Sun, 13 Feb 2000

Chilling spectacles abound in 'The Bone Collector'

By Tam Notosusanto

JAKARTA (JP): The opening 15 minutes of The Bone Collector may send some chills to a lot of Jakarta moviegoers. In a city recently disturbed by the news of the cabdriver who raped and robbed a female passenger, a scene depicting a helpless couple being driven away by a faceless, unscrupulous cabbie may just put the audience at a little discomfort.

But comfort is just what this movie is not offering. From beginning to end, we are prey to the movie's diabolical killer, who presents us with a variety of abominable ways to slay and mutilate his victims. It's just not enough for him to dispatch them in a conventional manner: he comes up, for example, with a way to make use of the city's sewer system, and on another occasion, he devises a scheme which involves a hundred rats. On- screen murderers just get more and more innovative these days.

The Bone Collector is definitely a movie that comes out in the search for the next Seven or The Silence of the Lambs. Before we even get to the movie's climactic scene, which clearly follows The Silence of the Lambs' example of allowing the lead star to chomp off another man's face, we have already entered the atmosphere of those two previous films: the drab, nightmarish world of mutilated corpses, perplexing clues and the menace of an ingenious, unseen murderer.

At least Jeffery Deaver, the novelist whose work became the basis of this movie, has invented a different kind of a hero. Instead of the usual feisty, energetic type, we get an immobile one: Lincoln Rhyme (Denzel Washington), a forensics expert with years of field experience and several citations and books on police work under his belt. He would most certainly jump at a chance to solve such an intriguing murder case, except that he's been paralyzed for four years, following a work-related injury that leaves him a quadriplegic, save for a right index finger he uses to operate his state-of-the-art support equipment.

Frustrated by his condition, Rhyme is making arrangements for his "final exit" when his detective buddies bring in pictures of a crime scene that catch his attention. He is intrigued by the "message" he sees in objects purposefully placed by the killer, and the fact that a person untrained in forensics has the eye to capture those objects and record them in the photos.

Soon enough, that person is brought before him: Amelia Donaghy (Angelina Jolie), a street patrol officer, who happens to be the first cop to arrive at the crime scene. Recognizing talent when he sees it, Rhyme asks Donaghy to assist him in the attempt to catch the killer. When she expresses her reluctance, he tells her, "What's the matter, are you afraid to do some real police work?"

Donaghy eventually joins Rhyme's crew, which includes forensics examiner Eddie Ortiz (Luis Guzman) and detectives Paulie Sellitto (Ed O'Neill) and Kenny Solomon (Mike McGlone). They set up a work place at Rhyme's apartment, with Rhyme coordinating everybody from his bed, while the antagonistic police chief, Howard Cheney (Michael Rooker), scrutinizes their every move with disdain.

Donaghy plunges into new territory as Rhyme instructs her to go to every scene of the crime and be his eyes, ears and legs. She is to collect evidence and report to him what she sees and discovers. "I'm here for you," Rhyme's voice comes out of the earphone Donaghy wears, "I'll be with you every step of the way."

The Bone Collector is essentially a gripping, satisfying detective story with the conventional plot about the cat-and- mouse game between dedicated investigators and a playful, sadistic criminal. A few novelties are added for product differentiation, among them a hero that is not only black but also disabled, a violation of Hollywood standards in this genre. A gutsy female is also thrown in as a sidekick, in order to reach the widest possible audience demographics.

But the movie's outlook is solidly shaped by cinematographer Dean Semler, an Oscar winner for Dances with Wolves, who returns from directing junk like Firestorm and The Patriot. Semler brings in the mood and the dark ambience of the decaying underground world that is the killer's playground. This is consistently contrasted with the well-lit convenience of Rhyme's apartment.

And screenwriter Jeremy Iacone (One Tough Cop) fleshes out the characters considerably, efficiently presenting their traumas and insecurities to make them more interesting, well-rounded individuals. But they wouldn't be as interesting if they had not been delivered by two stellar performers, who just received additions to their Golden Globe collections, and may win Academy Awards in a couple of months.

Washington is commendable in projecting a mixture of anger, obsession and brilliance through his role's incapacity. He is not too convincing, and lacks the gravity to become a suicidal man having his last chance at self-worthiness, but his commanding presence rules. Meanwhile, co-star Jolie is perfectly suited as the tough, intelligent young lady who can pierce anybody with a silent stare.

Australian director Phillip Noyce is probably more well-known as the cinematic interpreter of Tom Clancy novels (Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger) but it is in fact his suspense thriller Dead Calm that skyrocketed his career, and that's the terrain he is revisiting with this new movie. The Bone Collector might have been a mere detective thriller, but with his assured directing style and visual prowess, it becomes an experience that sends shivers down the spine.