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The tale of a serial killer in West Hollywood has two converging plot lines. The first involves an uneasy relationship between a psychologically unstable landlady and her enigmatic lodger; the second is about a troubled detective engaged in a cat-and-mouse game with the elusive killer, who is imitating the crimes of Jack the Ripper. Written by
The badges shown are for San Fransisco PD, not LAPD. Near the end of movie police are announcing the solving of the case with the help of LAPD and LA Sheriff Detectives, so badges worn by two lead detectives are correct as they are from LA SHeriff Detective Dept and their badges are star-shaped. See more »
Serial killers will always be popular because there is a human fascination with the lurid, the sexual and the violent. They epitomize fear, and when making a movie about a copycat serial killer, who better to imitate than the most notorious serial killer of all time, Jack the Ripper? "The Lodger" represents the fourth version of the book by Marie Belloc Lowndes, including one directed by Alfred Hitchcock himself. Although it's nowhere near as good as anything the Master of Suspense put out, it is nonetheless an engaging and twisty mystery.
There are two stories that are at the center of the film, and as the story goes on, they become entwined. First is the story of two detectives, Chandler Manning (Alfred Molina) and Street Wilkensen (Shane West) who are on the trail of a killer who is imitating Jack the Ripper in West Hollwood. Second is the story of a landlady, Ellen Bunting (Hope Davis) who is curious about her new tenant, the attractive but aloof Malcolm (Simon Baker). There are a few subplots thrown in for good measure, but really, these are the only ones that matter.
Actually, that's the film's biggest problem. Writer/director David Ondaatje pads the film out, particularly in the first hour. While this helps camouflage the story's red herrings, the subject matter he includes is rather dull. The soundtrack is also uneven. For the most part, it's a solid and effective homage to the creepy music that one always finds in these sorts of movies. However, there are times when it doesn't work, and instead becomes, of all things, melodramatic! The acting is good all around, though. The cast is predominantly made up of character actors on the edge of stardom. Alfred Molina has worked his way up the ladder for the past 25 years, and is just now earning the top-billing he so justly deserves. Manning is a hard boiled detective with a temper. Molina is no Sam Spade, but I'm glad that the producers took a chance on casting an unusual choice, because Molina is always interesting. His co-star, Shane West, tries to shed his bad-boy image, and while no standout, he's not bad. Indie film favorite Hope Davis is also making headway into mainstream fare, and she's terrific as the mousy Ellen. This was clearly a chance for Simon Baker to cash in on his popularity from his show, "The Mentalist." I haven't seen that, but he caught my attention in the underrated "The Affair of the Necklace." Baker is excellent as the seductive lodger; we can see his soft-spoken charm, but there is always an aura of danger around him, and we can never fully trust him. Also on hand are the always reliable Philip Baker Hall, Rebecca Pigeon (aka Mrs. David Mamet) and Donal Logue (who, like West, is an ER alum). Hall and Pigeon are solid, if underused, but Logue is flat as Ellen's jerk husband.
The film is always interesting to look at. Most noirs of this ilk used black and white film to their advantage, but this is 2009, and the film has to make money (which is surprising coming from an indie film). However, Ondaatje uses the color to his advantage. The noir feeling is still there, but it has an interesting feeling of warmth. And I loved how he and his cinematographer David A. Armstrong filmed the rain; it's just like the golden oldies.
It may not be Hitchcock, but this mystery is still pretty good. We don't know the true identity of the killer until the end, and while there are two main suspects, we also know that we can't rule anyone else out either, which makes things more interesting. And for a movie with no CGI, it's always interesting to look at. And watch.
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