After running up 17 flights of stairs in a burning building with no gas-mask, young Baltimore cop Eleanor Falco (Shailene Woodley) passes out cold when she reaches the incinerated apartment of her destination. But her gung-ho first-responder zeal is duly noted by FBI lead investigator Geoffrey Lammark (Ben Mendelsohn).
Lammark’s onsite after the bullet-trajectory-determining lasers of law enforcement forensic investigators—from various kill-sites around the city—have all converged on this particular apartment. It’s the sniper-hide of a highly talented mass murderer who’s just killed 29 people near the harbor. Using a Vietnam-era sniper rifle, and timing his shots to be covered by noisy firework explosions on New Year’s Eve, he subsequently blows up said apartment, and disappears, leaving zero evidence.
Later, after a brief query about her deductive theories, Falco’s quickly added to Lammark’s small investigative manhunt team—the kid’s got talent. Lammark is very keen on strictly limiting his team to himself and special agent Mackenzie (Jovan Adepo), and then bringing in Falco as a “liason” between himself and the local Baltimore PD. This adds to the pressure of finding the shooter, because their small team has to compete amid the hectic and the noise of various larger and louder teams frantically looking for answers, including political aids seeking ways to spin the situation.
Officer Eleanor Falco is highly intelligent but not terribly well-educated due to having had no financial opportunities to attend college. She’s got serious scars on her wrists. Living alone with her cat, her pressure valve for the daily demons applying pressure to her soul is lap-swimming in a local pool.
Falco was previously rejected by the Bureau for being aggressive and having an addictive personality, but Lammark intuits she can bring a unique POV to the proceedings.
The troubled Falco predicts a second killing spree. A few days later a hooded figure, possibly homeless, shoots up a mall, killing multiple bystanders and uniformed cops, and the focus narrows as the savvy Lammark and fledgling profiler Falco chase down leads.
Finally Falco figures out one of the contractors she and Lammark interrogated lied about the subcontractors he used on his jobs, which leads to interviews at a meat factory their suspect worked at. One of the workers there apparently “fell” into a hamburger-making machine.
Suspenseful from the get-go, as a police procedural “To Catch a Killer” is better than one would expect. The cast is very solid, and of course the concept of a killer randomly blowing away dozens of innocent victims is believable more than ever before. The shootouts are expertly choreographed, and the suspense is generally strong overall.
The script, however, co-credited to director Damián Szifron, clearly carries an intentional “The Silence of the Lambs” vibe, regarding how Lammark and Falco collaborate, given that this is the FBI, and Jody Foster’s Clarice Starling in “Silence” was an FBI rookie in an intense cat-and-mouse game to catch a killer. But “To Catch a Killer” can’t begin to compete with that Jonathan Demme classic. However, the Argentinian Szifron does craft a compelling narrative here, and manages to get top-notch performances from his cast.
English character actor Ralph Ineson with his rasping basso profundo adds layers to a very thinly-written role as the suspect, and the Australian Mendelsohn, who’s usually cast as a baddie, is fun as the good guy who needs to be reminded by Falco to take his heart medication.
Shailene Woodley, producing and starring, plays misfit Falco with authority. This could easily be the first of several films starring Woodley as Officer Eleanor Falco. In installment 2, she could work her way, nights, to a local college degree, and come back strong as either Baltimore Detective Falco, or FBI field Agent Falco—most likely the latter since she’s already turned down the FBI’s analyst desk-job offer. Considering Woodley is only 31 and already a serious player in Hollywood, one imagines she’ll just keep getting better and better.
“To Catch a Killer” is currently in theaters for a limited run.
‘To Catch a Killer’
Director: Damián Szifron
Starring: Shailene Woodley, Ben Mendelsohn, Jovan Adepo
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hour, 59 minutes
Release Date: April 21, 2023
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars