To Catch a Killer
April 21st, 2023
MOVIE: TO CATCH A KILLER
STARRING: SHAILENE WOODLEY, BEN MENDELSOHN, JOVAN ADEPO, RALPH INESON
DIRECTED BY: DAMIAN SZIFRON
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 2 STARS (Out of 4)
When you watch To Catch a Killer the first comparison that might be conjured up will be to Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs. A serial killer on the loose, a talented but troubled police officer, and an intense investigation to find the killer before more bodies pile up. All that is missing is a man standing behind a sheet of glass. Director/co-writer Damian Szifron is well versed in storytelling, which he showed off in his excellent work Wild Tales, and he nearly has you with To Catch a Killer. The mystery is engaging, and the acting is all top-notch, but eventually, the plot fails to deliver the result you expected.
The lead is Sahilene Woodley as Eleanor Falco, a beat officer in Baltimore, who responds to minor complaints a diner owner has about a homeless person taking up a table. When dealing with that on New Year’s Eve she receives a call of shots fired, where a sniper from far away is killing people at a rooftop party, panicking in the streets as she runs to help. As they get close to the shooter’s location an explosion goes off. She’s left to pick herself up from the rubble. Now the FBI gets involved, with director Geoffrey Lammark (A sharp Ben Mendelsohn) barking orders, and deciding to bring Falco and other agent Mackenzie (Jovan Adepo) in to help track down their mass murderer. Clearly, they are dealing with an expert marksman, but there is a much more serious approach from this killer, as the New Year’s Eve attack was just his start.
Early on there is a strong charisma between Woodley and Mendelsohn that elevates the material. It plays similarly to Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt in Seven, without so much detective work, or a sharper mystery. To Catch a Killer often approaches the mystery side with tentative ease and then fast forwards through the thrilling moments. And there are many tense exchanges, including a slow building sequence where the wanted killer plans his next attack on a shopping mall- something that hits too close to reality- with Falco racing to stop it from happening. Sadly, those moments are too few, as the in-between parts lack the charisma to keep us engaged til the end.
The third and final act is where the hunt for the killer intensifies. Falco and Lammark approach an ex-marine named Dean Possey (Ralph Ineson), holed up in his farmhouse and unstable, but spewing hatred towards the world perfectly fit for a Bond villain. It’s the right kind of climax to the story but it also becomes a dragging end. A dialogue between the marine and Falco lacks a sense of urgency. It builds the tension and slowly lets the air out with a whimper. It’s not that To Catch a Killer isn’t doing the right things, it’s just that we have seen many movies- Dirty Harry, Bullitt, The Clovehitch Killer, and Prisoners– all of which do it much better.
As for Woodley and Mendelsohn, they are both fine, doing their standard best, and delivering performances that elevate the material more than others could. It’s just a rare misfire for a director such as Szifron. To Catch a Killer is not the worst movie you would see in 2023, it’s just a missed opportunity on being a surprise new hit. Sometimes those misses are worse than a total mess. It’s not bad but it is depressing.
TO CATCH A KILLER IS PLAYING IN SELECT THEATERS AND WILL BE AVAILABLE ON ALL VOD PLATFORMS TUESDAY MAY 16TH, 2023.
Written by: Leo Brady