Profile of a Killer (2012) Review

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“In real life, the profiler has to get it right or the killer keeps on killing, right?”

Two kids playing in the snow make the grisly discovery of a body stripped of flesh.  The local police bring in the FBI, led by icy agent Rachel Cade (Emily Fradenburgh), who in turn pulls retired profiler-turned-author Saul Aitken (Gabriele Angieri) from the bench back into the big leagues.  Can the authorities catch the H-61 Killer (so dubbed for the highways along which his victims skeletal remains are found) before he strikes again?

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This is, of course, territory so well worn it’s positively indecent – versions of this story have been populating the television networks and theaters for decades.  Cool police engage in a battle of wits with a genius serial killer who operates with twisted logic, communicating through fetishistic murder rituals.  Here, Saul Aitken is our empathetic profiler Will Graham, Rachel Cade our hotshot FBI agent Clarice Starling.  This kind of heavy leaning on cliché does indeed get my back up.  Despite being impressed with some winter shots and excellent editing, I was ready to write this one off early.

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Turns out that I was a fairly premature in my assessment, as the story does take an interesting, unexpected turn early on.  While certain aspects of “Profile of a Killer” never quite manage to break free of the serial killer police procedural mold – it’s never tense enough, the danger level never rising to the volcanic levels the best of the genre displays to be truly palpable and immediate – what follows is a capable and interesting film, regardless of budget.

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Make no mistake, Profile of Killer is certainly an independent and modestly budgeted film, but director Caspian Tredwell-Owen and the technical staff do a marvellous job transcending those limitations.  The snowbound Minnesota landscape is well shot, recalling at times the Coen’s magnificent Fargo.  The editing by Joseph Gutowski is fantastic, developing a great sense of rhythm, gravity, and barreling inexorable doom.

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The acting overall is quite good.  Emily Fradenburgh seems to be doing a capable cold Carrie-Anne Moss thing – she’s certainly watchable and convincing, but her character is a little on the thin side.  While there’s some attempt to build depth, much of it oddly falls away with little further mention, while one story beat involving her romantic involvement with another agent seems a little forced and silly – none of it really sticks, and her character ends up being Cold, Career-driven FBI Agent Following Procedure.  Gabriele Angieri – if Fradenburgh is Carrie-Anne Moss, then Angieri’s doppleganger is surely Robert DeNiro – ends up being fantastic.  He provides a thoughtful, controlled, nuanced performance, and the relationship he builds with equally good Joey Pollari is believable.  These latter two actors are the heart of the film, providing the depth and deviations from the serial killer procedural that make this film worth watching.  Pollari hits the right chilling notes, and much like Angieri, he delivers his lines with some surprising naturalness and depth.  It’s the time we spend with these two as their relationship develops, stumbling about the wonderfully textured, decrepit lake house like some kind of bizarre family that really makes this film work.

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Sometimes, as is the case with this film, first impressions are wrong.  Profile of a Killer is an interesting, character-driven take on the serial killer genre.  While I was ready to make the first u-turn I could to get off, I’m glad I didn’t: this trip down highway 61 is one worth taking.

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