Structurally, The Bone Collector shares many traits with Hollywood cop/detective thrillers through the ages. It features a main protagonist with a severe personal problem but likeable sidekicks, gruesome murders, a reluctant young ingenue with a father who committed suicide and who is about to throw up her career to go the somewhat dull management of into youth offending, love interest, an arrogant rival cop, a devious criminal with a pile of chips on his shoulder, clues, twists, turns and eventually a thrilling climax in which the hero is saved by the ingenue from the hands of the evil villain.
Sound familiar? It should do! It took some distinctly unenthusiastic critical reviews, notably through Rotten Tomatoes (see here.) Wikipedia describes the reaction thus:
Based on 85 reviews collected by Rotten Tomatoes, The Bone Collector has an average approval rating of 28%, with an average score of 4.2/10. By comparison, Metacritic gave the film an average score of 45 based on the 33 reviews that it collected. Eric S. Arnold of Newsweek gives a mainly positive review, stating that “The Bone Collector may be formulaic—but many good recipes are.” William Arnold of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer describes the film as having “the characteristics of a bad slasher movie” in a mainly negative review, calling the plot “ultimately preposterous”.
Yes, it is formulaic – I said so myself above. The script is serviceable but not the greatest you ever saw. Some parts of the plot of The Bone Collector (which is based on a novel by Jeffrey Deaver called The Bone Collector, which is based on the name of a book featured in the book, also called The Bone Collector) are absurd, notably the corners cut to allow things to happen at a highly convenient moment, but in that it is no different to a thousand other thrillers. But what makes it work better than most are three factors, which I shall mention anon so be patient!
The hero of TBC (appropriate initials given that Deaver wrote a host of books with the same hero) is Denzel Washington‘s Lincoln Rhyme, a quadriplegic detective and expert on crime scenes. As he fights off the nasty Captain Howard Cheney (Michael Rooker) with help from Nurse Thelma (Queen Latifah) and a team of doers acting as his eyes and ears, notably Detectives Eddie Ortiz (Luis Guzman) and Kenny Solomon (Mike McGlone.) But despite a remarkable number of police officers supporting him, Rhyme covets the services of Police Officer Amelia Donaghy (Angelina Jolie), who has the natural instinct to work a crime scene, then spot and protect items of significance.
The main disadvantage of having a bedridden hero in a movie (as opposed to a book) is that he doesn’t move much, so an assortment of technological gadgetry is provided to allow Rhyme to keep in touch with the team and the clues, allowing Officer Donaghy to do the crime scenes. Simples. In fact, he also forcibly departs his bed in the denouement, and finds two inventive ways to wound the killer, in spite of having no limbs at his free disposal.
Most of the acting is acceptable without being outstanding, though Washington, Jolie and other actors mentioned above do a good job with the text provided. Relating the plot in detail serves no particular purpose here, since it is essentially the same cat and mouse you’ve seen before. But I did promise you reasons why this one retains its interest, so here goes:
- The curiosity value as clues are discovered, their origins and purpose evaluated, and the truth discovered by means of elimination. This is what fascinates about detective fiction – the business of detection.
- The turn-of-the-century touches and sets add depth and lustre to the plot. It makes me want to explore the parts of Manhattan that are far from the tourist trail, assuming these places still exist. Since the harbour scenes were filmed in Montreal, quite possibly not.
- The on-screen chemistry between Washington and Jolie, which is clearly smouldering, and the fact that at the end of the movie a relationship is implied but never explicitly stated. Nice touch, that.
In short, not a bad thriller and certainly one worth watching, though personally I would always go for plot rather than for star vehicles. This comes uncomfortably close to being such a movie, but is saved by the fact that it does have something worth watching for. Goodness knows, there are plenty of movies about which you could not say the same!