Thrillers don't get much more incompetent than TAKING LIVES. The first indication that the filmmakers aren't paying attention to details comes with the sounds of U2's "Bad" over the opening sequence set in 1983. The song comes from the 1984 album THE UNFORGETTABLE FIRE, which is a nitpicky sort of thing that the average viewer probably won't notice. Admittedly, this isn't a big deal, but it shows a carelessness with which the rest of the film is assembled. (That the song is about heroin, has no application to the scene or the film, and is reprised at the end makes the choice more curious. Was it picked merely because the character being introduced is bad, making a song by that name seem like a good fit?)
Angelina Jolie, as FBI profiler Illeana Scott, plays up her tabloid publicized weirdness from the outset, being introduced laying in a grave to get a sense of the crime scene. Montreal construction workers find a body with the face smashed in and the hands cut off. Despite the protestations of two Quebecois investigators, Illeana is brought onto the case. TAKING LIVES never explains why an FBI agent would be called to Canada to help with an apparently routine murder case or how she would be permitted to stay on it. The film's nonsense logic continues.
Illeana finds a pattern in some unsolved killings and deduces that the suspect's methods permit him to assume the lives of his victim. Whenever he needs a new identity, he kills another person and makes the body unidentifiable.
A break in the case appears to come when the serial killer strikes again. This time there's a witness, a local artist named Costa (Ethan Hawke) who provides a sketch of the suspect. It soon becomes apparent, though, that with the police hot on his trail, the killer wants to shed his skin for another's, Costa's in fact.
TAKING LIVES is incredibly silly, building to a final scene that inspires laughter and incredulity. Granted, Illeana proves to be something of an oddball, but the ending is too much to accept even for her. Illeana is established as one of those agents who identifies with the victims to the extreme. She physically puts herself in their place, including a scene at the home at the killer's mother that makes absolutely no sense at all. (This film either endured extensive cuts that left the gaping holes or just never added up in the first place.) This conceit is eventually dropped in favor of standard policier twists.
The killer's identity is no mystery to anyone who has seen more than a couple of whodunits, particularly those in Ashley Judd's filmography. (Jolie, like Judd, is a capable actress with a knack for picking some really bad projects.) The misdirects are either very transparent or so befuddling that they fail to send us off course. Director D.J. Caruso may have inadvertently revealed the killer earlier than intended in a geography slip-up in dialogue. Considering the error-prone nature of the film, it's probably just one more mistake than a tip-off.
Although riddled with storytelling errors and other mistakes, TAKING LIVES gets it right in one place: truth in advertising. Audiences will have their lives taken, or at least the 90-odd minutes set aside for suffering through this mess.