The Bone Collector

Nov 10, 1999 at 12:00 am

What is it about serial killers that fascinates us? Their craft and intelligence? Their often-benign appearance? Their monstrous gift for deception? They’re the result of Dr. Jekyll’s experiment: pure evil. Tucked away in the farthest corners of our imagination, covered in fears and desires beyond our control, they lie dormant – restless shadows deprived of affection – lurking just beneath the surface of our mostly sunny lives.

Then something triggers the violent response of these sad, lonely men and they kill. They kill to draw attention to themselves or to satisfy a hunger that increases with every victim. They kill out of rage, boredom or even out of love. The reasons are many and twisted. So are the protagonists of these repetitive psychotic episodes.

That much is clear. But why do we crowd the theaters every time a new serial killer movie is in town? Because every time the clever detective and the beautiful girl (potential victim, FBI agent or rookie cop) annihilate the monster, we feel safer than we did before. Because the serial killer, that sick bastard in whose body someone always empties a gun at the end, stands for a whole lot of other (institutionalized) acts of cruelty, much more difficult to erase from our consciousness than the life of one man. Because when the lights go up we feel braver, more socially adequate and politically correct than we did a few hours earlier.

That, however, is not the case with Phillip Noyce’s film, The Bone Collector. Intended as a cross between Silence of the Lambs and Seven, it fails to notice that Silence and Seven revolve around characters of exquisite pathological design: Lecter’s eerie charm, Buffalo Bill’s twisted quest for beauty, one man’s gruesome "reading" of the seven deadly sins. But in Noyce’s film the relationship that develops between forensics specialist Lincoln Rhyme (Denzel Washington) – paralyzed after a near-fatal injury – and his unwilling trainee Amelia Donaghy (Angelina Jolie) is more interesting to watch than the actual manhunt.

The Bone Collector’s murders take place underground, in old, abandoned slaughterhouses, in rusty subway stations, in a fabulous turn-of-the-century world underneath New York City. Rhyme’s apartment – spacious, well-lit, warm – provides the perfect contrast for this darkness. The sets are flawless and so are the performances.

And yet, when the mad chase ends and the film unmasks its killer, we are presented with a happy end without consequences. Who can feel brave, safe or even relieved when faced with a threat of such pathetic proportions?