"The Bone Collector"

There's not much depth in this serial-killer thriller, but it gets the creepy atmospherics and forensic details just right.


Andrew O'Hehir
July 25, 2000 11:00PM (UTC)

"The Bone Collector"
Directed by Phillip Noyce
Starring Denzel Washington, Angelina Jolie, Queen Latifah, Michael Rooker and Ed O'Neill
Universal; widescreen (2.35:1 aspect ratio)
Extras: Director commentary, making-of documentary

As serial-killer thrillers go, "The Bone Collector" is nowhere near the class of "Se7en" or "Silence of the Lambs," in both of whose footsteps it dutifully treads. Still, for true genre fans competence is nothing to sneeze at, and Aussie director Phillip Noyce ("Patriot Games," "Clear and Present Danger") combines the creepy atmospherics and the puzzling forensic details -- old iron bolts, piles of crushed oyster shell, bits of 19th century paper -- with almost mathematical precision.

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Lest we forget, this movie also answers the question of what it takes for Hollywood to permit a screen romance between a black man and a white woman: a black man who is almost totally paralyzed. As the quadriplegic forensics expert planning to off himself -- about as far away from his subsequent "Hurricane" role as you can get -- Denzel Washington proves how physical an actor he can be while lying motionless in bed. When fate brings him not just an especially intriguing serial-murder spree but a gorgeous rookie cop played by Angelina Jolie, life begins to look worth living again.

The chemistry between these two blossoms, slowly and haltingly, into something real and mysterious enough to illuminate the mediocre vehicle around them with the faint light of magic. Washington is a master of the moment who exquisitely controls the timing of both word and gesture. This was one of Jolie's first Hollywood roles (along with "Pushing Tin") and while her efforts at a Noo Yawk accent are laughable, her sinuous feline demeanor and the sudden delight of her smile, something like the opening of a flower in stop-motion photography, are unforgettable.

The enjoyable ensemble includes Queen Latifah, Michael Rooker (the one-time star of "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer" adds a tone of menace to his role as a corrupt cop), Ed O'Neill of "Married ... With Children" and veteran TV character actor Luis Guzman. The making-of documentary is strictly a throwaway puff piece, but Noyce proves a likable and loquacious guide on his commentary track. He's a technician rather than a deep thinker, but his enthusiasm for discussing the tricks of the trade is contagious. Those interested in special effects and the other logistics of filmmaking will find him an invaluable instructor.

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Andrew O'Hehir

Andrew O'Hehir is executive editor of Salon.

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