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.