The Bone Collector

Crime, Law and JusticeJuvenile DelinquencyCrimeMoviesMovie Industry

Friday November 5, 1999

     "The Bone Collector" remembers what thrillers often forget. A tribute to old-fashioned craftsmanship and skill both on and off the screen, it's as crisp and efficient as its law enforcement protagonists, able to make the best of its traditional genre elements.
     Although his name won't bring many people into the theater, Australian filmmaker Philip Noyce is perhaps the key player. His breakthrough as a director was the Nicole Kidman-starring thriller "Dead Calm," and he did excellent work on "Clear and Present Danger" and "Patriot Games." Confident and very much at home with this kind of familiar material, Noyce has the skill to keep the plot percolating and overcome its occasional missteps.
     The elements Noyce has to work with are all strong, starting with Jeremy Iacone's capable adaptation of Jeffery Deaver's successful novel about an unusual detecting team, unwilling partners well played by Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie.
     Washington's role is especially challenging because his character, New York police detective Lincoln Rhyme, is a quadriplegic, injured in the line of duty and unable to use his arms or legs. "One finger, two shoulders and a brain is all I have," Rhyme says, and he is not happy about it.
     Rhyme is a world-renowned expert in forensics, the science of criminal investigation, and the author of the classic textbook "Scene of the Crime." But after four years on his back, with the possibility of a seizure that could mentally incapacitate him looming larger, not even the ministrations of feisty private care nurse Thelma (Queen Latifah) can keep him from taking steps toward a physician-assisted suicide.
     An actor with enormous presence, Washington uses all of it to make the immobile Rhyme into someone who dominates every scene while flat on his back. And as Amelia Donaghy, the partner who reluctantly enters his life, Jolie ("Gia," "Pushing Tin") displays the confidence, charisma and New York accent needed for her forceful and strong-minded character. When Rhyme tells her, "Stubbornness is something we both share," it's clearly the truth.
     A rookie street cop trying to get a transfer into youth services, Amelia has the moxie to stand in front of and stop a huge Amtrak train because it threatens to disturb the crime scene around a corpse she's come across. "If you were any more wound up," a colleague says, "you'd be a Timex."
     The clues she discovers intrigue the otherwise disconnected and phlegmatic Rhyme, and he agrees to help the police, who include Capt. Howard Chaney (Michael Rooker), his successor at the department, and old colleagues Paulie Sellitto (Ed O'Neill) and Eddie Ortiz (Luis Guzman). Impressed with Amelia's "natural instinct for forensics," he also wants her on the team.
     Vaguely contemptuous of Rhyme as "the textbook guy" and with her own secret reasons for wanting out of the grinding parts of police work, Amelia is very believable as someone sullenly resistant to the blandishments of a taskmaster known, not always affectionately, as "the world's most cranky criminologist."
     Unable to resist the call of destiny, Amelia agrees to be on the team, to be a fresh pair of hands and eyes at gruesome crime scenes with her only lifeline being a headset connected to Rhyme, who promises that "I'll be with you every step of the way." Together, they take on a serial killer who seems to be taunting the police, leaving clues and daring them to find him and stop him.
     This is not exactly uncharted territory, but director Noyce, cinematographer Dean Semler, production designer Nigel Phelps and editor William Hoy manage to bring visual variety to a kind of Sherlock Holmes setup, where the great thinker sits in his apartment surrounded by banks of computers and tries to connect the dots and solve the puzzle.
     Though it mostly stays the course, there are moments when "The Bone Collector" is too pro forma, when the plotting is overly familiar and the murder situations a bit too gruesome. Most clunky are the film's romantic elements and a final coda that is so unreal it seems to have come from another picture. But if Noyce (visible in an unbilled cameo as a bookstore patron) can't turn some of this dross into untarnished gold, his work is never less than professional, and that counts for a lot.


The Bone Collector, 1999. R, for strong violent content including grisly images, and for language. Universal Pictures and Columbia Pictures present a Bregman Production, released by Universal Pictures. Director Phillip Noyce. Screenplay Jeremy Iacone, based on the novel by Jeffery Deaver. Producers Martin Bregman, Louis A. Stroller, Michael Bregman. Executive producers Michael Klawitter, Dan Jinks. Cinematographer Dean Semler. Production designer Nigel Phelps. Editor William Hoy. Costumes Odette Gadoury. Music Craig Armstrong. Supervising art director Claude Pare. Set decorator Marie-Claude Gosselin. Running time: 1 hour, 58 minutes. Denzel Washington as Lincoln Rhyme. Angelina Jolie as Amelia Donaghy. Queen Latifah as Thelma. Michael Rooker as Capt. Howard Cheney. Mike McGlone as Det. Kenny Solomon. Luis Guzman as Eddie Ortiz. Leland Orser as Richard Thompson.

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