Apr 5, 2015

Review: The Bone Collector (1999)

Just about anybody can see the similarities between The Bone Collector and Se7en, both of which are about cops hot on the trail of a serial killer. David Fincher's 1995 mystery/thriller film performed very well critically and at the world box office with a total gross of $327.3 million. You also of course had the 1991 Silence of the Lambs if you go back even further, so clearly there was an appetite out there for murder/mysteries during the 90's. The Bone Collector was there to capitalize on that before the turn of the century.

Angelina Jolie was a fast rising star at the time after two Golden Globe Award wins in 1997 and 1998. On the other hand, Denzel Washington was already a solid star in Hollywood with titles like Philadelphia, Courage Under Fire and Cry Freedom among others. With a promising cast and an experienced director in Philip Noyce, I thought there was a lot to be hopeful for as the credits began. The only question mark really was in regards to writer Jeremy Iacone. Was there a reason why he's pretty much never worked in Hollywood ever again?


At a Glance

Genre: crime, drama, mystery
Directed by: Phillip Noyce
Produced by: Martin Bregman, Michael Bregman, Louis A. Stroller, etc.
Written by: Jeremy Iacone
Music by: Craig Armstrong
Running time: 118 minutes
Production company: Columbia Pictures Corporation, Universal Pictures
Distributed by: Universal Pictures, Columbia TriStar Films, EDKO Film, etc.
Country: United States
Language: English
Budget: $73,000,000
Box office: $151,493,655 (Worldwide)

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Denzel Washington, Angelina Jolie, Queen Latifah, Michael Rooker, Michael McGlone, Luis Guzmán, Leland Orser, John Benjamin Hickey, Bobby Cannavale, Ed O'Neill, Richard Zeman



Following a workplace accident, NYPD forensics expert Lincoln Rhyme (Denzel Washington) is confined to a bed in near-total paralysis. Even though he has effectively retired, Rhyme leads an investigation into the kidnapping of a couple after the husband's corpse is found. The evidence that's left behind points to the possibility of the man's wife still being alive. With the help of patrol cop Amelia Donaghy (Angelina Jolie), they don't have any time to lose.


Things began interestingly enough in The Bone Collector. Rhyme and Donaghy are forced to not only try and figure out the location of their serial killer's victims before they die, but they also have to contend with NYPD bureaucracy as well as the worsening condition of Rhyme's health due to all the stress from pushing himself so hard. There's a lot going on and honestly there kind of needs to be in order to fill up those 118 minutes of run time.

While it's perhaps a bit hard to believe that Rhyme is as much of a genius as he is and that he's even capable of directing an investigation from his bed, it's at least somewhat entertaining if only because it's Denzel Washington. I was actually impressed also at how we're introduced to Donaghy as a character. Her job as a patrolwoman is her number one priority even though that conflicts with what her boyfriend (Bobby Cannavale) wants. Donaghy isn't the strongest female character in history, but she's clearly following in the footsteps of Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) from The Silence of the Lambs and that's nice to see.

The problem I do have with Amelia Donaghy though is that Angelina Jolie is totally miscast in the role. Simply put, Jolie looks way too fragile to be a patrol cop working the streets and there's just no way around it. Perhaps if some scenes had been written in that addressed her shortcomings, such as other male cops making comments or something, this wouldn't have been as much of a problem. I don't think Jolie feels that much at home in the role either because most of her acting seems a bit flat if you ask me.

What does work quite well in The Bone Collector however are the decrepit locations. Dark and at times claustrophobic, the different locales that the serial killer brings us to are pretty disquieting. The film as a whole keeps thing quite sombre when we're not at Rhyme's apartment and it works generally well from an atmosphere point of view. What I'll also say is that the murders themselves are also quite gruesome, if not quite on the same level of what can be found in Se7en. Apologies for the constant comparisons, it's just that The Bone Collector makes it too easy.

I'd say the real highlight in terms of thrills of the entire film is actually the first kidnapping scene of the married couple early on. It's good until its final moments before the music swells just a little too much and it starts seeming a bit cheesy. From this point on, Phillip Noyce seems incapable of consistently keeping the thrill level up. Scenes that are meant to be heart-pounding and edge-of-couch-y don't quite get the job done unfortunately. Worst of all, the reveal of who the villain is ends up being extremely underwhelming. 

With a weak finish, The Bone Collector flounders. The build-up to the finale is not quite as disappointing, but it's way too easy to feel those 118 minutes in their totality. Denzel Washington does his best to carry the film on his back despite his character's disability, but he can only do so much. Wasting a good mise-en-scène, The Bone Collector very much deserves its relegation to cable TV as an ineffective derivative of much better films with serial killers.



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