Old film, new review

Film In Jon Amiel's Copycat, one of the cycle of serial killer films from the mid-nineties, Sigourney Weaver plays Helen Hudson, a famous psychologist specialising in serial killers who develops agoraphobia after an incident in which she almost became the victim of one of her subjects, played by a pleasingly manic Harry Connick Jr. She's called onto a new case by Detectives Monahan (Holly Hunter) and Goetz (Dermot Mulroney) and it's perhaps not revealing too much given the title of the film that it transpires that this particular nasty is copying the work of his more prominent antecedents such as Summer of Sam, in the hopes of becoming as famous as they are. Can Hudson and Monhan put the pieces together before the killer completes his cycle?

Given the nature of the film it's particularly difficult to talk to much about the story without ruining the more shocking moments. There are certainly enough red herrings and clues to challenge someone interested in attempting to beat the detectives to the answer although it's worth saying that the film arguably tips its hat a little too early and could have restricted its exposition a little while longer. More often than not, the revelations are surprising but as with the lesser examples of the genre, once the furniture of the plot is in place and the film becomes a fairly straight thriller and is inevitably less interesting.

Amiel is something of a journeyman director -- his previous film had been Sommersby and since, his filmography has included the underrated Bill Murray starring The Man Who Knew Too Little, espionage thriller Entrapment -- and he does a perfectly fine job here of keeping the film moving. Hudson's predicament is effectively presented -- watch the number of times that she looks through the peephole of her door to see who is there, on each occasion the action deliberately playing out as though to remind the spectator that this is her routine, her way of working through her predicament. It seems proper that the psychologist's house should be spacious if this is to be her whole world and legendary cinematography László Kovács simply but beautifully conveys her moments of agrophobia when she has to venture into the outside world.

It is the performances that are the key -- although both Hunter and Weaver are playing variations of previous successes, they have an excellent chemistry and their collective deductive moments are pretty convincing. Hunter, who actually looked somewhat ludicrous as an action hero in the misleading trailer for the film (which seemed to turn up on every Warner Bros. video rental the time but is missing from the DVD) acquits herself well with a firearm. Some of her best scenes are with Mulroney, and the script sings most here and their schtick has a ring of the moments that Hunter shared with both Albert Brooks and William Hurt in Broadcast News. The only weak link is Will Hutton whose job appears to be to look creepy enough to be a red herring and who seems ill at ease during his more tender scenes.

The film has become something of a cause celeb in the academic community for its portrayal of female empowerment, although its pretty conventional in that, despite what Amiel says on the commentary, neither Weaver and Hunter are allowed to follow though with their romantic encounters with Mulroney, with Hunter in particular being the focus of the male gaze without being in a position to resiprocate. Also, strangely given the film's 18 certificate some of the violence lacks the brutality of other serial killer films and seems less potent than what might appear in prime time post watershed, which is refreshing given the genre's propensity for gore.

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