To Catch a Killer Review- A Solid Investigative Thriller with Good Performances from Woodley & Mendelsohn

I’ve been watching movies for a long time. Almost 44 years. In that time I’ve seen a lot of films about murders or murder mysteries if you will. Sometimes these murder mysteries have a twist to them. That is the case with To Catch a Killer. A murderer kills a bunch of people with a sniper rifle, 29 victims from a long distance on New Year’s Eve in Baltimore, Maryland. The fireworks disguise the shots of the rifle. This isn’t the first of these types of films but it does have engaging character work from the cast.

Eleanor Falco (Shailene Woodley) is a beat cop with the Baltimore PD. She has a history of suicidal tendencies and no education. She has been turned away from the FBI because of her psych evaluation. She ends up in the wrong place at the wrong time as a psychopath is assassinating innocent people. Special Agent Geoffrey Lammark FBI (Ben Mendelsohn) has been assigned the case and he sees a lot of potential in Woodley’s character. He has his issues as well. He’s in a gay relationship which isn’t the norm in the FBI. A third man is added to the group making this a trio, Mackenzie (Jovan Adepo) is a good policeman as well. Mendelsohn’s character has assembled a good crew to go after this killer.

There is a good score by Carter Burwell which adds to the atmosphere of the movie. Burwell is a celebrated composer. The director, Damian Szifron is also the co-writer with Jonathan Wakeham. They don’t do anything special or extravagant with this material but they do make it interesting and add a few new elements, this type of story has been lacking in the past. The personality traits they added to the main characters are different but in today’s society, they make sense. Films tend to be more politically correct now with sex and gender issues.

As these films usually have a villain with an agenda I was curious to see what the villain in this film was all about. Like a lot of military men and women, he had training in the Army and was sent home with a disability or for some reason involving being dishonorably discharged. The military isn’t for everyone but they still have the skills they learned while they were in whatever branch they served in. Usually dangerous skills follow them back into a world they would rather not be in so they take their anger out on civilians in some way.

Shailene Woodley has been an actress that has had potential after her breakout role in The Descendents a little over a decade ago. She has since done some television work in shows like Big Little Lies but she’s most known for her work in the young adult film series based on the world-famous book series of the same name The Divergent franchise. She has also been in The Fault in Our Stars. Her work in Mauritanian is more akin to what she’s doing in this film though. It gives her room to breathe as an actor and doesn’t shoehorn her into that young adult mold. This is good character work by her and Ben Mendelsohn. 

Mendelsohn on the other hand has done a lot of this kind of work in his career. Despite his work as Talos in the MCU he usually plays these types of characters or the other side of the coin villains of some type. Or shady characters like in Bloodline. He has a knack for molding into whatever character he needs for whatever type of role he’s playing. He is a chameleon as an actor. This FBI Agent character is a little different from him though. His personal life gets a little tangled up in his work and he has to try to separate them and show his bosses that he knows what he’s doing. Politics always gets in the way of good investigative work.  He does his best to try to get his man despite all the political mechanisms involved. 

To Catch a Killer isn’t the first movie of this type you have most likely seen. And I’m sure it won’t be the last. There are some good character aspects of this film that we’re very interested in regarding the two leads played by Woodley and Mendelsohn. They have good chemistry on screen and the mystery is very engrossing. There are multiple angles this story has going for it. The direction and writing are good and add some good twists that make it worth watching. If not just for Woodley and Mendelsohn for that matter.

3 stars 

Dan Skip Allen

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