Last week I received from Netflix a DVD copy of The Bone Collector, a 1999 film starring Denzel Washington, Angelina Jolie, and Queen Latifah; directed by Philip Noyce; and written by Jeremy Iacone. It’s based upon the suspense novel of the same name by Jeffrey Deaver.
When I inserted The Bone Collector into my DVD player and began watching it, I did so with great anticipation. The Bone Collector is a film that combines three things that usually provide me with great film entertainment: police thrillers; Denzel Washington; and Angelina Jolie. As it turns out, The Bone Collector is a “police thriller” with plenty of police… but few of the “thrills.” I found it to be a major disappointment – a dull film, pervaded with all kinds of clichés from past crime thrillers, and a movie that pretty much wastes the abilities of some pretty fine actors.
The central plot of The Bone Collector is excellent. There is a serial killer on the loose in New York City. At the scene of every one of his grisly murders, he leaves behind some kind of bizarre hidden clue… and then takes a bone from his victim. The police are baffled by the case, so they turn to Lincoln Rhyme (played by Denzel Washington), a forensic evidence expert and criminal profiler, to solve the case. As it turns out, Lincoln Rhyme is a quadriplegic, as a result of an earlier on-the-job accident.
At one of the murders, the first police officer on the scene is a young rookie, Amelia Donaghy, (Angelina Jolie). She demonstrates a remarkable natural ability to make detailed observations of a crime scene and to draw logical conclusions from those observations. She’s very quick to find the killer’s strange clues. Because of her uncanny skill at finding forensic evidence, and her coolness in a crisis, Lincoln Rhyme convinces her to assist him in the investigation…
The rest of The Bone Collector pretty much goes downhill from there…from a good basic premise to a veritable feast of cinematic clichés. In this mundane film, you’ll find the obligatory wisecracking former partner of the protagonist (played here by Ed O’Neill), a guy who’ll do just about anything for his old friend Lincoln Rhyme. Another ubiquitous feature of every police thriller/crime drama/murder mystery is the hard-nosed, no-nonsense, tyrannical police captain (in this case played by Michael Rooker, an expert at this kind of part;) and, of course, the “techno-whiz,” who can do the impossible with almost anything electronic (played by Luis Guzman).
Here’s my biggest problem with The Bone Collector: it contains all the ingredients of a first-rate, taut, suspenseful crime thriller, in much the same mold as 1991’s multiple-Oscar-winning The Silence of the Lambs. It has a well thought-out and original premise and a great cast…and yet, somehow, the whole thing fails miserably in its execution. It never builds the kind of tension found in the best crime dramas; viewers are seldom kept in suspense. There are a few harrowing sequences in The Bone Collector where Angelina Jolie’s character must search gruesome crime scenes for forensic clues; yet even these scenes are missing that “special ingredient” that, if present, would have elevated them – and hence the whole film – to a level of dramatic intensity needed for a truly successful police “thriller.”
The same mediocrity holds true for the acting, which surprisingly isn’t up to the high standards you’d expect from fine “A” list actors like Washington and Jolie. Of course, Denzel Washington does his usual fine job of delivering his lines, but he is unconvincing as a quadriplegic. I guess I’m used to seeing him as that powerful, athletic figure in Glory, Remember the Titans, and American Gangster. In The Bone Collector, however, Denzel’s character lies there in that hospital bed, unable to move anything but – (a seemingly convenient contrivance!) – his computer “mouse finger.” Under that blanket, there seems to lurk a powerful presence, not a body wasted by paralysis. Throughout the film, one halfway expects him to leap from his bed and run out to solve the case!
Angelina Jolie’s performance is also disappointing. I have a suspicion that her intent during shooting was to give her character the same kind of reserved, controlled intensity that permeates such great cinematic performances as Jodie Foster’s in The Silence of the Lambs and Billy Bob Thornton’s in Sling Blade. If that was indeed what she intended, it doesn’t come across on the screen. Her performance is colorless, stiff, and wooden…certainly nothing “Fosteresque” about it. In fact, if I didn’t know her acting abilities from seeing her magnificent performances in Girl, Interrupted and A Mighty Heart, I might have written her off as an actress of strictly middling talent.
The best performance in the whole movie belongs to Queen Latifah, who plays Thelma, Lincoln Rhyme’s live-in nurse. She is not only completely natural and believable, but she brings probably the most powerful presence to the screen of any actor.
MY VERDICT: The Bone Collector should have been a top notch police thriller, having, as it did, a great cast and a decent premise. But it suffers from a mediocre screenplay, predictable situations, and unconvincing acting from its stars. It’s entertaining enough to rent from Netflix or the local video store… once. But own it? Nope. If I did that, The Bone Collector would take its place on my video shelf as nothing more than an unused “Dust Collector…”