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The Bone Collector: An Underated Whodunit

The Bone Collector poster

I always enjoy a Denzel Washington movie. This is an undeniable fact. Whether he’s stumbling through the wastelands or leading his mixed-race team to victory he’s got it going on. It’s hard to say what his biggest movie is because he has stretched across a wide gambit over the years. He can always keep his head when the situation gets tough and he’s often cold and calculating. My favorite Denzel performance is probably Man on Fire or John Q. He seems to be at his best when he is faced with impossible situations. But, my favorite Denzel movie is The Bone Collector, released in 1999. Denzel, may I call him Denzel?, makes for a very dynamic and expressive quadriplegic. As you can imagine in a movie about a bedridden cop, the movie is all about mind games and I’m a sucker for some good old Sherlock Holmes. In fact, The Bone Collector combines a slew of things I love. Detective puzzles with elaborate clues, New York City, historical references and old books, I already mentioned Denzel, and Angelina Jolie. This is one of two movies featuring Angelina before I really knew who she was. The second I believe I mentioned last week.

Angelina Jolie is something of an oddity in my movie watching career. I had seen her in The Bone Collector and Gone in 60 seconds and I truly enjoyed her work, but she failed to make an impression on me. It wasn’t until Lara Croft that I finally stood up and took notice. Suddenly she became the hottest actress in Hollywood and yet she’s never in any really huge, memorable movies. In fact after I finally recognized who she was, after I had epiphanies when re-watching the aforementioned movies, I didn’t see her in another movie for four years when Mr. and Mrs. Smith came out. By then she felt old to me. Middle aged even. Then the whole Brangelina thing happened and I lost all interest. Hollywood is such a bizarre town.

Another surprise in The Bone Collector is Queen Latifah. A full three years before the musical Chicago and at least two years before I knew her as a Hip-Hop artist here she was in The Bone Collector as Denzel’s live in nurse. But that’s what is truly great about this film. The focus is on the story, not the actors. There are a number of excellent actors including Luis Guzman who should really be in more things. I like him too much to limit him to The Bone Collector and the bad version of Waiting. Ugh. Ryan Reynolds. But none of the characters really steals the show, and I don’t mean that in the Alexander Gemignani’s magnificent voice during an otherwise dismal performance of Le Miserables, but rather in the Marty McFly guitar solo in front of a bunch of squares from the 50s kind of way.

Walking the grid

Don't pretend to be looking over her shoulder Al. We know where your eyes are.

Denzel plays a forensics detective with a genius for cracking the case. Unfortunately he’s paralyzed due to an on the job accident so he gets pretty bored laying in bed. Then along comes the Bone Collector. Angelina Jolie is a beat cop who respond to one of the collector’s staged scenes and takes the initiative to collect evidence before the forensics team arrives. When Denzel is pulled onto the case by his former partner Al Bundy, I mean Ed O’Neil, he likes the cut of Angelina’s jib and so she unwillingly becomes his eyes and ears. The tangled web of clues is increasingly fascinating and clever as Denzel and Angelina Jolie establish a rapport. The killer’s work is sufficiently gruesome and I remember some of the crime scenes turning my stomach the first time I saw them, but compared to a Tarantino film, or even a recent CSI episode, it’s quite tame. I should mention that this movie predates CSI, though only just.

What I think I like most about this film is the fact that I did not find out who the killer was before the actors.  I consider myself a clever investigator and more often than not in these types of films I can discern whodunit before my fellow movie goers. Though admittedly this is more and more often the case because of my familiarity with story telling. I’m able to discern what the best possible outcome for the story is and can therefore discover the end of the story before it is meant to be presented. This is a particular nuisance because I love to be surprised above all else. So you can see why I was so impressed with author Jeffery Deaver and screenplay writer Jeremy Iacone’s ability to avoid clichés and director Phillip Noyce’s ability to seamlessly guide viewers through the clues without revealing anything before the actors themselves discover it. So often filmmakers choose to let the audience in on the secret so they can watch the characters stumble blindly down the wrong path in peace and comfort. I’m convinced that this is a plot device used by writers not clever enough to ensure the audience is sufficiently baffled. Now, there are some movies that try to make you believe that the initial exposure of the true killer cannot be the true course of events through science fiction or simple miss direction in the character development, but it’s no better than the reveal for the reveal’s sake.

The movie’s one flaw, and it is a big one, is the final song that plays when the credits begin to roll. You remember all those awful sappy songs that a bunch of dollar sign chasing new age wannabes were making in the late 80s? These ended up being fodder for a lot of credit rolls at the time. Think Sting’s Kiss From a Rose at the end of Batman. Well, silly me I thought this nasty little trend had died out 10 years later. Nope. Here’s Kate Bush and Peter Gabriel singing something called Don’t Give Up. If ever there was a way to rip the tone of a movie from your ears, stomp all over it, then douse it in gasoline and light it on fire while a hundred gnarled old school teachers drag their fingernails down the world’s longest chalkboards, that was it. I can’t reach for the remote fast enough when that crap comes on. I always forget about it too. I’m sitting there going, ahh, that’s such a great one and bam! As I fumble for the remote I somehow manage to punt it across the room out of reach and I quickly have to decide between ripping the wires out of my stereo or shoving pencils through my ear drums. So far I’ve managed to salvage my hearing, but my wife is getting tired of buying a new stereo once a year.

All horror aside, I’m willing to bet that only a handful of people guessed the killer’s identity before the climactic scene, and I’m sure it was only through sheer luck. If you haven’t seen the film and want a crack at proving me wrong I’d be happy to have you over some night so we can watch it together. You bring the beer, I’ll make the popcorn on the stove. But you’ll have to sit on the couch. The recliner is all mine and we’re certainly not sharing it. Gross. Internet germs. Tell you what. We’ll just watch it through Skype or something. You just stay there.

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2 Responses

  1. still one of the best thrillers of all time. Denzel and Angelina always give commendable performances and films that are really not just entertaining to watch but thought provoking as well.

    By the way, I believe it was Seal who sang the song Kiss from a Rose in Batman Forever! Cheers 🙂

    • Ah, you’re right it was Seal. Sting’s off the hook for that one. I agree Denzel and Angelina always make me enjoy a movie and put them together and you’re almost guaranteed to have a fantastic flick.

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