which I must get round to reviewing at some point], though sensibly reins back the glamour Raquel Welch provided there. On its own merits, however, this is based on a solid trio of central performances, with Mead particularly memorable as the black-hearted thug – in an interesting twist, it’s revenge which also triggers his initial assault on Stevens’ family. Selina’s transition to a gunslinger is nicely handled; she doesn’t exactly become a sharpshooter – but when opportunity presents itself, can shoot a fairly stationary target at shortish range, which is credible. Against this its low-budget nature is highly-obvious, with the “town” inhabited by about 12 people, and the action in general could have been spliced in from any randomly-selected 1950’s oater.

This remains a decent tale, satisfactorily told, with interesting characters, good performances and more than a local resonance, given its placedropping of Arizona names. And in case you’re wondering, no, there are not six guns in the movie, despite the title [depending on the count, there might be five or seven…] Still, you’d be hard-pressed to argue that this doesn’t fall in the upper echelon of the studio’s movies: this kind of thing should escape from The Asylum more often.

Dir: Shane Van Dyke
Star: Sage Mears, Barry Van Dyke, Geoff Meed, Greg Evigan

Nikita: season one

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“TV Sinners”

Most action-heroine fans will know that this was not the first TV series inspired by Luc Besson’s classic GWG film. Between 1997 and 2001, La Femme Nikita ran for four full seasons, plus a shorter fifth one, with Peta Wilson playing Nikita. In early 2010, the CW Network announced it was developing a pilot to try out a new version of the show, and this was picked up for a series in May. The CW seemed a bit of an odd choice: their idea of an action heroine tends more towards shows like Gossip Girl and the 90210 reboot, with a target demographic of 18-34 year-old women. So was this version going to showcase a kinder, gentler Nikita?

I was reassured by the casting of Maggie Q as the lead, who has a solid action pedigree, both in Hong Kong (Naked Weapon) and the West (Live Free or Die Hard and M-I:3). While its source material was clear, it took a different approach. Instead of telling Nikita’s story from the beginning, with her recruitment into a shadowy semi-official organization and training as an assassin, it starts later, after she has mutinied and left them. Now, she is working to bring down the organization known as Division, its leader, Percy (Berkeley), and his right-hand man, Michael (West), who trained Nikita before she went rogue. Her ‘secret weapon’ is Alex (Fonseca), a new recruit going through training, while acting as Nikita’s mole and feeding her information, allowing her to sabotage and obstruct Division’s missions.

The results have generally been pretty impressive, probably the closest thing to a true kick-ass heroine on network TV since the demise of Alias [which may have have happened some time before the end of Alias, if you get my drift]. If not quite as dark as the Wilson incarnation, it is certainly satisfactory on this level, with death, torture and treachery lurking in just about every episode. The characters arcs certainly have their twists and turns: the alignment of loyalties at the end of the series is radically different from where they started, with people on both sides crossing over. It’s easy for a show like this to get into a rut – Division sets up an operation, Nikita foils it, or whatever – and the generally avoided this pitfall.

In what one suspects was a nod to the target demographic, this was as much about Alex as Nikita, who has her own past to contend with. There is, probably inevitably, the love interest, in the form of a blandly attractive next-door neighbour, who is basically the first man she meets after Alex completes her training and goes into the outside world. There was something similar for Nikita, though this first looked to be heading in one direction, then swerved in another during the second half of the show. That was one of a number of changes made mid-season: it seemed as if the makers needed to fine-tune things on the fly; I was concerned where this might lead, but it didn’t hurt the show.

One particular improvement was the appearance of Amanda (Melinda Clarke). Initially Division’s psych evaluator, she took a much more prominent role, and the relationship between her and Alex made for an interesting dynamic, not unlike Sidney Bristow/Irina Derevko [hmmm…]. We also enjoyed Berkeley’s portrayal of Percy: remembering him as the heroic, if inept George Mason in 24, this was a real change. The final couple of episodes had some epic twists, though I was a bit peeved with the “deaths”, which proved not to be terminal. I find it a cheat: as we saw with Buffy, once a character has come back from the grave, death tends to lose its sting, though the execution here was not as clunky or contrived.

They even crammed in nice nods to the original movie and its TV predecessor too, with a dive down a chute to escape, and a cameo from Alberta Watson, one of La Femme Nikita‘s actors, as part of the intelligence committee supposedly in charge of Division. By the time the dust has settled, Nikita was driving off into the sunset with a surprising ally, and Alex was also teamed up in a new way, setting things up nicely for the second series. Whether it was going to get one or not seemed in doubt for a while, as the rating did sag mid-season, dropping the show onto the ‘bubble’. However, it was announced in May that the CW would pick it up for another series, moving the show to Friday nights to play along with Supernatural.

However, all the plot is perhaps secondary; we want to see ass being kicked. I have largely to agree with Maggie Q, who said, “In terms of action, I don’t see our quality of action on any other show right now. I’m sorry. They may have bigger explosions, but our fights are genius.” For TV work, it’s certainly well above average, and she was apparently instrumental in getting the original co-ordinator fired: “This is my genre, what I’ve been doing for 14 years. I know it well. There’s a level of quality I will not let dip, ever, when it comes to the action… I said, he’s gotta go. It’s dipping. It hasn’t dipped enough in a way that audiences have recognized yet, but it will. I know his style. He’s not innovative. He doesn’t have what it takes to take the show to the next level. And we’re done. We’re done here. We need to bring someone else in.”

What stands out in particular is how much of her own work Q is doing [and, to a lesser extent, Fonseca]. As she also pointed out how much things have changed: “I remember seeing bad wigs on doubles. Then they cut to a close-up, then there’s a wide shot and you know the actress is not doing it. When I fight, you’re right there in our faces – very Bourne. You expect that from that calibre [of film], so why wouldn’t you expect it on TV?” That’s what I think probably impressed me most about the show: at its best, you could stand it beside Salt, and it would not suffer in the comparison. Here’s an example:

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Yep. I think it’s safe to say that the series has delivered copious amounts of high-quality action, combined with mostly interesting characters, and sufficient plot twists to keep us thoroughly entertained. Overall, it ranks among our favourite five shows of the year to date, of any genre, and comfortably leads the pack as far as action heroines go. We’re already looking forward eagerly to its return, so we can find out what lies in store for Nikita, Alex and Amanda. Oh, and some of the non-heroines too. I guess. :-)

Star: Maggie Q, Shane West, Lyndsy Fonseca, Xander Berkeley

The Millennium Trilogy

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The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

I think we know the exact moment we fell in love with the character of Lisbeth Salander, the central character both in Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy, and the Swedish films based on the books. It would be the scene in the first film where she goes back to see the man who had been sexually abusing her. Little did he know, on her last visit, she had recorded the whole event. This time, she knocks him out, ties her assailant up, forces him to watch the video and then engages in a spot of amateur tattoo work, leaving him with “I am a sadistic pig and a rapist” etched permanently across his torso. Yeah. You go, girl.

Salander is not your typical action heroine: she’s 5’4″, weighs maybe 90 lbs dripping wet, and anti-social to a degree that may be pathological. But she possesses a mind like a steel-trap, impressive computer hacking skills, a steely resolve and a zero-tolerance policy for anyone who abuses women [the Swedish title of the first book and film translates as “Men Who Hate Women”, and misogyny is something of a theme throughout the trilogy]. This was demonstrated very early: at the age of twelve, and fed up of seeing her father hurt her mother, she doused him in petrol and set him on fire. Like I said: “zero-tolerance”.

We first meet Lisbeth in Dragon Tattoo, using her skills to conduct surveillance on Mikael Blomkvist (Nyqvist), a journalist who has just lost a libel case and is facing prison as a result. As a result of her report, Blomkvist is hired by Henrik Vanger (Sven-Bertil Taube), to investigate the disappearance, forty years previously, of his niece Harriet, who was also Blomkvist’s babysitter. It has been nagging at Vanger ever since, and he feels his time is running out to find the truth. Reviewing the evidence, Blomkvist finds names and numbers in Harriet’s bible, but it’s Lisbeth, helping ‘remotely’, who cracks the code, revealing them to be verses from Leviticus about punishing sinners. The two gradually peel away the years to reveal the truth, a serial-killer whose crimes go back to just after the war – a truth that proves very uncomfortable for some in the Vanger family.

To some extent, Lisbeth is secondary to that plot, but she also has her own concerns to deal with. After the incident involving her father, she spent most of her youth under psychiatric observation. Even after release, she is still effectively ‘on probation’, under the control of various court-appointed guardians. The latest, a lawyer named Bjurman (Andersson) is a truly slimy jerk, who abuses his position to extract sexual favours from Lisbeth. After all, she’s just a little girl – what could she possibly do? See the opening paragraph for specifics there, if you’d forgotten.

Dir: Niels Arden Oplev
Star: Michael Nyqvist, Noomi Rapace, Sven-Bertil Taube, Peter Andersson

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The Girl Who Played with Fire

It’s in the second film, Fire, that Lisbeth really comes into her own. After a period traveling the world, she returns to Sweden, and pays a visit to Bjurman, who has been looking into tattoo removal – she warns him off doing that, threatening him with his own gun. However, she leaves the gun behind, and Bjurman then uses it to frame Lisbeth for the murder of two crusading journalists, who were working on a story exposing sex traffickers, and those using the women they provide, for Blomkvist’s magazine. With both the police, and the real perpetrators – the criminal gang who control the traffic – trying to track her down, Lisbeth is forced underground. Fortunately, Blomkvist is able to help, as Lisbeth turns the table and goes after the shadowy “Zala” who leads the crime syndicate.

There’s a number of very interesting aspects to the film, such as how Blomkvist and Salander don’t meet until the final scene – I can’t think of many other film where the two central protagonists do that [Heat comes close]. But it’s most memorable for the unstoppable force which Salander has become, utterly fearless, whether it’s taking on a pair of bikers or going into the heart of enemy territory. Even when you think it’s all over for her, she crawls her way back in a way which would make The Bride applaud. It’s curious, yet somehow entirely fitting, to see her as an updated, adult version of another Scandinavian literary and cinematic icon: Pippi Longstocking. Except, to steal a line from Romy and Michelle, she’s like a Pippi who smokes and says “shit” a lot.

Salander’s personality is abrasive, and she clearly has difficulty relating to people or showing them anything even approximating affection: the closest she gets is a bewildered silence. I think the only time we saw her give a genuine smile was in the third film, when she received news that someone she hated had been killed. And yet, people like Blomkvist warm to Lisbeth, initially pitying the circumstances in which she finds herself, yet eventually seeing the human beneath the multiple layers of defensive ice. Fiercely loyal to her (very few, admittedly) friends, and as lethal as a boxful of well-shaken, peeved rattlesnakes to her enemies, the second film proves her to be smart, and as quick with her fists as her brain.

Dir: Daniel Alfredson
Star: Michael Nyqvist, Noomi Rapace, Yasmine Garbi, Paolo Roberto

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The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest

The third film, like the second, has Blomkvist and Salander apart for almost the entire movie; they meet only right at the end, in a way which is as low-key and unobtrusive as an Ikea coffee-table, yet somehow feels entirely appropriate. This time, their separation is because Salanger is in custody for attempted murder, following the events at the end of Fire. The secret group in authority, whose activities are in danger of being exposed, intend to avoid the embarrassment of a trial by getting Salander certified as insane, so she can be locked up as mentally incompetent. This brings her back to confront Dr. Peter Teleborian (Ahlbom), the man in charge of the institute where Lisbeth spent two years. However, Blomkvist asks his lawyer sister, Annika (Hallin), to take up the case. Can they reveal the truth before Lisbeth is committed to Teleborian’s sinister care one more?

While undeniably a good end to the trilogy, tying up the loose ends and dishing out justice in a solid, satisfying way, it seems a shame to have Lisbeth locked up for 95% of the film. This is much more a purely-investigative thriller than the first two, which were more action-oriented. Here, there’s a fight in a restaurant for Blomkvist, and Salander’s only action is an admittedly impressive battle in a warehouse against an unstoppable force. Much as at the end of the first movie, she doesn’t actually kill the opponent herself, though here, that would be more due to a lack of ammunition for her impromptu weapon. While a nice final act by which to remember Salander, it’s not representative of her more passive role in this entry.

The trilogy of books have sold more than 50 million copies worldwide, though sadly, Larsson didn’t see their success, as he died in 2004, before they were published. The success of the films, which have grossed a total of more than $210 million worldwide – a phenomenal sum for any non-English language series – has led to the inevitable Hollywood remake. Pause for eye-rolling here… Except, the American Tattoo does have David Fincher at the helm, so I’ll wait until seeing it – while, naturally, reserving the right to administer a good kicking in due course. The first pictures of Rooney Mara as Lisbeth (right), don’t exactly inspire confidence, as she looks more like some kind of coked-up fetish supermodel than anything else. Daniel Craig plays the role of Blomkvist, which would seem to make him a bit more glamourous too.

I guess we’ll see, but Fincher and Mara will certainly have their work cut out. I can’t help thinking of the lukewarm remake of another, highly-lauded Scandinavian movie, Let the Right One In, and the overall history of such things is not cause for optimism. But even in a worst case scenario, we’ll still have the books and Noomi Rapace’s steel-cold portrayal. Wikipedia says that when Larsson was 15 years old, “he witnessed the gang rape of a girl, which led to his lifelong abhorrence of violence and abuse against women. The author never forgave himself for failing to help the girl, whose name was Lisbeth,” even though much of his life was spent fighting oppression, in various forms. But with his creation of a new style of heroine, one appropriate for the 21st century, Larsson has, unwittingly, perhaps achieved redemption.

Dir: Daniel Alfredson
Star: Michael Nyqvist, Noomi Rapace, Annika Hallin, Anders Ahlbom

Les Femmes des l’ombre

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“Wartime derring-do with the Inglourious Bastardettes.”

It’s May 1944, and the imminent D-day landings by the Allies in France are imperiled, when a geologist, sent to check one of the beaches, is injured and ends up in hospital. A team of five Frenchwomen, from various backgrounds and led by Louise (Marceau), a trained sniper whose husband was recently killed by Ze Germans, is sent in to occupied territory to rescue the geologist before he is found by Colonel Heindrich (Bleibtreu), and forced to give up the location of the invasion, allowing the Germans to meet it head-on. However, that turns out to be just the start of their dangerous mission.

First off, the French title, which translates as “Women of the shadow”, is a good deal more evocative than the bland “Female Agents” one, and conveys much better the…well, shadowy nature of the enterprise. It feels somewhat of a cross between The Dirty Dozen and Inglourious Basterds, with the team cobbled together from irregular forces, such as Jeanne (Depardieu, Gerard’s daughter), a prostitute who faced the hangman’s noose for murdering her pimp, or Suzy (Gillain), who used to be Heindrich’s mistress. This could have led to caricature – the whore, the smart one, the devout Catholic – yet the film, largely avoids this. Even Heindrich is not a stereotypical Nazi, another aspect that reminded us of Basterds, though the Allied force here is far less brutal.

It’s a solid piece of action/drama, which managed to keep both of us awake, despite a session earlier in the evening at the “all you can eat” fish fry; normally, that requires 30,000 Volts to keep us from sliding into post-gluttony unconsciousness. I think Chris enjoyed the movie a little more: I was somewhat on the fence about giving it the seal, finding some of the plotting a little convoluted and occasionally implausible, but her endorsement of this as “great” provided sufficient impetus. Marceau is particularly good, exuding steely resolve to hold the team together, and Bleibtreu makes an excellent foil, coming across as equally smart and committed as Louise. Their conflict is the glue that binds the story together, and makes it one of the best efforts in the wartime heroine genre to date.

[Note: The film is loosely – very loosely – based on Lisé de Baissac, who did operate undercover in France during the second-half of the war. However, there’s little or no evidence of any mission that parallels the one depicted in the film. In the time leading up to D-day, she was doing reconnaissance work in Normandy, scouting out holding grounds for airborne troops.]

Dir: Jean-Paul Salomé
Star: Sophie Marceau, Julie Depardieu, Marie Gillain, Moritz Bleibtreu
a.k.a. Female Agents

My Name is Modesty

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“Not at all what you’d expect from the sleeve, yet by no means terrible.”

The word is, Miramax made this in order to keep their rights to the Modesty Blaise series active: I imagine a clause reverted them back to creator Peter O’Donnell, if unused within X years. Tarantino wanted to direct it, but couldn’t find the time, hence this stop-gap directed by journeyman Spiegel, who’s familiar with Quentin cast-offs, having also directed From Dusk Till Dawn 2. Shot in 18 Romanian days, the limitations of time and budget are clear [save admittedly copious flashbacks, the movie is almost all set in one location], but given them, it’s by no means a disaster. The main failing is the lack of action; we don’t see alleged jet-setting, goddess of kick-butt Blaise do much at all until the last few minutes. This may be because Staden looks as if she’d struggle to move forward in a stiff breeze; seeing her trading blows is unconvincing, and the fight choreographer should have focused on speed and/or agility instead. Though in terms of presence and steely gaze, she does fit the part well.

I remember the books from my youth, and the huge disappointment I felt when I saw the 1966 camp abortion starring Monica Vitti [there was also an 1982 TV pilot, with Ann Turkel, which I haven’t found]. This “origin” story is an improvement, at least taking the characters seriously. Blaise is trapped in a casino by a robber with a grudge against the owner (Waldau), and as they wait for the guy with the safe combination to arrive, she trades stories of her past for the freedom of the other hostages, Arabian Nights style, almost. I’d be somewhat curious to see the original cut, which apparently ran nearly two hours. Now, it’s barely 70 minutes between Bond-esque opening and closing credits, yet is still pretty talky, Blaise and her mentor (Pearson) meandering between the Balkans and Morocco.

That’s not a necessarily a bad thing; the short length, and decent performances from the two leads, help make it very watchable. However, expect hardcore action, rather than a psychological character study, and you’ll be very disappointed. Indeed, even fans of the series may mourn, for example, the lack of Blaise sidekick, Willie Garvin, a lynchpin of the books and comic strips. All this does support the whispers it was indeed no more than a holding tactic by Miramax, but on its own terms, we enjoyed this. With some minor tweakage, we’d have interest in Modesty’s further adventures. Whether Tarantino is the best person to direct them…that I’m less sure of!

Dir: Scott Spiegel
Stars: Alexandra Staden, Nikolaj Coster Waldau, Fred Pearson, Raymond Cruz

Taking Lives

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“Another great concept is let down by depressingly obvious scripting.”

Rarely has a film started so promisingly, and gone so consistently downhill. The start is fabulous, with one of the most shocking moments I’ve seen…though if you’ve seen the trailer, you’ll have had it spoiled. But regardless, the first time we meet FBI profiler Illeana Scott (Jolie), on special assignment to Montreal, she’s lying in a grave. She is hard as nails, and takes absolutely no crap from anyone: her local friend, Captain Leclair (Karyo) hardly needs to bother protecting her, despite the nicely-handled cross-border tension. The case is that of a serial killer who, as the title suggests, inhabits the lives of his victims: the crack comes when his mother (Rowlands), believing him dead for two decades, spots him in Montreal by chance. However, the only other person to have seen the suspect is art-gallery owner James Costa (Hawke), but Scott starts finding her emotions getting in the way of her work…

Which is where the film loses its way, deflating like a leaky balloon. We are forced to watch the inevitable sexual tension between these two characters; seeing Scott go about her business would be infinitely less cliched and predictable. There is a twist that is so obvious you’d need to be unconscious not to see it coming – though I’d forgive you for falling asleep during the aforementioned sexual tension – and a final act that appears to have been taken from a bad 80’s slasher movie. These failings merely open the door for you to stare more closely at the plot, and you realise large chunks of it are on wobbly ground. For example, Scott deduces from a draft that a bookcase must conceal a hidden door: er, why not simply an A/C vent? Part Se7en, part Silence of the Lambs, this comes over as taking the less effective elements from each film, leaving the potential of a female Sherlock Holmes sadly under-realised.

Dir: D.J. Caruso
Stars: Angelina Jolie, Tchéky Karyo, Ethan Hawke, Gena Rowlands