To Catch a Killer’s clumsy plot wastes a riveting performance by Mendelsohn in a way that’s almost criminal.
Directed by Damián Szifron, we review the 2023 film To Catch a Killer, which does not contain spoilers.
To Catch a Killer has an exciting premise, a gripping opening sequence, and a riveting performance from one of the most respected actors in Hollywood. However, the script squanders all these to rely on a plot device that’s hardly justifiable.
It’s practically criminal.
To Catch a Killer (2023) Review and Plot Summary
The story follows a festive New Year’s night in Baltimore. The ominous night sky fills with fluorescent fireworks and blazing bullets, barely cooling off from the winter air.
At least a couple dozen people are shot and killed by a sniper from an unknown highrise. These include partygoers with live streams and taking selfies—even ones skating on an ice rink on the famous Avenue at White Marsh.
This killer refuses to discriminate because he detests human life on general principles.
The shooter’s nest blows up immediately when they determine the location. One of the first officers on the scene is Eleanor (Shailene Woodley). She is an ambitious low-level beat cop with something to prove.
The FBI’s chief investigator, Geoffrey Lammark (Babyteeth’s Ben Mendelsohn), takes over the case. The armed agent thinks Eleanor’s tortured past and outside-the-box thinking may be the key to getting inside the killer’s head.
Formerly known as Misanthrope, which was a much better title, To Catch a Killer is the English language debut of Argentinian filmmaker Damián Szifron (Wild Tales). The filmmaker wrote the script with scribe Jonathan Wakeham (the upcoming Midas Man).
This crime thriller is atmospheric and wonderful to look at, with a gripping opening act showing a wintery Baltimore shooting spree. It’s one hell of a scene, one of the better crime thriller opening sequences in recent memory.
However, if you are a fan of crime thrillers that lean toward the psychological, this is where Szifron and Wakeham’s script begins to falter. One reason is Mendelsohn’s character taking a shine to Woodley’s Eleanor, which is pure cornball. Why? Because they refuse to go into greater detail on why her personality traits can draw out the killer.
This isn’t any different than any action or science-fiction film trope. For example, in the scene from Independence Day where Jeff Goldblum says he found a hidden satellite signal. No explanation is given other than he is an expert in the field.
This perfunctory detail in the writing here sticks out like a sore thumb. Eleanor failed her psychological evaluation and has traits of a misanthrope, like the killer. Yet, the script hardly takes the time to go beyond surface-level insight for a film that claims to be akin to a movie like The Silence of the Lambs.
Let’s ignore that the police force performs similar tests and would never allow our hero to be a police officer.
Anyone with a traumatic upbringing can now track a serial gunman because she came up with a metaphor about swatting at mosquitos. The premise is so weak it cannot carry the weight of an outstanding performance by Mendelsohn and the atmosphere Szifron establishes early on.
Is the movie To Catch a Killer (2023) good or bad?
To Catch a Killer is a thriller that clumsily drops the ball and is owlish to a point, masquerading as something smarter than it is.
This is an example of a film that needs to be remade, instead of the classic, to improve on some apparent mistakes. The film is all show but has little substance.
Is To Catch a Killer (2023) worth watching?
To Catch a Killer is not worth watching at the theatre or video on demand pricing. The film squanders a compelling and thoroughly enjoyable turn by Mendelsohn.
The ending is overwrought with ominous themes that hardly scratch the surface of the psychological insight the film promises.
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