Movie Review for Untraceable (2008)

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Review #604 of 365
Movie Review of Untraceable (2008) [R] 100 minutes
WIP™ Scale: $9.75
Where Viewed: United Artists Denver Pavilions Stadium 15, Denver, CO
When Seen: 24 January 2008
Time: 11:59 am
DVD Release Date: 13 May 2008 (click date to purchase or pre-order)
Film's Official WebsiteFilm's Trailer

Soundtrack: order the CD below

Directed by: Gregory Hoblit (Fracture)
Screenplay by: Robert Fyvolent (debut) • Mark Brinker (debut) • Allison Burnett (Feast of Love) Story by Robert Fyvolent and Mark Brinker

Featured Cast (Where You Might Remember Him/Her From):
Diane Lane (Hollywoodland) • Billy Burke (Feast of Love) • Colin Hanks (Tenacious D: The Pick of Destiny) • Joseph Cross (Running with Scissors) • Mary Beth Hurt (Lady in the Water) • Peter Lewis (Down in the Valley) • Tyrone Giordano (The Family Stone) • Perla Haney-Jardine (Spider-Man 3)

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Click to see photos from the Premiere of Untraceable
Click to read the spoiler points for Untraceable
Director Gregory Hoblit, the guy behind last year's semi-botched Hopkins-Gosling murder mystery, Fracture, attempts again a film, Untraceable, in the genre of murder, only this time the subject is a special FBI Cyber Crime taskforce as it works to thwart criminal masterminds who do their nasty business via the Internet. Baggage-laden widow Agent Jennifer Marsh (Diane Lane) and her trusty sidekick and close friend Agent Griffin Dowd (Colin Hanks) are at the top of their game. The film opens with them snaring a cyber criminal who uses a series of techniques to swipe people's entire directory of passwords and then steal all their money. Don't worry if you're not sure how he does this, Agent Marsh explains not only how but her step-by-step method of how she catches him doing it to Agent Dowd in one of the film's more inexplicable scenes as he, being a similarly gifted F.B.I. agent, would not need to have her explanation. They work nights, so she gets home from work just in time to share some curt comments with her live-in mother Stella (Mary Beth Hurt) and walk her not-too-bright, 8-year old daughter Annie (Perla Haney-Jardine) to the school bus stop a few blocks from home. She looks painfully weary throughout the entire film so it's difficult to tell when she's really stressed—might be now, might not. The next evening, though, a new cyber criminal will emerge in her life that will push her to her darkest hour. It begins with a website that streams the death of a kitten as inflicted by increasing numbers of viewers—the more that log in to view, the more expeditious the dispatch. Marsh finds the site despicable and inhumane, of course, but she also find that due to a complex series of routes and automatically changing IP addresses from a cluster of mirror servers all located in Russia, she cannot block the site from the Internet. Her needlessly spindly yet over-bearing boss, Richard Brooks (Peter Lewis), argues while revealing his 'inner softy' that she probably has more import things to be worried about than the death of a kitten. Distressed, she acquiesces until the next day when the site goes live again, this time with a human being instead of a feline. To this, Brooks takes some notice, but there's nothing the F.B.I. can do except watch in horror as the millions of people log in to view and inadvertently serve as accomplices to the murder. The Portland Police Department, investigating the disappearance of a man who decided to purchase Winter Hawk tickets a strange man in a van rather than go home to his doting wife who just so happened to be the Internet Killer's first human victim, turns up at the F.B.I. hoping to exchange info and get to the bottom of this. Detective Eric Box (Billy Burke) is introduced to Marsh whom Brooks tags as the lead agent. Their chemistry is dicey at first but grows more warm and fuzzy over time, especially after he remembers that he and her husband were in the police academy together. Right away, though, the discovery that the victim is a local resident causes alarm in the bureau because they never expected that the cyber criminal mastermind would just so happen to be in their own town—a fact that will play prominently throughout and eventually help in solving the crime.

While some taglines have described Untraceable as the "Silence of the Lambs for the Internet Age", the film shares nearly nothing in common with the Academy Award®-winning Best Picture of 1991. In other words, comparisons between the two are thin at best. First, while sharp, Jennifer Marsh is no Clarice Starling, and likewise, Diane Lane is no Jodie Foster. That's not sot say Diane Lane isn't quality in this role, rather they are totally different and the character of Marsh lacks the depth and the better sidekick in that of serial killer, the now household name of Dr. Hannibal Lecter. In fact, there's no equivalent to Lecter at all, and none of the psychological elements of Starling's relationship with Lecter as she works to pursue the evil serial killer Buffalo Bill, in Untraceable. Which, is only the beginnings of its short comings. For as horrific as the concept and intriguing—it's the kind of thing you're all too glad was thought up for a screenplay rather than a real event—as it may be, for some reason the screenwriters have actually made the killer a relatively sympathetic, albeit nonetheless poco-loco, character. Also, despite his or her (no spoilers except in the spoiler) totally dastardly deeds it is the prurient interest of all those who log on that actually puts the nail in the coffin thereby, at least in the killer's mind, absolving him or her of any real guilt—clever, huh? The disturbing part comes in the form of asking oneself, "Do you think people would actually log in to watch and therefore speed the execution of another person?" Probably nobody wants an honest answer to that question. Also on the disturbing aspect was the grisly decision to portray the murders in all their gruesome details. Parents and guardians of children be forewarned there is absolutely no way and no logical reason this film wasn't rated NC-17. No children under 17 need to see this film for any reason. There's literally nothing they could get out of it.

…a decent thriller where the twist comes from wrestling with oneself with regard to the morality plays in question.
There's not a lot, in general, that anyone could get out of this film. The performances are in the B- to B category, the story is in the C+ to B- range. As for the unraveling of the mystery behind the murderer, it's intriguing only again in its ability to point the finger at people's prurient curiosity toward morbid things on the Internet. Diane Lane does provide for a very strong leading performance, though the writers seem somehow not that capable really of dealing with a strong female character. There's one part that cannot be thoroughly discussed outside of a spoiler, which just doesn't ring true in how she deals with a loss. The cinematography and rainy Portland, Oregon add to a sense of drab tension, not the foreboding drama and fear of imminent death conjured by Silence. Likewise, the doey-eyed performance of the killer makes him or her come out more like a tortured lamb rather than a homicidal maniac. The net sum is a decent thriller where the twist comes from wrestling with oneself with regard to the morality plays in question.

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Other Projects Featuring Untraceable (2008)
Cast Members
Diane Lane Billy Burke Colin Hanks
Joseph Cross Mary Beth Hurt Peter Lewis
Tyrone Giordano Perla Haney-Jardine
Gregory Hoblit
Robert FyvolentMark BrinkerAllison Burnett

Review-lite Untraceable (2008) [max of 150 words]
Not to be favorably compared with Academy Award®-winning Silence of the Lambs, Gregory Hoblit's Untraceable does share a few things in common: a strong female lead in Diane Lane's Agent Jennifer Marsh and a foreboding tension—far greater in Lambs than this January release. Marsh heads a team of agents to stop the Internet Killer who's kidnapping locals and streaming their murders online—more viewers means more expeditious demise for the victims. As the investigation is thwarted by the killer's computer savvy and secret IP-swapping servers in Russia, her team and a local dectective, Eric Box (Billy Burke) must rely on clues left behind to solve the crime. Were in not for the prurient interests of people to seek out morbid web sites in the first place, the film would have little post-viewing discussion merit. As it is, Lane keeps the ship afloat just long enough for us to care.

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