Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Damian Szifron’s To Catch a Killer

This mass murderer is madman rather than a terrorist. That is bad news for the FBI, because it makes the unknown suspect harder to predict. “Fortunately,” local cop Eleanor Falco has so much emotional baggage, she can kind of relate. That is a good thing, at least according to Special Agent Geoffrey Lammark, who makes her his liaison to the city police. He is not easy to work with, but the ruthless sniper gives them plenty of motivation in Damian Szifron’s To Catch a Killer, which opens Friday in New York.

At the strike of New Year’s Day, a sniper blew away several dozen partiers. Somehow, the killer eluded the police, despite Falco’s heads-up policing of the crime scene, which does not go unnoticed by Lammark.

Frankly, most of the procedural stuff in
To Catch is very run-of-the-mill. The only thing that really distinguishes the script co-written by Szifron and Jonathan Wakeham is the time devoted to internal FBI infighting. Far too often, Lammark and Falco must waste time with bogus leads and dubious strategies mandated from above. If you were not already skeptical of Federal bureaucracy before, To Catch a Killer will help finish the job.

The actual identity of the killer is kept secret until the third act, so at least the film does not feel like a warmed-over Quinn Martin rerun. When he is finally revealed, it is an interesting-looking, quite imposing thesp playing the mystery killer.

Of course, the star is Ben Mendelsohn, who preens and growls as Lammark like someone hypnotized him into believing he was Al Pacino. He chews the scenery like crazy, but it is fun to watch. However, Shailene Woodley’s brooding as Falco is a little too reserved.

Considering the rapturous critical reception for Szifron’s Oscar nominated
Wild Tales, To Catch a Killer seems like an oddly conventional film for his English language debut. Aside from Mendelsohn telling it how it is to anyone who will listen, this film just feels like so many other prior serial killer movies. With all due respect to the aforementioned Mendelsohn, the results just aren’t special enough. It is easy enough to watch, but To Catch a Killer just doesn’t amount to enough to recommended, when it opens Friday (4/21) in New York, at the Regal Union Square.