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“To Catch a Killer” needs to catch one message and stick to it in a pretty but meandering crime story.


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Director(s) Damián Szifron
Screenplay By Damián Szifron & Jonathan Wakeham
Based On N/A
Date Released (In Theaters ) April 21, 203
Genre(s) Crime

Drama

Mystery

Thriller

Duration 2 hrs
Content Rating R
Noted Cast
Eleanor Falco Shailene Woodley
Geoffrey Lanmark Ben Mendelsohn
Mackenzie Jovan Adepo

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Film Summary

Argentinian filmmaker Damian Szifron is known for making praised international comedy films, so it’s a genuine surprise that Szifron’s first English-language film is a grim crime mystery, and even more shocking is that “To Catch a Killer” is a quiet boilerplate crime story seeing a quiet release.  While the film is made fine – fine acting, fine directing, fine cinematography – it also seems strangely subdued, as if its thematic ambitions were cut short in the post-production process.

To Catch a Killer

Shailene Woodley stars as Eleanor Falco, a Baltimore police officer with so much potential but prefers to be a wallflower on the force. She understands people and empathizes with them, yet she will often remain quiet about her observations until New Year’s Eve happens.

Twenty-nine people are killed in Baltimore on New Year’s Eve. But not a trace of the killer can be found. No fingerprints. No camera footage. Not a trace. According to Detective Geoffrey Lanmark (played by a grounded and worn Ben Mendelsohn), most mass killers want to be found, but not this one. Falco remarks that the killer they’re looking for isn’t evil, but someone seeking some kind of relief.

So Detective Lanmark hires Falco, believing she has something special: a possible connection to the mind of the killer they’re hunting. As their investigation continues, more people’s lives are put at risk, more media outlets are looking to cover the story, more pressure is put on the investigators, and more of Falco’s mind is about to break.

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If you watch “To Catch a Killer,” you’ll feel like you’ve seen it before. A procedural procedure that’s done well but remains unmemorable. While the story briefly touches on many political issues in the U.S., including mental health, racism, media, and government/societal failure of the needy, it doesn’t firmly make a point about anything. The film resembles its protagonist, Falco: quiet with much potential but will remain in the shadows of greater crime/mystery films.

Things To Note

Why Is “To Catch a Killer” Rated R

  • Dialogue: Moderate profanity throughout
  • Violence: Mass killing scenes with gunshots and explosions, but nothing especially gory
  • Sexual Content: Mild scene of a woman in a bathtub, but no nudity. 

Question(s) Left Unanswered

  • “To Catch a Killer”’s original title was “Misanthrope.” While audiences may not have understood the title, it’s more connected to the film’s plot than the vague “To Catch a Killer.” I wonder what changed and if this is a sign that more studio changes were made during the post-production process.

Character Descriptions

Please Note: This character guide is not an exhaustive list of every cast member, and character descriptions may contain what can be considered spoilers.

Eleanor Falco

A young local cop who spends her personal time as a loner but shows an ability to observe people and empathize in ways others fail to see. While her psych evaluation showed her to be aggressive or troubled, we never fully see that side of her.

Geoffrey Lanmark

FBI Chief Investigator and hard-boiled detective Lanmark is the one who makes the large motivational speeches and takes Falco under his wing.

Mackenzie

Another FBI agent who befriends Falco and joins the case.

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Review

Our Rating: Mixed (Divisive)

Highlights

Great Lighting and Cinematography Make a Compelling Start

The ethereal aerial shots of the city allow viewers to float over Baltimore and make our introduction to Woodley’s Falco feel like a dream. The camera flips and moves, disorienting the viewer in an already chaotic moment. The beginning hints at a more mythical mystery that the plot doesn’t deliver.

Low Point

Unmerited and Rambling Third Act Ruins Tension

The “killer reveal” scene feels strangely rushed in its action and long in its unmerited speech. Yes, the killer gives a long speech critiquing the American healthcare system and law enforcement, and Woodley’s Falco joins in. We understand these characters to be quiet, wishing to be unseen, but here, they start to spill their beliefs to one another and bond in ways that feel unearned. There was no communication between them beforehand, no reason why they should trust each other, and it feels less like a dialogue between them and more like meandering political speeches. 

On The Fence

Mixed Messages Stuff an Unmemorable Plot

Characters talk more about what’s wrong with America without fully showing what’s wrong with America. The film’s thin plot grinds to a halt as characters critique broken systems like our healthcare system, the military-industrial complex, media sensationalism, and wide access to guns. While this may look compelling on the page, the film doesn’t trust the viewers to make the connections and blatantly spills the problem with each into one scene before going into the next issue.

[ninja_tables id=”46802″]

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To Catch A Killer (2023): Review with Spoilers
Overall
"To Catch a Killer" has an ambitious message that overwhelms its thin plot. While fine cinematography and acting carry the story, you might not remember much from this mystery.
Highlights
Dreamy Cinematography and Camera Movements at the Start
Disputable
Rambling Third Act
Thin Plot Made Thinner By Many Speeches on Societal Issues
70

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