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Untraceable (2008)

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 5/13/2008

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2
Audio: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 5/9/2008

Humans have been telling stories since we were first able to communicate. We have a natural need and proclivity to tell other people tales in order to inform them or entertainment them. Thus, people have been telling people stories for thousands of years. Given this idea, one would be hard pressed to come up with an original idea. At first glance, Untraceable looks somewhat original, but a thorough examination of the film shows that many of its ideas have appeared in other films, some of which were much better.

Untraceable is set in Portland, and introduces us to Jennifer Marsh (Diane Lane), an FBI agent who works in the Cyber Crimes Unit. She lives with her mother, Stella (Mary Beth Hurt), and her young daughter, Annie (Perla Haney-Jardine). In order to spend more time with Annie, Jennifer works nights, where, along with her partner, Griffin Dowd (Colin Hanks), she tracks down illegal activity on the internet. One night, she gets a tip to check out a new website, which is showing a kitten slowly starving to death. She and Griffin attempt to shut down the site, but they are unsuccessful. Their director doesn't see the site as a high priority. A few days later, the site comes up again, this time with a man being tortured to death. This time, it quickly becomes obvious that the more surfers who click on the site, the faster that the man will die. Now, the site is taken seriously and Jennifer is teamed with Portland Police Detective Eric Box (Billy Burke). Using clues found on the website, and with links between the victims, Marsh and Box begin to put together a profile of the killer. As they race to find the murderer before he can strike again, Jennifer begins to realize that her family has become a personal target of the killer.

Many of us are very reliant on the internet, and it's difficult to think of what life would be like without it. While the net is a great source of information (such as DVD reviews!), many turn to it for entertainment. Considering the various activities which are visible on-line, it's not far-fetched to think that someone would want to broadcast a murder on the internet. Unfortunately, this idea isn't exclusive to Untraceable, as it was already featured in Dario Argento's 2004 film The Card Player. That movie featured a killer who was taunting the police and if they couldn't meet his challenge, he would murder someone live on-line. This isn't the only facet of Untraceable which doesn't feel fresh. The idea of the serial killer who puts control in the hands of others, and then "technically" doesn't commit the murder, is very reminiscent of the Saw series. And, of course, any film which features a serial killer and a strong-willed female FBI agent is going to remind viewers of The Silence of the Lambs.

Along with this, the movie suffers from some other issues. The pacing is somewhat sluggish at times, and while I'm sure that Portland is a gorgeous city, there are far too many shots of the city's skyline. (It's set in Portland, where it rains, I get it!) The introduction of the murderer is somewhat sudden, as his face isn't shown for several scenes and suddenly he's there. "Who's this guy?", the viewer asks. And I'm not sure that I understood the point of the last shot in the film. Was that pride or a warning to others?

Despite these issues, Untraceable is still a somewhat entertaining film. Director Gregoy Hoblit, who made Primal Fear, is an experienced filmmaker, and he's able to inject some mild suspense and shocks into the movie. The staging of the murders is interesting, and this R-rated film isn't afraid to be violent at times. The acting is good, especially the usually glamorous Lane, who's somewhat rough look lends credence to her character. While the "internet killer" idea may not be new, the movie does have a strong message about the anonymity of the internet and how this gives people the feeling of being able to do whatever they want.

Like many Hollywood thrillers, Untraceable falls between two worlds. This is a slick-looking movie with a few recognizable faces, so it is above late-night pay-cable fare. However, the story is reminiscent of other movies, which makes it similar to all of those direct-to-DVD movies which litter store shelves. Thus, this is the perfect candidate for a rental. It doesn't contain much that you've never seen before, but it's never boring and it won't insult your intelligence.

Untraceable is tracked to DVD courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.40:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is very sharp and clear, showing only a small amount of grain (and this may be due to how the film was shot). There are no visible defects from the source material. This is a dark movie, but the action is always visible and the image is never overly dark. The splashes of color look fine and, other than some mild artifacting, I didn't note any major problems. The DVD has a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. I've always said that Sony DVDs have the best audio and Untraceable doesn't disappoint. The constant rain is often accompanied by thunder which rumbles through the rear speakers and emits from the subwoofer. The exterior scenes and the bustle of the FBI office provide some nice stereo effects. The murder scenes crackle with sound effects which come from all directions.

The Untraceable DVD contains a host of bonus features. These are kicked off by an AUDIO COMMENTARY with Director Gregory Hoblit, Producer Hawk Koch, and Production Designer Paul Eads. This is an average chat, as the trio speak at length throughout the film. They talk about the locations and heap praise on their actors. Hoblit shares information about the look of the film and some of the style choices. But, they don't talk much about the story or from where the ideas came. The DVD offers four featurettes. "Tracking Untraceable" (16 minutes) is a making-of which, for once, focuses on the story and the evolution of the screenplay. Through comments from writers Robert Fyvolent and Mark R. Brinker, and screenwriter Allison Burnett, we learn about the changes through which the script went. From there, it explores the recruiting of the director and the integration of technology into the story. "Untraceable: The Personnel Files" (15 minutes) simply focuses on the primary cast of the film. Through comments from the actors and the filmmakers, we learn how the actors were chosen and how the performers approached their characters. "The Blueprint of Murder" (14 minutes) profiles Prodcution Designer Paul Eads and Set Decorator Cindy Carr who talk about the look of the film and the creation of the sets. There is also a discussion of the use of locations in Portland. In "The Anatomy of Murder" (6 minutes) special effect make-up artist Matthew Mungle shows how each of the victims were created.

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has also brought Untraceable to Blu-ray Disc. The film has again been letterboxed at 2.40:1 and the disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 25 Mbps. The image looks excellent, as the picture is very sharp and clear, not showing the grain visible on the DVD. The image is very detailed and the exterior shots have an impressive amount of depth. The skintones are realistic and the colors (such as in the birthday party scene) are fine. I noted no defects from the source material, nor any overt artifacting or video noise. The disc sports a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track, which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 2.1 Mbps. As with the DVD, the audio is very impressive, but it sounds even better here. The great thing about lossless tracks on Blu-ray is the amount of separation between the speakers that we get, and Chapter 16 on this disc is a great example. Just listen to how the various sound effects are spread amongst the speakers, adding to the reality of the scene. The thunderclaps are quite loud here and nicely move through the rear speakers.

The Blu-ray Disc contains an additional extra not found on the DVD. "Beyond the Cyber Bureau" is a picture-in-picture feature where Director Gregory Hoblit talks about the real life FBI Cyber Crime Bureau. We also get comments from the cast and examples of storyboards, as well as behind-the-scenes footage.

Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long