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Sign Of The Killer
cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Colm Feore, Anthony Michael Hall, Ann Magnuson, and Aunjanue Ellis

director: Kasi Lemmons

106 minutes (15) 2001
High Fliers VHS rental
Also available to rent on DVD

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by John Percival
Romulus Ledbetter (Samuel L. Jackson) is a gifted composer who studied at the famous Juliard College. As well as being extremely talented he is also psychotic and as a result is unable to live with his family. As a scruffy homeless man he lives in a rocky enclosure in a New York park and is referred to by everyone as the Caveman. Romulus believes there are conspiracies to control people, run by one man from a high tower and Romulus rants his suspicions to anyone within earshot. Romulus also hallucinates that mind controlling beams and being transmitted from the Chrysler Building and also that his late wife is giving him advice. On Valentine's Day he finds another homeless person frozen to death in a tree outside of his cave and he believes it is a message from man in the High Tower.
   Sign Of The Killer is something of an enigma. Originally titled The Caveman's Valentine, it appears to never have enjoyed an UK theatrical release and is being quietly introduced to the home entertainment market with almost no fanfare. It is truly a shame as Sign Of The Killer is a very enjoyable thriller. Samuel L. Jackson brings vividly to life the character of Romulus, a kind but disturbed man with a talent that he is unable to control. Instead of doing an over the top monstrous performance he has built Romulus from the ground up, from the way he walks, to the vulnerable then angry way he looks at people. Romulus' mental disability has been turned around to give him the skills he needs to solve the murder. We also benefit by visually seeing the random hallucinations that Romulus is confronted with such as the coloured rays of light that search him out from the high tower, to the visions of his wife.
   The issues of disability as a social stigma run quite strong throughout the film. The police ignore Romulus' story as the ravings of a mad man even though he is telling the truth. When people believe he is a proper pianist they want to know him, when they find out that he is delusional and homeless they scatter. Then only person to take a vital interest in him is Bob (Anthony Michael Hall) who witness the scruffy vagrant furiously writing musical notes on paper. He takes Romulus under his wing and provides him with a way to enter the higher circles of society and carry out his investigation. These are circles that Romulus would have been able to travel in, had he not succumbed to his mental condition. There are also issues regarding the homeless people as disregarded members of society. Romulus demonstrates he still has worth as not only is he able to create music but it is also he who solves the murder.
   The filming is very busy and artistic, there are some great views inside the tormented mental processes of Romulus, and they are like man-moths who fly around in his head confusing him. The art also extends to the subject matter, as before he was murdered and discarded, the victim was a model for a photographer, famous for disturbing and graphic images. This is well-trodden territory, a detective story where the detective is a member of the public who is ignored by the police and solves the mystery for them. However it walks the path well and, while it is not a truly stunning film, it is definitely a very enjoyable film. Similarly, Jackson has undeniably done better work, but it is not a performance that you would want to miss. He has provided a superb outward portrayal of Romulus, and Kasi Lemmons as director gives us the visual benefit of a view inside Romulus' mind and we see the world they way he sees it. There are a few problems, some which stretch the limits of believability, but if you are not expecting Poirot then most can be forgiven. This inventive social drama is well worth a look and with the quiet release of this film; you may just see a Jackson performance that your friends haven't.

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