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Non-Review Review: The Bone Collector

se7en had quite an impact on Hollywood. And, where there’s success, there’s countless imitators. Some are good, some are… less so. Here we have another entry in the late-nineties serial-killer-harrasses-detective subgenre and – in its defense – it’s a perfectly mediocre concept elevated by two very talented leads. The movie is ultimately undermined by its refusal to play fair (no way even the cast of CSI could figure out who the killer was before the reveal – it might actually make logical sense for him to be an unknown, but that wouldn’t give us an emotionally-invested climax), but you could do far worse than this serial killer thriller. You could also do better, but who am I to judge?

Anything Brad can do...

The movie’s hook is an interesting one. A quadriplegic detective played by Denzel Washington. It sounds like an Oscar-nominated drama, not a detective thriller. The movie does surprisingly little with its central character’s disability – you get the sense he would have played the same role in the story had he been an elderly university professor consulting – but that discounts the fact that you have one of the most talented leads in the world in the role. Sure, it’s like watching him twirl his thumbs (so to speak), but Washington can find a way to make even thumb-swirling interesting.

The movie works on the central premise of a serial killer tearing through new York, forcing the police to turn to an officer crippled in the line of duty to help. What else do we need? oh yes, a feisty young partner. And some animosity between them – oh yes, she’d rather be a youth liaison officer. I think we’ve got ourselves a movie here!

I am being meaner than I should be. Philip Noyce is a talented director, and he has an amazing cast to work with here. Not just Jolie or Washington, but actors like Michael Rooker, Ed O’Neil, Luis Guzman and Leland Orser. The movie knows what’s it’s doing – dank basements and urban wastelands are the settings of choice – and the killers antics are just graphic enough to disturb the audience, without seeming exceptionally gratuitous (in fairness, you know what you’re in for). There’s a wonderfully ominous score underline the proceedings as well.

The film’s real strength comes from its leads. Though I maintain Jolie is overrated, she’s still overqualified for the “plucky young officer” role, and she has a chemistry with Denzel Washington that helps strengthen the central relationship that we’re asked to invest in. It’s little bits like a tense over-the-air conversation about how best to get evidence from a corpse that work well, creating a sense that she is his avatar and he is her lifeline.

The biggest weakness in this film – as, evidently, in any serial killer imitator – would seem to be the serial killer him or herself (we’re equal oportunity here). The death traps are – as is seemingly mandatory in this day and age – elaborate and some are even striking, but the whole “he’s leaving clues only his nemesis can decypher” bit is a little heavy-handed. The problem with these sorts of plots is that they end up being based on information that the audience couldn’t possibly know. Which makes concealling the killer’s identity a bit of a pain – as it would seem to indicate that it’s a mystery that the audience should be trying to solve. But they can’t, because the clues are all so ridiculously esoterical (and – ultimately – based on an entirely fictional work). It just seems like a huge red herring of a subplot, but I’m not sure what sly move it was supposed to distract us from. And then there’s the killer’s identity. I’ve seen the film more than once – there’s nary a clue hidden anywhere that points to that individual.

Still, that would seem to be the weakness of most of this particular wave of crime thrillers. It’s par for the course. While The Bone Collector lacks the morbid fascination which propels the even-more-illogical Kiss the Girls, for example, it is a solidly entertaining flick if engaged on its own terms.

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