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Untraceable (2008)

Untraceable. Feature film. (2008, 101 mins) IMDB

...How do you stop a serial killer when you can't trace him?...

D

iane Lane plays an FBI agent working as a cyber-crime specialist in the Portland field office. At the start of the film, she's settled into her cubicle with an array of computer technology in front of her and she tracks down everyday hackers. She's a whiz and makes it look easy. We get to met her team of cyber-sleuths which includes Tom Hanks' son.

I was fascinated by the technology and suspect what happens in the movie world happens must faster than in real life and may not be within the capabilities of law enforcement. Call it the Hollywood licence to add sex appeal.

With the initial introductions done, the inciting incident arrives in the form of a new web site streaming video of a cat being tortured and killed. When she tries to shut down the offender's site, tries to trace the offender, she can't do it. Her superior isn't too concerned about a cat dying and not much is done. That changes when, instead of a cat, the next live video is a man captured, tortured and killed. We're into Act II.

Act II is about the inability of the FBI and Portland police to find this murderer. He brazenly flaunts his web site for all to see and people watch. Millions watch. To add a wicked twist, as the viewer count increases, the speed of death increases. This creates a dilemma for the police. They want the publics help in finding the killer, but in making their plea, they are promoting the site. Ouch.

One victim after another is tortured and killed for the world to see. Each method different from the previous one. The death of the men is show in great detail, yet, the most disturbing images for me was the cat even though we don't see the details. Call it theatre of the mind. I did not like the fact they would kill a cat in a movie, but they did.

The last person to die is one of the FBI agents. He is placed in a tank filled with water. As more people watch, more acid drips into the tank and drop by drop the man is dissolved. Before he dies, he blinks out Morse code to give our hero a clue about who the killer is. The clue leads to a revelation about why he was killing these people--they were all connected to his father's suicide.

His father walked out to a bridge with a handgun. A TV helicopter captures the images and broadcasts them where it's eventually made available to everyone who wants to watch online.

In Act III, the police know who they are looking for and go after him. There is the dead-end searches of his house etc and to add a final twist, the killer captures Lane and ties her up for the next killing. It looks like she's done for because, again as the Task Force watches the live feed, they don't know where it's coming from. They don't know where she is or he is, that is, until her colleague from the Portland police recognizes the basement as Lane's own basement. They rush to her house. Call that a convenience, but it doesn't matter. Lane is able to get free of her bonds, grab her pistol and shot the killer. And a quick fade out. No denouement when there should have been.

The getting free part is an even bigger convenience because all the previous victims were securely bound and couldn't get free.

I want to say I enjoyed this movie, but that's not the right word because there are some disturbing images--images I don't like to think about or see. The right word might be entertained, interested, intrigued, satisfied with the ending. For the most part.

While there are many similarities to SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, and this film brings a new spin on a serial killer, UNTRACEABLE shouldn't be put on the same shelf.

In the features, some of the producers and screenwriters give some interesting insight into the development of the screenplay. Here's the gist of it. Two non-writers get an idea for this screenplay and write a spec script. Somewhere along the way it's sold and a professional writer is brought in to rework it and makes some significant improvements. One being the killer's motivation and backstory. Someone also added the notion of the web site being untraceable and hence the title.

Posted 2009/02/24 at 19h27ET in Movie Commentary.

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