The Bone Collector (1999)
Denzel Washington, Angelina Jolie, Queen Latifah, Michael Rooker, Luis Guzman,
Ed O'Neill, Mike McGlone, John Benjamin Hickey, Leland Orser.
Written by Jeremy Iocone.
Directed by Phillip Noyce.
Review by Jen Walker.
Quote from television ad: "The Bone Collector joins The Silence of the Lambs and Seven as one of the best thrillers of the decade." Whoa. Slow down there, Slick. That's a mighty ambitious claim. But it worked. It got me into the theater on opening day. While on the surface it bears some resemblance to those two films, it really has more in common with a movie from another decade.
Lincoln Rhyme (Denzel Washington), a once-formidable crime scene detective, is bed-ridden, paralyzed from the shoulders down after an on-the-job accident that broke his back. He retains the use of one finger, which allows him to operate sophisticated computer equipment and continue his work. He has published several books on forensics, one of which is used at the police academy to teach new recruits the basics of crime scene protocol.
Amelia Donoghy (Angelina Jolie) paid attention in class. Fresh out of the academy, she's the first officer to the scene of a grizzly crime. Sharp-eyed, she spots clues and goes to great lengths to preserve and document the evidence before it can be destroyed. She is promptly reprimanded by Captain Howard Cheney (Michael Rooker), the chief of detectives, for over-stepping her bounds.
When it becomes evident that the killer abducted two victims, one of whom is missing and possibly still alive, the investigative team comes to Rhyme for help. Instantly impressed with Donoghy's natural forensic instincts, he demands she be put on the case. Not only that, he demands that she be the first investigator into any crime scene. Donoghy (not to mention the brass) is at first resistant to the idea, but with Rhyme talking her through the procedure via two-way-radio, she excels.
The relationship between Rhyme and Donoghy is what sets The Bone Collector apart from recent thrillers. With Rhyme confined to his bed, he needs Donoghy to be his legs and his senses. He issues instructions; she follows them. She sees something amiss; he directs her to follow her instincts. With his nurse, Thelma (Queen Latifah), hovering at his bedside, affectionately warning him to take it easy, these scenes are boldly reminiscent of Rear Window. However, Washington and Jolie have amped-up the chemistry. Without car chases, fight sequences, or harrowing rescues, Washingtion manages to powerfully project a spell-binding masculinity, even while lying helpless in a hospital bed. Jolie casts a spell of her own. She is fierce, tough, and intelligent, but she never loses her fragility. Together, Washington and Jolie are a single unit, bound together by an unspoken understanding.
So, why the comparison to Lambs and Seven? Because The Bone Collector's killer is an extremely creative sicko. If you thought starving and skinning a victim was bad, wait till you see what The Bone Collector has up his sleeve. He leaves clues at one crime scene that will direct the investigators (if they're smart enough) to the scene of the next one. He finds ways to kill his victims slowly, therefore giving the cops time to save them. If they don't make it in time, they must take some responsibility for the victims' death. What this does is make The Bone Collector into a beat-the-clock, race-against-time movie, rather than a game of cat-and-mouse. Rhyme and Donoghy have no adversary. They never even wonder aloud about who might be commiting these crimes. They're so busy trying to save the next victim, they don't have time to track down the killer himself. So, when the killer finally shows his face, it's an introduction rather than a conclusion, making the ending oddly unsatisfactory.
The movie is unnecessarily explicit in its depiction of these elaborate, sadistic crimes. There really is no reason for us to see the killer actually torturing his victims. The filmmakers could have conveyed a more powerful sense of revulsion through dialogue, having the investigators look at the evidence and describe what these victims must have endured. They could have used the time spent on the gratuitous scenes to actually raise the question of the killer's identity, making the movie more interesting.
There's nothing remarkable about the sound or look of the film. I don't remember the musical score being anything special, and it's photographed in a rather generic way. The scenes set in Rhyme's homey loft are warm and full of light. The scenes of the crimes are dark and spooky, effectively conveying the feeling of vulnerability at your back that comes when your flashlight only illuminates one small circle. This approach has been used on nearly every episode of The X-Files, and in countless other movies, because it works. When Donoghy makes her way through an underground catacomb, accompanied only by Rhyme's voice on her radio, you feel her isolation and fear.
One of the best thrillers of the decade? Considering the mediocrity of most of the genre, with the exception of Lambs and Seven, it's pretty good. Ultimately, it's the relationship that Rhyme and Donoghy forge through Washington's and Jolie's physical and emotionally expressive performances (not their dialogue) that makes The Bone Collector worth seeing. Together, they exemplify movie chemistry.
Review © November 1999 by AboutFilm.Com
and the author.
Images © 1999 Universal Studios.