To Catch a Killer

To Catch a Killer

2023, R, 119 min. Directed by Damián Szifron. Starring Shailene Woodley, Ben Mendelsohn, Jovan Adepo.

REVIEWED By Jenny Nulf, Fri., April 21, 2023

It’s been nearly a decade since we’ve heard form Damián Szifron, the innovative zany director of the Oscar-nominated anthology Wild Tales. An observant, energetic film about humanity’s worst instincts and traits, it’s a little surprising to see Szifron follow up Wild Tales with a by-the-numbers crime thriller that utilizes bleakness as a personality trait.

Where Wild Tales was lively and biting, To Catch a Killer is a cold and numb view of humanity. Under the explosive booms of fireworks on New Year’s Eve, 29 people are shot and killed, without pattern, leaving the investigative team in the dark, grasping at paper thin straws of evidence. Shailene Woodley plays Eleanor Falco, a police officer who despite making the mistake of running into a burning building with a gas mask is immediately scoped out by FBI investigator Geoffrey Lammark (Mendelsohn), joining him and his teammate agent Mackenzie (Adepo) to track down the man behind one of the largest mass murders in recent memory.

The tough thing about crime procedurals is that they are now a dime a dozen because of streaming. It feels like ever since True Detective's season 1 heyday nearly a decade ago, the television landscape has been inundated with rundown detectives trying to solve a serialized murder. The genre is a classic, though, tough enough to withstand fatigue, but what creates an excellent crime thriller is character depth on top of intrigue. Szifron’s film flatlines on tropes, centering around a rundown female lead whose bleak outlook on the world gets her in the head of the suspect. Woodley is a Jodie Foster stand-in, a dainty brunette who carries the weight of the world on her shoulders in a system that’s overwhelmingly patriarchal.

There are some interesting ideas floating around To Catch a Killer: It’s rare to see a crime thriller that’s so distinctly anti-gun. Every gunshot is hollow, whether it’s from the mass murderer or from an unnecessary scuffle in a drug store. There’s a lingering emptiness to the serial killer’s motivation that tonally works, if only the pieces of the plot didn’t feel so empty as well. Yet the recycled structure and beats hinder To Catch a Killer’s point of view. Szifron and his co-writer Jonathan Wakeham play it too safe, creating an aggressively stale procedural that doesn’t pack the gut punch it wants to deliver.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Shailene Woodley Films
Dumb Money
The GameStop short squeeze is a meme-splattered discount The Big Short

Alejandra Martinez, Sept. 22, 2023

Awful people create likable doppelgängers in this dating tech-comedy

May 19, 2023

More by Jenny Nulf
It Lives Inside
Familiar horror tropes make scary use of Hindu mythology

Sept. 22, 2023

The Nun II
The Conjuring Universe expands with this supernatural horror sequel

Sept. 15, 2023


To Catch a Killer, Damián Szifron, Shailene Woodley, Ben Mendelsohn, Jovan Adepo

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle