The Bone Collector (1999) – WTF Happened to This Horror Movie?

The Bone Collector (1999) – WTF Happened to This Horror Movie?

If there was a decade that truly helped to shape the future of the crime thriller genre, it was undoubtedly the 1990s. The era churned out numerous movies that have become the benchmark for how to craft a movie about the hunt for a serial killer, or flashing femme fatales with a penchant for murder. Movies such as The Silence of the Lambs, Misery, Se7en and Basic Instinct set a benchmark for not only quality in the crime flick, but also by delivering iconic sequences that are synonymous within the genre. Lambs had Anthony Hopkins’ wonderful Chianti sipping performance, Misery gleefully smashed ankles, Se7en had the tragic head in a box scene, while Basic Instinct allowed Sharon Stone to show more than just her acting ability. The point is, by the time the movie we’re focusing on in this episode was released in 1999, audiences had preconceived expectations, thanks to the aforementioned movies that were released first. Of course, we didn’t get an endless run of classics. For every Se7en, there was a dud such as The Specialist, Entrapment or The Real McCoy. So, where does the Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie thriller, The Bone Collector (watch it HERE) sit within this? By the time 1999 rolled around, was the genre in need of an adrenaline shot to re-ignite some tension and emotion from those classic examples, and was the pairing of Denzel and Angelina the actors to provide it? Well, strap yourselves in for a bout of ‘hunt the psycho’ as we find out here, on WTF happened to The Bone Collector.

By the late 1990s, both Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie’s careers were firmly established and still on the ascendency. Denzel was probably best known at the time for his excellent portrayal of Malcolm X in the film of the same name, while the likes of The Pelican Brief, Philadelphia, Crimson Tide, He Got Game and The Siege, showed audiences that a special talent was here to stay. The actor trained at the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco, California and began his career in earnest on the mid-sized off-Broadway stages. His first role that began to get him noticed on a larger scale was in the NBC medical drama, St. Elsewhere, playing Dr. Philip Chandler. The award winning show ran from 1982 to 1988 and accolades weren’t too far off for the New York actor himself, picking up a Best Supporting Actor gong for playing an American Civil War soldier in Glory from 1989. By the time The Bone Collector appeared in 1999, Washington was a household name, and usually a guarantee for a good time at the movies.

His co-star in the gritty crime thriller, Angelina Jolie, had a somewhat different path to starring in the movie, and her career, plus her media personality, has since gone on a different trajectory to that of Washingtons. After studying at the USC School of Cinema-Television, plus appearances in student films and music videos, the actress’ path to stardom began with a role in the terrible, but fun, low budget sci-fi flick, Cyborg 2. She also appeared in mid-range movies such as 1995’s Hackers, biographical TV movie George Wallace from 1997, Gia from 1998 and Pushing Tin from 1999. Of course, we all know Jolie from her excellent, oscar winning, performance in Girl Interrupted, as well as donning the twin guns and hot pants for the Tomb Raider series, as well as high profile tabloid-baiting marriages, and other extracurricular activities. However, by the time The Bone Collector was released in the US on November 5th, 1999, her star was still very much on the rise.

The project originated when Scarface producer Martin Bregman acquired the rights to Jeffery Deaver’s 1997 novel of the same name. Jeremy Lacone was hired to pen the screenplay, and while he largely stayed faithful to the popular source material, he condensed the plot down to three murders, and focused more on the dynamic between the lead characters. Work on the script wasn’t finished at that point, however, with Christopher Crowe brought in to polish up the screenplay. Fresh from helming the decent Clear and Present Danger with Harrison Ford in 1994, plus the widely ridiculed The Saint with Val Kilmer from 1997, Phillip Noyce was brought in to take charge of the Dengelina (sorry!) crime thriller. Studio Universal Pictures were concerned about the movie making its money back, and opted to sell half of the distribution rights to Columbia Pictures to help mitigate this. Director Noyce also made a deal with the studio that if the production went over budget, he’d pay the difference out of his own pocket, and if it came in under budget, then he would get to keep half. Which, seems like quite a gamble for the Australian born director to take at the time.

The Bone Collector Denzel Washington

As for the movie’s cast, we know that Dengelina (I’ll stop now, I promise!) lead the action, of course, but had it not been for scheduling conflicts, it could have had a very different story. With producer Bregman’s work on Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon ,Scarface and Carlito’s Way, the script was written with Al Pacino in mind as Lincoln Rhyme. However, the legendary actor was busy filming The Insider, and after considering Harrison Ford and Sean Connery for the part, Noyce ultimately went with Denzel Washington. To prepare for his role as a quadriplegic, Washington met with Superman actor Christopher Reeve, as well as a police officer who had been paralyzed by a gunshot wound. Both Demi Moore and Nicole Kidman were considered for the role of Amelia Doneghy, before the production team settled on Angelina Jolie for the part. The wider cast also includes the awesome Married With Children and Modern Family actor Ed O.Neil as a police detective, plus Yondu himself, Michael Rooker, as well as rapper and singer turned actress, Queen Latifah as Rhyme’s nurse and carer. It’s a great cast, and also has parts for talent such as Luis Guzman, Leland Orser and Bobby Cannavale.

With such a stellar cast, could The Bone Collector prove that the likes of Se7en, Misery and Silence of the Lambs weren’t the only crime thrillers or serial killer movies to leave a lasting legacy on not only audiences but also pop culture? Unfortunately, the simple answer to that is, largely, no…However, that doesn’t mean the movie isn’t without some redeeming features. The plot follows Washington’s quadriplegic, suicidal ex-cop, who teams up a newly recruited patrol officer, Jolie’s Amelia, to track down a serial killer who’s abducting people in a taxi and leaving them to die in some pretty sick and twisted ways. Amelia is haunted by her cop father’s suicide and fears that she may be next, while Lincoln is traumatised by an accident that left him paralyzed from the neck down.

The movie’s premise is great and both Washington and Jolie, plus the excellent supporting cast all do a great job with the sometimes laughable script, but some bad plotting and an overlong runtime bog this down into a slightly tiresome hunt for the bad-guy. The pairing of Dengelina (last time, I promise!) works well, plus their background and motives for catching the killer are sound. After being paralyzed by a falling beam, Rhyme has finally managed to persuade his doctor friend to assist in his suicide, when he returns from vacation that is. However, once the case to investigate the serial killer is brought to him, Rhyme uses his forensic expertise to help track him down, using the only part of him that still works from the neck down, his finger, to do the research. He sets Amelia off on a hunt to follow up clues he finds, which leads her to rat-infested holes where victims may be lying in wait, either dead or alive.

Unfortunately not any of this is as thrilling as it could have been, and while the dynamic between the two main protagonists works pretty well, it’s overshadowed by bad plotting, some logic-defying twists and turns, plus a pretty lame motive for the serial killer which I won’t spoil here. It also signs off with an awfully saccharine final scene that you’d find in a bad soap opera, not what’s supposed to be a dark and gritty crime thriller. Director Noyce had proven he can deliver a decent movie, but The Bone Collector largely wastes a great cast, good source material, and squanders the opportunity to at least be gruesome enough to have something memorable for fans of the genre to cling on to.

The Bone Collector Denzel Washington Angelina Jolie

The Bone Collector was released domestically on November 5th, 1999 and brought in almost $17 million over its opening weekend. It was released alongside Pokemon: The First Movie – Mewtwo Strikes Back, The Bachelor and The Insider, so, apart from the Pacino and Crowe team up, there wasn’t anything to stop it becoming the number one movie that weekend. Its main competition was probably The Sixth Sense, but the Shyamalan classic was in its fourteenth week and was nearing the end of its theatrical run. The film eventually grossed £151.5 million worldwide against a budget of $73 million.

Critically, the movie was met with a distinctly luke-warm reception. On Rotten Tomatoes, it holds an approval rating of 28% based on 86 reviews, with an average rating of 4.2/10. The site’s critics consensus states: “A talented cast is wasted on a bland attempt at a suspenseful, serial killer flick.” Most critics lamented the cliched script and improbabilities in the narrative, but did praise the central performances from Washington and Jolie. Roger Ebert, writing for the Chicago Sun-Times wrote that, “The movie is a peculiar experience to sit through, because the quality of the acting is so much better than the material deserves.” The Washington Post were more keen on the film, writing that, “As for the mystery that these forays into the shocking are meant to penetrate, it’s probably the least interesting thing in the movie. Yet for all the carping one can do, the following is indisputably true: At the narrative level, ‘The Bone Collector’ is extremely gripping. You may have as much fun tearing it apart in its aftermath as you do watching it, but the fun is still genuine.”

Ultimately, aside from some decent performances, The Bone Collector doesn’t do nearly enough to sit alongside other, more memorable, entries in the crime thriller and serial killer genres. The plot stretches plausibility too often and while there’s some grisly fun to be had along the way, it falls way short than it could have done. However, as usual, I’d love to know what YOUR opinion is of the movie. Am I being too harsh on the film, or does it waste the talent at its disposal? Let us know in the comments and I’ll see you wonderful gore-hounds next time. Thanks for watching!

A couple of the previous episodes of WTF Happened to This Horror Movie? can be seen below. To see more, head over to our JoBlo Horror Originals YouTube channel – and subscribe while you’re there!

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