To Catch a Killer review – Shailene Woodley sniper thriller like mid-season CSI | Film

Shailene Woodley (Big Little Lies, Divergent) stars as Eleanor Falco, a young Baltimore beat cop who seems unhappy both at home and at work. There’s no time to dig any deeper into the cause of Officer Falco’s malaise, however, before she – and we – are plunged into the action of a paint-by-numbers police thriller. There’s a sniper on the loose, picking off victims at random in the downtown area, and maverick FBI investigator Geoffrey Lammark (Ben Mendelsohn) has been drafted in to put a stop to the killing.

Lammark believes he recognises a fellow profiling savant in Falco, so she’s fast-tracked into his unit, despite her lack of training. Could Lammark be mistaking portentous wildlife analogies for actual insight? He does seem overly impressed when she says stuff like, “Evil is cutting off a bird’s wings just to see what happens; this guy’s shooting mosquitos.” But then Lammark’s own detective skills are apparently limited to enigmatic growling and looking good in a trench coat, so the bar is low. There’s also a third team member, played by Babylon’s Jovan Adepo, but even by the standards of a script that generally skates over characterisation, he’s too underwritten to warrant much attention.

From there, the plot proceeds like a mid-season episode of CSI: Anywhere, just with better cinematography and a mournful cello score. Crime thrillers usually benefit from a strong sense of place, but the Baltimore of director Damián Szifron (previously responsible for the much-admired Wild Tales) isn’t one you’d recognise from John Waters movies or The Wire. Probably because it’s actually Montreal.

Lammark and Falco’s investigation is similarly uncentered. As their search radius widens into snow-covered fields and factory break rooms, they follow false leads, butt heads with superiors and use every hostage negotiation as an excuse to opine on the decline of American values. Or something. All the while they display zero knowledge of the criminal psychology that is their supposed expertise. If this film is remembered for anything, it will be marking the end of actor Ben Mendelsohn’s hot streak. You used to be able to tell a worthwhile watch from his presence. No longer.

To Catch a Killer is released on 27 May on Sky Cinema

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