Movie review: ‘To Catch a Killer’ a satisfying and suspenseful police procedural

In what could be the first of several films, Shailene Woodley stars as Baltimore Police Officer Eleanor Falco, a deeply troubled, not very well-educated young woman who finds herself in the middle of a giant manhunt when she is chosen by leader Geoffrey Lammark (Ben Mendelsohn) to help head the operation. The target is an unknown man, who has murdered 29 people near the harbor with a Vietnam-era sniper rifle, using the noise of fireworks to cover up his shots and his location. Eleanor has scars on her wrists. She lives alone with a cat and finds release and relief swimming laps in a local pool. Using laser technology, the police later locate the residence the sniper used as a lair. The place then blows up.

Eleanor was rejected by the Bureau for being “aggressive and addictive.” Lammark, who is brilliant and has enemies, is married to Gavin (Michael Cram, “Flashpoint”) and has heart problems. He believes that “Donna Darko” Eleanor brings a unique point of view to the investigation.

A few days after the first attack, a hooded figure who might be a homeless person, shoots up a mall, killing a dozen or more bystanders and uniformed police. Eleanor and Lammark’s right-hand man Mackenzie (Jovan Adepo, “Babylon”) must comb through a landfill to retrieve a shirt.

As a procedural, “To Catch a Killer” is pretty good. The cast is certainly first-rate. The idea of a killer mindlessly mowing down dozens of innocent citizens is certainly more believable than ever before. Someone knows that a Baltimore landfill is going to echo with the cries of hungry seagulls. The shootouts are expertly choreographed, and the suspense is often very strong.

But the screenplay co-written by director Damian Szifron (“Los Simuladores”) and newcomer Jonathan Wakeman cannot compete with or compare to “The Silence of the Lambs,” a film “To Catch a Killer” is obviously inspired by in large part. When Eleanor figures out that one of the contractors she and Lammark questioned lied about the subcontractors he uses on his jobs, she helps close the circle on the killer. They learn that their suspect also worked at a meat factory, where one of the workers “fell” into a grinding machine. Woodley and Mendelsohn do a fine job of leading the cast.

But the story and the direction by Buenos Aires-born Szifron are not up to the standards of author Thomas Harris (“The Silence of the Lambs”) and/or Academy Award-winning director Jonathan Demme. “To Catch a Killer” is compelling to a point, although Lammark and Eleanor do something that one might find entirely stupid and careless near the end.


Grade: 3 stars

Rated: R (for strong violent content, and language throughout)

Running time: 1:59

How to watch: Now in theaters