Written by: Matt Patti | April 20th, 2023
To Catch a Killer (Damián Szifron, 2023) 2 out of 4 stars.
The steady increase of mass shootings in the United States is a horrific trend as of late, causing raucous uproar in communities and fierce political battles over gun control. Such indescribable events cause horror and anguish in a short amount of time. Luckily, most of the perpetrators behind these massacres are often swiftly caught right after the incident, and in many cases take their own life. In director Damián Szifron’s To Catch a Killer, however, this is not the case. Szifron explores the aftermath of several mass shootings all committed by the same person, and the horror of that person remaining at large. Sadly, even with such ripe subject material, Szifron can’t quite achieve complete investment from viewers and, in some ways, even pushes them away.
The film begins during a New Year’s Eve in Baltimore, Maryland. Amongst the sound of fireworks erupting in the night sky, another, eerily similar sound is heard: gunshots. What started as an evening of celebration quickly morphs into a night of terror as folks near the city’s inner harbor are shot by a sharpshooter. The assailant disappears without a trace, and Baltimore police (BPD) are left scratching their heads. The city calls in the FBI’s Chief investigator, Geoffrey Lammark (Ben Mendelsohn, Cyrano) to assist with finding the perpetrator. Lammark enlists the help of young BPD officer Eleanor Falco (Shailene Woodley, Endings, Beginnings), and together they use a variety of tactics to attempt to hunt down the mass murderer before he strikes again.
To Catch a Killer offers some intriguing dialogue and compelling insight into how law enforcement responds to mass shootings. The film also offers some thought-provoking conversations about America. Ben Mendelsohn turns in an exceptional performance as Lammark, a tactical investigator who has a very specific strategy to catch the killer and a sly, sarcastic personality. Lammark is easily the film’s best character. Unfortunately, the surrounding characters don’t step up to the plate, with Woodley’s Falco the most disappointing. Woodley gives a mediocre performance, but Falco is not given much to do in the film until the final act, and her backstory is only briefly touched upon but not explored nearly enough. Furthermore, Falco comes off as a very dull, emotionless presence that stands in the background until her name is called.
As intriguing and terrifying as the topic of mass shootings may be, the film squanders its timely source material, offering little tension or suspense. Worse, the movie at times comes off as tone-deaf, often aiming to get inside the mind of the killer so much that it does so to a fault. Near the conclusion of the film, the filmmakers even seem to suggest that we should sympathize with this disgusting mass murderer, something that I cannot stand behind. It’s certainly interesting to explore the motives of a person who could execute such horrific attacks, but in my opinion too much attention is paid to the killer’s backstory and suggesting that extenuating circumstances lead to his acts. There is also a very large reach in terms of the topic of mental health that I feel is unnecessary.
To Catch a Killer has the potential to be a memorable film. It even offers many flashes of brilliance. However, in the end, the film as a whole is disappointing. The supporting characters do not impress, Woodley does not feel like a central character, and some viewers may even find some of the ideas presented in the film offensive. Even with all of that, the film still has a chance to be special, but unfortunately can’t reach that status, as there’s nothing that makes it stand out. To Catch a Killer feels very much like a very long episode of Law and Order, but is unable to hold its audience’s attention like that famous show.