Knight at the Movies Archives
Diane Lane elevates a typical serial killer thriller, Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman crack wise in a quirky black comedy
Untraceable, from Frequency and Fracture director Gregory Hoblit is yet another of those movies featuring a cute but horrific serial
killer fixated on a beautiful and intelligent female law officer. Joseph Cross, who played the gay writer Augusten Burroughs in
Running with Scissors is the sadistic killer. We know he’s a baddie long before we see his face because in the opening sequence
we've watched him electrocute a cute little kitty live on a website he’s set up called “Kill With Me.” Diane Lane plays the law officer,
an FBI agent name Jennifer Marsh who specializes in tracking down perpetrators of cyber crime in the Pacific Northwest. When Cross’
website – in which he goes from frying the kitty to torturing male victims to death live on webcam – becomes a web sensation the
hunt is on.
The movie’s run of the mill stuff – fairly entertaining but not particularly inventive – with the standard twists and turns. We know that
at some point the killer’s going to turn his attention to the smart but world weary Jennifer, who’s still mourning the death of her
husband (a fellow officer), and that he will use his superior geek intelligence to get to her (portions of the plot seem to have been
lifted whole cloth from Copy Cat and other serial killer movies). The script – which makes some valid points about the unlimited
censorship the wild, wild web affords and its potential consequences – confuses that message by also letting the audience deplore
torture yet see it in Technicolor close up at the same time.
Even though Hoblit’s movie is pretty much by the numbers Diane Lane lifts it head and shoulders above where it deserves to be.
Lane, a great screen actress, turns in another terrific, emotionally complex performance – reason enough to try out Untraceable.
Lane is ably supported by Mary Beth Hurt, hunky Billy Burk, Tyrone Girodano, the deaf actor who played the gay son in The Family
Stone, and Peter Lewis (my ex-brother-in-law), who plays Lane’s boss. Nice eerie music by Christopher Young, reminiscent of his
score for Jennifer 8.
The Savages from writer-director Tamara Jenkins is a wonderful black comedy that has gotten a tad lost in the recent sea of
excellent indie pictures. Thanks to an Oscar nomination for Laura Linney, who co-stars in the film with Philip Seymour Hoffman, the
movie’s profile is sure to be elevated – something it sorely deserves (though Jenkins' great script also got a nod Hoffman didn't -
huh?). Has there been a relationship on screen quite as realistic and complex as the one between Wendy, the aspiring playwright
and major drama queen and her older brother John, the 42 year-old Doctor of Philosophy reduced to college English and theatre
teacher? Not in recent memory (or maybe the passive/aggressive fights between the two siblings which escalate into full out
emotional combat seems awfully familiar). Or perhaps it’s the crux of the film that resounds – what to do with an aging parent who
can no longer care for himself.
Phillip Bosco plays the father of Wendy and John who are suddenly called to Arizona when he begins slipping into dementia. The
brother and sister, both writers with high falutin’ dreams (both want more than anything to get a MacArthur grant) and barely
disguised competitiveness, haven’t had much to do with their father it seems, for years (nor he with them). When they arrive at the
home where he is staying Wendy is more concerned about caring for the Mylar “Get Well” balloon she’s brought along than with her
father’s condition. It’s true to life details like this that give Jenkins' tart script its resonance with real life. Later, when the siblings
are forced to move the father to a nursing home the bitching starts and the fights, recriminations, and guilt – “There are practical
considerations that love has nothing to do with” John tells Wendy at one point, trying to assuage her guilt on one level and just
trying to get back to bed on another.
Familial dramas rarely find the balance that Jenkins does with her not loveable but in the end likeable characters and Linney and
Hoffman reward her with their usual expert work (these roles must have seemed like a gift to both). This finely nuanced piece isn’t
exactly a feel good movie but it’s not as dark as say, Margot at the Wedding and here the slights and squabbling feel real. These are
lived in characters involved in a situation that provides the reason for the drama. Wendy, as noted, is a die hard drama queen and
thrives on the distraction of what to do with dad from her rather mundane life. Jenkins also provides a great role for Bosco who in
his moments of lucidness provides the reason why John and Wendy are both so emotionally needy.
Jenkins specializes in quirky twists (Slums of Beverly Hills is another of her pictures) and The Savages is filled with plenty of them. Her
insightful writing, sure eye for visual detail, the double acting acrobatics of Linney and Hoffman makes The Savages worth spending
1-23-08 Windy City Times Knight at the Movies Column*
By Richard Knight, Jr.
*My review of Cloverfield ran as my second film critique in this week's edition of WCT. As I'd already reviewed it at KATM first, I
decided to add my review of The Savages here which I haven't written about yet.