To Catch A Killer. MA15+, 119 minutes.
An early-career cop is given a career-defining opportunity to participate in the hunt for a mass murderer - this is a plot of a few dozen movies I've seen and reviewed over the years, and that plot fits appropriately against some weighty and well-made titles the likes of The Silence of the Lambs.
This time around, that young cop bringing youth and fresh ideas to a team of jaded law enforcement officials is played by Shailene Woodley, and the film is from respected Argentinian filmmaker Damian David Szifron, working from his own original screenplay.
Now, did the world need another movie that looks like and sounds like the hundreds, maybe thousands of films just like it, and does this film bring some fresh new take not previously explored on film?
Nah, not really, to both questions.
In its defence, though, To Catch a Killer is very well made, a really enjoyable example of a loved format, and one that helps progress the adult resume of its star Ms Woodley, whose career began in some very lucrative but rather silly teen fantasy films and who is demonstrating here, just as in recent series like Big Little Lies, that she has matured into a seasoned performer able to carry a film in her own right.
Baltimore beat cop Eleanor Falco (Woodley) is in the right place at the wrong time, dealing with some petty complaints in the city's downtown area, when the call comes in about serious activity going on above her head in the upper stories of the area's high-rise buildings.
People at a penthouse party enjoying the new year fireworks are being picked off one by one by a sniper working from the opposite building.
As police begin to work through the crime scene, their suspicions about the origins of the bullets are confirmed as an apartment across the way explodes, any evidence of the shooter going with it.
Not a bullet has missed its mark but while the other officers around her are saying words like "terrorist", Officer Falco sees a lone wolf with marksmanship expertise.
This intrigues the ornery FBI lead investigator Lammark (Ben Mendelsohn) who brings the young woman into the manhunt as special liaison.
While Falco wonders whether there is some ulterior motive to Lammark's mentoring her, she nevertheless gets the opportunity to offer her own insights drawn from her trauma-informed life, and the investigators close in on a probable suspect.
As a procedural thriller, this is a very enjoyable film. Although the screenplay from Szifron, writing with Jonathan Wakeham, is as linear and without nuance as an episode of Law & Order or Law & Order: SVU, that's no insult.
There's an interesting moment early on in the film where Falco has some foreshadowing of her own death, and you get a sense of where their screenplay might head, a sense of some depth to Falco's character to be further explored, but no, this ends up just a one-off moment. The characters are fairly closed beings.
Directorially, however, Szifron approaches his work with invention and panache and this film is just so good- looking and atmospheric. The word auteur has been used about Szifron with an impressive series of films in his home country of Argentina, so while film observers might be a little let down by this generic studio production as his Hollywood debut, here's hoping it's just a strategic calling-card to future English-language audiences.
There's an impressive and commanding central performance from Woodley and an equally strong turn from Aussie Mendelsohn. The latter's Henderson Kids castmate Kylie Minogue finds herself at the top of the charts this week with her catchy song Padam Padam, and it is great to see two Aussies from humble Haven Bay enjoy long and deserved careers.
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