January 28, 2008

Movie Review: Untraceable

I had hoped that Untraceable would prove to be an intense thriller. By the time the film was half way over, I had all but given up on the hopes of it being a new intense thriller. It became quickly apparent that the movie was attempting to show something beyond what it was actually showing. Make sense? What I am tyrying to say is that Untraceable is more about what it reflects in our own society than what it is actually showing on the screen. It is more concept than execution. However, I do not feel it was completely successful at either. Fortunately, when you take both what is shown and what is being said in conjunction, the result is a rather entertaining big screen viewing. Of course, having someone like Diane Lane in the lead does not hurt matters.

In a similar way to last year's bomb I Know Who Killed Me, Untraceable brings together the traditional thriller with the current trend of torture based horror films (ala Saw and Hostel). Fortunately, it is not so convoluted and just plain bad as the former. It will also bring up memories of Silence of the Lambs and Seven. I was even reminded of a low budget film called Series Seven. With all of these thoughts conjured up by the film, it kind makes the idea of an original film moot. Sure, some of the contraptions employed by the killer are new to the screen, but original kills do not an original movie make.

Diane Lane stars as Jennifer Marsh, a single mother and a member of the FBI's cyber-crime unit. Each night she goes to work and does her best to put away those who steal identities, prey on children, and worse. Then comes the big call, she is tipped off to a site called KillWithMe.com. Upon visiting the site it is discovered that people are being killed in elaborate traps with the aid of the sites visitors. The more people that surf to the site, the quicker the victim dies. With each successive victim, they die faster and faster. It is up to Marsh, her parter Griffin Dowd (Colin Hanks) and the rest of her team to track down the site and the man behind it to put a stop to the murders.

It is a task that proves to be more difficult than expected as the site is being bounced through any number of servers, when one gets shut down another pops up to take its place. It is learned that whoever behind it is local to the team (fortunate for those doing the tracking). What follows is an escalating cat and mouse game between the killer and the FBI team. That is until it becomes a personal struggle between the killer and Marsh when she becomes a target of his twisted game.

That about sums up the plot of the film. Doesn't really sound like anything particularly special, does it? It does set up a certain level of interest to see how the computer aspects are handled. Films are notoriously bad when it comes to properly displaying the capabilities and uses of the computer. Can you blame them? Using a computer is pretty boring to watch. Try it sometime, when a friend or relative is on the PC, watch over his/her shoulder and see how entertaining it is. Filmmakers have to punch it somehow, make it exciting to watch on the screen. In the caseof Untraceable, I think they did a decent job of portraying the use of the computer. Is it completely accurate? No, but there have to be some compromises somewhere to facilitate the story.

The bulk of the story's weight is carried by Diane Lane's strong performance. It plays out realistically. While there is always some forward motion going on the investigation, the script does not forget that these people will not always be working, they have families to spend time with. This leads to scenes of Jennifer spending time with her daughter and her mother, driving to school, having a birthday party, normal sort of activities. It was nice seeing these, as we usually do not get to see the home side of our hero.

Untraceable does not really dwell on the whodunit portion of the tale. Yes, it starts of that way, but it quickly transitions to a whydunit. Neither portion is satisfying on their own, although everything is explained in a satisfactory manner and work well enough in conjunction with each other. However, it is when it switches to the second half when the real motives are exposed, and the comparison to Series Seven can be made.

Series Seven is about a fictional reality show, in its seventh season, that is a giant ratings hit. What makes it unique is that each season the producers pick a town and randomly select the contestants from the population. They arrive, unannounced, give those chosen a gun and welcome them to the game. The goal is to kill the other contestants. What made that movie feel so dirty was how it was portrayed as big hit, thereby implicating those watching. In a very similar way Untraceable implicates its vieweres, or rather the nation's population within the film as willing accomplices in the murders.

Untraceable is a reflection of our reality TV obsessesed culture. How far is too far for entertainment? Will we reach a point where people will kill people in the name of ratings? It does not seem so far fetched does it? Combine that with the way people comment on message boards and such, completely unfiltered, whether in jest or for real, there are some strange people out there. Compare that with the comments shown within the film, looks like comments that would actually be made.

The implications of the movie and how they are a twisted reflection of reality give what would have been just a mediocre thriller a little bit of heft. This is what I believe was the true goal of the screenplay by Robert Fyvolent, Mark Brinker, and Allison Burnett. Confront the audience as an accomplice in the proceedings and see how they react. It is pretty sickening to think about. The possibility that society could sink to this.

Overall, it is a decent film. It is not quite as strong as it could be. Take all of the presented elements together and it is stronger than any of its individual parts. The glue that holds all of it together is the previously mentioned Diane Lane. She brings a genuine sense of humanity and emotion to the project, she does much of the heavy lifting and is very easy to identify with.

Bottomline. Not a great movie, but definitely worth spending some time with. Although I do wish that the end was a bit stronger. It closes on a crowd pleasing, get up and cheer moment, but it leaves a couple of threads dangling that I would have liked seen resolved. Still, you could do a lot worse, and it is a thrilling ride.



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