Damián Szifron’s To Catch A Killer suffers from a weak screenplay but thankfully manages to elevate itself above other crime thrillers thanks to its direction and performances.
Committing an act such as murder takes the living soul of a person and twists it into a dark image. To kill multiple people turns your very being into the literal personification of evil. We’re told from an early age that good and evil are black and white when in fact, they’re quite the contrary. These contrasting things may exist together but when placed in the wider context of human nature, it’s never quite so simple. Damián Szifron’s To Catch A Killer is a haunting crime thriller about the inner mechanisms of criminal profiling and the fight of good vs evil when faced with a horrific act.
To Catch a Killer occurs in Baltimore when a vicious killer ruthlessly kills multiple people during New Year’s Eve celebrations. In the aftermath of this incident, Eleanor Falco (Shailene Woodley), a troubled police investigator, is recruited by Geoffrey Lammark (Ben Mendelsohn) to help profile the killer as the police unleash a nationwide manhunt. In the fight for justice, Eleanor has to fight political and mental struggles as she gains closer and closer to understanding the mind of this skilled assailant.
From the outset, To Catch a Killer is an instant attention grabber thanks to its stunning camerawork and direction from Damián Szifron. The inciting incident of the entire film is portrayed as if we’re a fly on the wall as various people are ruthlessly killed. It’s a quick and controlled kill that the film expertly shows purely through the static shot composition. On the surface, To Catch A Killer looks like another generic cop drama. Although it has some major stumbles, Szifron’s direction adds an experienced and thoughtful touch that elevates it above other crime thrillers released in recent years.
A key part of To Catch A Killer‘s narrative is how we create the profile of a criminal. As the world faces more stories of mass shooters with each passing day, a figure is crafted in these stories that mix into our perceptions. Whether it’s a person’s mental state, video games, or their way of life, these all become key factors in how we view the people who commit these horrific crimes. Our perspective on those who struggle is often lacking empathy and we see this through the eyes of Eleanor.
From the moment they enter the screen, Shailene Woodley and Ben Mendelsohn have strong chemistry as two motivated people searching for justice. Both have their demons and see right through the political red tape that follows them around this high-profile case. However, their cynical and opinionated views of the wider policing mechanisms help them cut through and find the bravery required to push themselves to the truth.
To Catch A Killer has a lot of potential to thoughtfully explore our own misguided examinations of criminal profiling. However, where the film suffers most is from its lackluster script that lacks subtlety. Throughout the film, we hear multiple audio clips from radio shows and television that delve into the political arguments that come from mass shootings. The issue here, however, is that the film, beyond having some characters act as literal personifications of a particular viewpoint, fails to truly view its wider political angle in an effective way. By taking a black-and-white view of its subject matter trapped in the gray area, it leads to a script that feels muddled. As the film finds an overall point to make to the viewer, it struggles by the end to articulate itself in a way that doesn’t involve long drawn-out monologues that spell things out far too clearly.
To Catch A Killer is a frustrating film with a lot of highs and a lot of lows. The direction, visuals, and performances are still strong but it’s unfortunately wrapped around an extremely uneven script that struggles to articulate what it has to say. It’s a film surrounded by themes and conversations but aimlessly engages with them in unthoughtful ways. To Catch A Killer is no doubt more engaging than many of the other police thrillers released alongside it but it’s, unfortunately, a few too many steps away to be considered truly great.
To Catch A Killer will open in US theaters on April 21, 2023.