To Catch a Killer

Review by Rich Cline | 3/5

To Catch a Killer
dir Damian Szifron
scr Damian Szifron, Jonathan Wakeham
prd Aaron Ryder, Stuart Manashil, Shailene Woodley, Damian Szifron
with Shailene Woodley, Ben Mendelsohn, Jovan Adepo, Ralph Ineson, Richard Zeman, Dusan Dukic, Jason Cavalier, Nick Walker, Darcy Laurie, Mark Camacho, Rosemary Dunsmore, Michael Cram
release US 21.Apr.23
23/US 1h54

mendelsohn adepo ineson

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adepo, mendelsohn and woodley
Edgy and stylish, this timely mass-shooter thriller has considerable potential in its intimate portrayal of a young police officer caught up in a complex case. Filmmaker Damian Szifron takes an inventive visual approach, even if the ambitious script turns out to be rather pedestrian, little more than a standard cat-and-mouse between grumpy cops and a deranged murderer. But the narrative is too diffused to maintain a clear perspective.
When a sniper attacks at the stroke of midnight on New Year's, Baltimore beat cop Eleanor (Woodley) arrives on the chaotic scene and kicks into action. Launching their investigation, FBI chief Lammark (Mendelsohn) and investigator Mackenzie (Adepo) notice Eleanor's observational skills and recruit her to help profile and track down the killer. But the trail goes eerily cold until he goes on another, apparently spontaneous rampage. This puts Lammark and his team under added pressure from local leaders to stop him. And the trail leads to a brain-injured loner (Ineson) with a protective mother (Dunsmore).
As Eleanor quietly watches everything and everyone around her, cinematographer Javier Julia skilfully catches details, teasing us with the idea that maybe she can figure this out. But the script continually hints at more enticing mysteries in Eleanor's past, which adds to the film's effectively murky and ominous atmosphere. It also supplies plot turns that slow the story's momentum, making the film feel even longer than it already is. And then there's the deranged final half hour, which sends things off in an even nastier direction.

Woodley brings an understated steeliness to the role, revealing sharp instincts even if Eleanor remains mumbly and reticent, which leaves the film feeling somewhat mopey. While her dark internal issues are intriguing, they're never developed meaningfully. But Woodley plays it well. Adepo has an offhanded charm in an underwritten role, while Ineson's appearance in the final act adds some rather jagged dramatics. And Mendelsohn is in scene-chewing mode as the grizzled Lammark, growling ludicrous aphorisms at every opportunity.

Indeed, the dialog is packed with corny speechifying, plus the usual elements like case-jeopardising interference from politicians who are only concerned about their image. Along with both Eleanor's personal journey and the desperate manhunt, the script continually distracts with details and sideroads that make it tricky to work out what the central focus should be. As a result, where the story goes feels overwritten and underwhelming. And it leads to a conclusion that isn't nearly as deep as it thinks it is.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 19.Apr.23

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© 2023 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall