Denzel Washington isn’t remembered for the fog of thrillers he was billed in during the mid to late nineties, however they opened my eyes to a second horizon of his pageantry that debunks his propensity to play the octaves. The diamonds in the rough about which I am talking cringe in the shadows of his dramatic leviathans like “Philadelphia” and “Crimson Tide,” and yet works like “Fallen” and “The Bone Collector” and “John Q” have more of a place in my heart than his “masterpieces.” Playing the altruist card once again, Washington’s obstinate style and unbending pedantry is undermined by the naïveté of his opposite, a young Angelina Jolie who is like a daughter-figure to him.
We are introduced to an imposing Detective Lincoln Rhyme (Washington) of the New York Police Department as he slithers on his stomach into a hollow under the street where the rotting carcass of a murder victim has been enshrouded. Barely able to scratch his nose in the quintessence of claustrophobia, Rhyme cranes his neck and squints through a grid above his head as a substantial scrap of God-knows-what plummets toward him. Coming within inches of his entombed anatomy, the shadow of the falling horror transitions to a bleak frame of Rhyme’s faint-hearted face. Waking up in a cold sweat, Rhyme yowls for his warmhearted nurse, Thelma (Latifah). We interpret this nightmare as a memory rather than a random firing of neurons, as a calamitous chapter from Rhyme’s history book that rendered him bedridden. The gritty and proficient legend reduced to a nearly vegetative state, separated from brain death by one flimsy seizure. Which is why he has made up his mind to make the “final transition” with the help of a euthanasia specialist, to assert even the most primal of controls over his lawlessly fractured life.
Meanwhile, in the quite literal underbelly of New York, beneath an overhang of the city, a hand blossoms from the gravelly earth and extends, as if premeditatedly, toward an assortment of trimmings carefully balanced and arranged on the actual rail of a set of railroad tracks. Called out to the scene, Officer Amelia Donaghy (Jolie), with a natural instinct for fieldwork, snaps several photographs of the scene of the crime with a drugstore camera, positioning a dollar bill next to a foot print so as to provide a frame of reference, and stopping a train dead in its tracks, no pun intended.
Detective Paulie Sellitto (Ed O'Neill) fosters the case and finds himself consulting the hallowed Lincoln Rhyme. Sliding the photographs into the viewfinder, Rhyme perceives and recognizes Officer Donaghy’s potential, what she can be capable of with some fine-tuning. Officer Donaghy, on the other hand, wants nothing to do with fieldwork. She has been waiting in limbo for a desk job for over a year, and she doesn’t want to turn heads with her so-called “natural instinct,” her effrontery in preserving the crime scene from the elements. In helping to decipher the array of clues, a tech team is called in, and Rhyme’s bedroom becomes a forensic powerhouse. The thickly accented Eddie Ortiz (Guzmán) spearheading the crime scene analysis, Rhyme notices that the skin on the hand found under the overhang has been sliced off of the bone, a telltale clue in serial killings. Weighted down by a nail found at the scene is a series of page numbers ripped from a book that Rhyme believes is the deadline for the next cold-blooded killing. Everything is right in front of them, and if they can’t decipher the labyrinth of clues in time, the blood is on their hands.
While all this unfolds, we glimpse a politician and his wife sleeping in the backseat of a taxi, a city ravaged by urban decay in the periphery of the shot. Without seeing the driver, we get a bad vibe. A monkey hanging from a noose dangles from the rearview mirror. When they are jostled awake, they realize the driver isn’t taking them where they want to go, and in a panic, they begin banging on the glass that separates the predator from the prey, frantically trying to open their doors but to no avail. It’s the politician’s hand that has taken root by the railroad tracks, and it is his wife that is being handcuffed to a pipe in the clockwork of some treacherous-looking factory. We know that it’s not because when the camera pans upward, we see a manhole above their heads. The masked kidnapper aims a steam pipe with a several foot diameter at the woman’s limp body as she screams in fright, and then casually and confidently strides away. With only minutes to go, the crack team believes they have unraveled the whereabouts of the hostage, but will they beat the mousetrap the serial killer has laid for the victim? And if so, the killer is still one the loose. Will they have it in them to process another cryptic crime scene?
With several twists and turns, and a finale that has you covering your mouth and gasping into the palm of your hand, this crime thriller adapted from Jeffery Deaver’s suspense novel of the same name is filled to the brim with crafty foreshadowing and haunting imagery that builds tension at every turn. As a tributary of the central plot, the movie can double as a drama as the stiff-necked characters of Lincoln Rhyme and Amelia Donaghy find it in their hearts to meet each other halfway. I believe that this movie never ascends to the heights of “must-see killer thriller of the year” because of its crippling reliance on genre clichés, although it is one of the better crime thrillers that I’ve ever seen.
With chemistry between two powerful actors, it’s impossible to go wrong. Washington and Jolie are caricatures that play well off of each other, like yin and yang. The strongest performance ironically came from the bedridden carcass of Washington’s Lincoln Rhyme, who makes use of one finger and his psyche, exhaling a commanding presence through his expressiveness and articulation. Jolie turns over a new leaf as she strays from her sensual vibe and takes on a more tomboyish role.
As far as the screenwriting goes, it was a little overwrought. I wasn’t disappointed though. The identity of the killer completely eluded me for the entire film, which took excellent writing and execution as the killer makes himself known within the first act and all throughout. The plot devices in the finale are a little clumsy, but loose ends are neatly tied up, and the path to get there was both cerebral and adrenal. This is an excellent movie with beautiful photography that showcases the right way to make a crime thriller, and the score will reverberate in your head as it accentuates the memories of terrifying visuals and heart pounding gore. Director Phillip Noyce has quite a repertoire, but “The Bone Collector” is easily his best work. This isn’t just something to do on a rainy day. It’s a harmonious cat-and-mouse game that sucks your eyeballs out of your head with its glowing appeal.