The Bone Collector

"Donaghy goes in first."

Aside from the Inspirational Teacher, the Serial Killer who Leaves Inconspicuous Clues for Police Detective is Hollywood’s most overused character. Some films have used this stereotype for big-time box-office and critical success (Seven, The Silence of the Lambs); still some flopped (Copycat, Kiss the Girls; the latter was horrible, though it did serviceably at the box-office). Denzel Washington’s new vehicle, The Bone Collector, falls somewhere between those two categories.

If nothing else, it’s approach is fairly original; Washington plays Lincoln Rhyme, a forensics investigator severely injured when a metal beam falls on him while he was on the job. He is now permanently bedridden. He is also afflicted with seizures, any one of which can potentially put him in a vegetative state. This is Lincoln’s biggest fear; in fact, he has made arrangements to commit doctor assisted suicide. But fellow cop (Ed O’Neill) approaches him with one last mind-boggler of a case.

It seems a young officer (Angelina Jolie) stumbled upon a body of a man with his hand sticking out of the ground, Carrie style. His finger is cut off and his wife’s wedding band is on the stump. The man is quickly identified as one of the couple who disappeared the previous night after taking a taxi from the airport. The wedding band indicates that the wife is still alive and that it’s up to our heroic detectives to find her location and save her.

Of course, our killer leaves obscure clues for Lincoln and Co. to decipher. From a turn of the century bolt, a mysterious powder, a newspaper with “4pm” circled on it and a few other tip-offs, they are expected to figure out where this woman is and how much time they have to get to her.

The idea that these cops, no matter how clever, can glean this information from such a vague starting point is nightmarishly implausible, and when they do exactly that the audience is left groaning. It’s like looking for a needle in 15 haystacks and finding it faster than the words “Come On” can escape your lips. Not even in Se7en were the clues this unfathomable. Considering that the whole movie is based on these clues, that’s a nearly fatal contrivance.

Indeed, halfway through The Bone Collector, I was actively disliking it. That’s about the point where the film started to grow on me. From the beginning, I noticed director Phillip Noyce’s emphasis on atmosphere; it wasn’t until the halfway point when I got over my original resentment and began to see how effective it was. The soundtrack, cinematography and lighting all work to establish a suspenseful mood that underscores the performances while fading out the film’s flaws.

Denzel Washington is excellent, projecting an intensity remarkable flr someone playing a character who can’t move anything but his mouth and his fingers. Unlike worldwide superstars such as Julia Roberts, Washington is very skilled at actually playing different people from role to role, whereas someone like Roberts seems like she is playing the same person every time. Anjelina Jolie is a problem. Her performance is off-key and a tad flat. Plus, she never convinces us that she is a real police officer: she just doesn’t look right in that uniform.

I will admit that the movie doesn’t play fair in the end, surprising us with the identity of the killer: he/she is a character we have met but had absolutely no reason to suspect. But I was willing to forgo that because the particular scene was handled with such deftness. The Bone Collector builds up suspense about the killer’s revelation and then rewards our anticipation by giving us a riveting climax, even though the killer’s identity is a bit anticlimactic.

This is a movie with many flaws. It’s contrived and unoriginal, just to name a few. But its atmosphere and taut second half are enough for me to recommend it, provided you don’t go in with sky high expectations.

-- Eugene Novikov

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Screening Log

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Street of Chance

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