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cast: Diane Lane, Billy Burke, Colin Hanks, and Mary Beth Hurt

director: Gregory Hoblit

97 minutes (18) 2008
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Universal DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 6/10
reviewed by Barbara Davies
Since her significant other was killed in the line of duty, Agent Jennifer Marsh (Diane Lane) has been working nights at the FBI cyber crimes unit in Portland, Oregon. With colleague Griffin Dowd (Colin Hanks), Marsh trawls the Internet, taking down bad guys and their icky websites. At home, there's eight-year-old daughter Annie, but Marsh's mother Stella (Mary Beth Hurt) takes up the slack whenever Marsh isn't there. Which will be more frequent now there's a cyber killer on the loose.

There's a new website, which specialises in streaming live videos of torture and death. The web-master starts off small, by killing a kitten, but soon he's escalated to people. His methods are over elaborate, gruesome, and messy to say the least - one victim bleeds to death, another is burned by heat lamps - and his exclusively American Internet audience, who presumably think they are watching a snuff movie, are complicit as "the more that watch, the faster he dies."

Marsh teams up with Portland detective Eric Box (Billy Burke), but in spite of their efforts, the killer proves elusive, his website untraceable and impossible to take down. Thus begins a game of cat and mouse as, against the clock, they try to identify what links all the victims and catch the unfeasibly brilliant serial killer before he can strike again. But the stakes become higher still as he targets first Dowd, and then Marsh herself...

Criticising the Internet for lack of censorship and encouraging voyeurism while showing such gruesome scenes themselves leaves the filmmakers open to the charge of hypocrisy. But if you can get past that rather indigestible fact, Untraceable is an entertaining, if far-fetched, crime thriller, which holds the interest and creates genuine tension and suspense, though I had to look away during the torture scenes. It's nice to see a mature woman in a strong leading role, and playing with audience expectations that, in Hollywood films at least, the victims of serial killers are usually vulnerable females adds an extra dimension.

As did Jodie Foster in The Silence Of The Lambs, Diane Lane (Killshot, Hollywoodland) gives a subtle, solid, centre-stage performance as an FBI agent doggedly tracking down a weird serial killer. Her role is necessarily less active than Foster's Starling - there's much typing into keyboards and staring at computer screens - but, unlike Foster, she badly lacks an acting foil of equal weight and charisma. Perhaps it's because, by making her a still-grieving widow, the writers deprived Burke (Fracture) of the chance to create any romantic sparks, but to be honest there isn't much substance to his role as a detective. Hanks, however, is engaging as Lane's Internet-dating colleague, but isn't given much to do. And Joseph Cross (Running With Scissors) gives a suitably bright-eyed but creepy performance as the disturbed young killer.

DVD extras include a (not terribly interesting) commentary with the director, producer, and production designer, and four documentaries with assorted members of the cast and crew. In Tracking Untraceable the screenwriters talk about the evolution of the story, reveal that they seriously considered including death by African ants(!), and wail about how we are all becoming ghouls and the Internet is disgracefully out of control. The Personnel Files features 15 minutes of cast interviews with the main players. Blueprint Of Murder discusses filming in rainy Portland and what went into producing the FBI sets and computer screen effects. Finally, The Anatomy Of Murder gleefully shows off, to those with strong stomachs, how the gruesome murder effects were achieved.

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