(1999) Thriller (Universal) Denzel Washington, Angelina Jolie, Queen Latifah, Michael Rooker, Mike McGlone, Luis Guzman, Leland Orser, John Benjamin Hickey, Bobby Cannavale, Ed O’Neill, Richard Zeman, Olivia Burkelund, Gary Swanson. Directed by Phillip Noyce
I like thrillers. I like mysteries. I really like Denzel Washington. So, as far as The Bone Collector goes, what’s not to like?
It’s a tad on the predictable side, for one. Washington plays Lincoln Rhyme, the New York Police Department’s top forensic investigator. He’s written textbooks that are the standard at the academy, as well as best-sellers for the general public. He’s decorated, respected and on top of the world – and he loses it all in a moment when his spine is crushed by a falling beam at a crime scene. Now, four years later, he is reduced to a man counting the days to his own demise, able to use only his shoulder and one finger, paralyzed from the neck down. To further complicate matters, he is susceptible to seizures, any one of which could render him a vegetable.
Naturally, a psychotic serial killer comes into the picture. Patrolman Amelia Donaghy (Jolie, who seems to be appearing in every third movie made since 2005) discovers the first grisly murder, and her quick thinking saves the crime scene from contamination. This gets the attention of her superiors, as well as Rhyme, who is, in a way, looking for a successor, someone to take his place when he dies. Pretty soon, half the forensics lab has moved into Rhyme brownstone, including the reluctant Donaghy who has some pretty serious issues.
There’s the usual supporting cast for this sort of movie: The ex-partner who’d walk through Hell for his buddy, the incompetent bureaucrat who sees the murder as an opportunity to advance his own career, the nurse with a maternal aspect a mile wide and teeth and claws to match, a Latino technician who’s irreverent as well as being the best there is. Did I miss anyone? Oh yeah, the killer – but you won’t. I had him pegged way early on. If you need help, just pick the one guy who has no reason for being in the movie except for being the killer.
Is there a smarter actor in Hollywood than Denzel Washington? Even in the really bad movies he’s done (and he’s done plenty – just rent Virtuosity if you don’t believe me), he always elevates the material. I’d see him in an ABC Family Channel movie – and you know how those kinds of movies fail to float my boat. He does a terrific job here which considering he’s confined to a bed the entire movie is impressive. His Lincoln Rhymes is intelligent, articulate and passionate – qualities that are virtually trademarked by Denzel. Even now, more than a decade after this was made I will go out of my way to see a movie just because he’s appearing in it.
For both Jolie and Latifah (the maternal nurse for those who are wondering) this marked an early milestone to their careers and it is interesting to catch them when they were both on the rise before they became bankable stars – in Latifah’s case, she was essentially still moonlighting as an actress while maintaining her career as one of the pioneers of rap.
This was based on the first novel in the Lincoln Rhyme series by Jeffery Deaver, probably with the intention of turning it into a film franchise, a plan which sadly never materialized owing, no doubt, to the fact that the main character is bed-ridden. American audiences like their heroes to be more action-oriented rather than thinkers. Shoot first and ask questions…oh, just shoot first. That’s pretty much the American attitude. However, the fact that it didn’t really set the box office on fire may have had a lot to do with it as well.
There are some very tense moments in The Bone Collector, and some great camera work. New York City is an unsung star here, providing some wonderful locations. There is enough viscera to annoy the squeamish, enough plot twists to keep the movie flowing along. On the downside it’s cliché and predictable enough to be occasionally annoying. I suspect the filmmakers spent a bit too much time watching Se7en, a movie that has proven annoyingly influential in the thriller business lately so keep that in mind when you add this to your Netflix list. A mild thumbs up for this one.
WHY RENT THIS: Denzel Washington is one of the most watchable stars in Hollywood. It’s a hoot to watch Latifah and Jolie before they were huge stars.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The movie is rife with thriller clichés, and the identity of the killer is sadly simple to suss out.
FAMILY MATTERS: There are some grisly images that are definitely not for the squeamish, and some occasionally foul language.
TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Jolie shot a nude scene for the movie that was later cut from the final print because the director thought it too distracting.
NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $151.5M on a $73M production budget; the movie broke even.
FINAL RATING: 6/10
TOMORROW: Our Idiot Brother