Angelina Jolie’s least terrible MTL film

Our series exploring Montreal-shot movies delves into The Bone Collector, a 1999 thriller co-starring Jolie and Denzel Washington as NYC cops after a serial killer.

the bone collector Montreal Angelina Jolie Denzel Washington
Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie in The Bone Collector, which was shot in Montreal.

Alex Rose’s Made in MTL is a series exploring films from the vaults shot and/or set in Montreal.

The film: The Bone Collector (1999)

Does Montreal play itself? Montreal stands in for New York once again, but this time is integrated so seamlessly into the B-roll helicopter footage of New York that it is all but indistinguishable.

Notable local talent: It’s a cop movie shot in Montreal, so every other 40+ character actor active at the time appears either as a corpse or as a police officer shuffling around the background. Props go out to Daniel Brochu as a guy who gets eaten by rats and omnipresent character actor Frank Fontaine as a guy who meets his demise in a much less gruesome way. The most bizarre use of local talent, however, is a song that Mitsou apparently wrote specifically for the film (!) but which only makes a fleeting appearance in the background of one scene early on.

Most egregious local landmarks: As mentioned above, the film does an excellent job of blurring the lines between the scenes shot in New York and those shot in Montreal. A quick look at the cast and crew betray that a great deal of the film was shot here, but it’s almost all interiors and vague street-level stuff. Only a long tracking shot through the ground floor of Foufs and into the street stands out as being transparently Montreal.

It seems a little pompous to say out loud these days, but Montreal definitely had a significant role in shaping Angelina Jolie into the megastar she is today. Montreal is where she made her brazenly commercial, on-the-way-to-the-A-list vehicles; between 1999 (the year where she won her Oscar) and 2004 (the year she filmed Mr. and Mrs. Smith and cemented her position atop the A-list), Angelina Jolie made three not-great movies in our fair city. (The last one, Taking Lives, was profiled by me a few months ago; the middle one, Beyond Borders, is so irredeemably terrible that I can tell you Montreal stands in for Chechnya and that Sam Roberts is in it and save myself the two hours it would take to watch that again.)

Her first effort of the three is The Bone Collector, a cop thriller made before but released after Angelina Jolie won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Girl, Interrupted. She stars as Amelia Donaghy, a young NYC cop who joins forces with a quadriplegic detective (Denzel Washington) to solve the case of a lunatic who’s kidnapping people in a taxi and torturing them to death, leaving cryptic clues along the way. Director Phillip Noyce (who would go on to direct Angelina Jolie in Salt a decade later) is essentially pairing regular police potboiler nonsense with the gimmick from Rear Window, with Denzel Washington piloting the operation from his hospital bed and yelling “ENHANCE!” at his computer screen while Angelina Jolie does the dirty job of shining her flashlight in decrepit warehouses and under docks.

It’s not particularly inspired stuff, but the film does get some mileage from the concept, which mostly does away with the red herrings and warehouse shootouts inherent to the genre in favour of a more forensics-based plot construction. It means you don’t get the clichéd scene of hundreds of cops being led into the wrong place by a cunning bad guy who’s playing them like a puppet, but it also means the film relies heavily on Denzel Washington jumping to ridiculous (but always accurate) conclusions based on extremely vague clues. The result is slightly more gripping and marginally more satisfying than its low-budget equivalent, but one can’t help but think that a terrific cast is being wasted on something based on a book you’d waste a couple of hours on in a hospital waiting room at most.

To me, however, the most perplexing issue raised by The Bone Collector is one that is unlikely to be answered 15 years after the film was released. Why Montreal at all? How could it possibly be cost-effective to shoot the majority of your exteriors with your principals in New York, then get everyone over the border to shoot the rest of it? There have to be logistical reasons for such largesses (the fact that the lead actor spends the entire film in bed yet commands a salary somewhere around 25 per cent of the film’s total budget might have something to do with it) but it seems particularly incomprehensible.

Then again, schmancy Parc Avenue eatery Milos is listed in the special thanks — so we know at least one reason they pushed to shoot the damn thing here. ■

Cult MTL Screen editor Alex Rose explores the worst of cinema on his podcast and blog, Why Does it Exist?


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