The hard part about drafting a film concept around cyber-crime fighters is their job doesn’t translate well to the screen. These people peck away in front of a computer day in and day out, hardly the eye candy a filmgoer wants to fixate on for two straight hours. There needs to be a viable excuse for them to get up from their desk and stretch their legs until the credits roll. Otherwise their roles should be restricted to that of the geeky tech nerd dishing out comic relief.
In the thriller Untraceable, cyber-crime fighters Jennifer Marsh (Diane Lane) and Griffin Dowd (Colin Hanks) stationed in Portland, Oregon have been written to be at the top of their game. Within minutes and without letting go of a mouse, they can turn a virus-infected banner ad against its manipulator in the form of a not-so-friendly visit by aggressive S.W.A.T. teams.
Since sitting a desk is hardly the formula for thrilling cinema, the writers have conveniently inserted a lone techno-babble scene explaining a recently discovered cat killer’s website is virtually “untraceable,” thus there is nothing they can do to shut it down. Voila! Problem solved, and the writer’s can give themselves a pat on the back for the first of many poorly written clichés that destroy a mildly intriguing subject matter.
The idea of voyeurism over the Internet is as old as any computer still in active use today. Untraceable takes it into new territory by exploring the “what if” possibility of someone being set up for death via a live feed where the number of viewers determine how fast the victim dies. After a test run with a cat, human victims are set up in elaborate SAW-like death traps to meet their demise at the hands of millions upon millions of viewers/murder accomplices, including the cyber-crime fighters.
If you’ve seen one person painfully killed on the Internet while the FBI looks on you’ve seen enough, right? Wrong! In Untraceable, this pattern repeats itself two additional times in nearly identical fashion with brief interludes by a clichéd personality-less policeman. He’s obviously hot for Jennifer, as tipped off by him bringing her dinner and never leaving her alone. Yet she shows no emotion in return, so what’s the point?
There are no logical reasons for much of what happens in Untraceable other than convenience, like an early scene starring OnStar’s car service that screams foreshadowing otherwise it might as well have been meant for another film. When OnStar reappears later on as a means for the killer to communicate with Jennifer, you’re left wondering why he didn’t just call her cell phone. Intelligence is constantly threatened with predictability and moments like these, which begs the question of how Lane and Hanks were duped into starring to begin with.
Sony presents Untraceable on Blu-ray in 1080p video via an AVC MPEG-4 encoded transfer. Due to the subject matter and rainy Portland setting, many of the scenes are either dull and drab by design or slightly manipulated to fit with the cinematographer’s overall palette plan. On Blu-ray this means Untraceable lacks the depth, contrast and pop other more colorful releases enjoy, by no fault of a bad transfer. It looks the way it was intended to look and maintains great detail when there’s ample light to accentuate it.
The 5.1 Dolby TrueHD lossless audio track is more indicative of what to expect from a Blu-ray release. The front speakers are strong when they need to be, and surrounds are surprisingly active for a film with no explosions and only a few shots fired. While the audio by no means salvages the film, its immersive qualities are worth applauding.
Sony has included one Blu-ray exclusive bonus feature along with the suite of features found on the DVD release. Those features have been unaltered in their journey to Blu-ray, running in pixilated 480i video and 2.0 audio.
Beyond the Cyber Bureau is a picture-in-picture feature running in the lower right corner during the film’s entirety. Some of the material presented is duplicated from the featurettes, and there’s also some crossover with filmmakers from the audio commentary. For the most part, it stays relevant to the context of the current scene and is recommended over any other feature.
Commentary with Director Gregory Hoblit, Producer Hawk Koch and Production Designer Paul Eads was designed strictly for DVD and it shows. Much of what’s discussed about the film’s creation is also included in the Beyond the Cyber Bureau feature, rendering this filmmakers commentary a skip on Blu-ray.
Tracking Untraceable (15:45) journeys back to the concept’s creation, the original script and additional rewrite, the casting process and all other obvious pre-production areas. Listing to the screenwriters talk about Untraceable makes it sounds a lot better than the finished product.
Untraceable: The Personnel Files (15:07) is an in-depth look at casting the film’s principles. Diane Lane confesses she’s “into” these kinds of films. I’m assuming she meant tech-oriented or horror genre flicks and not “bad” films.
The Blueprint of Murder (13:32) explores the decision to shoot in Portland, along with the arduous task of creating the killer’s basement and FBI office from scratch.
The Anatomy of Murder (5:44) digs into the film’s most successful aspect, the realistic and disturbing torture effects ranging from bleeding to burning to melting.
Untraceable had the opportunity to punish viewers” psyche with a clever script that would have left them guessing at every turn. Instead, it force-feeds the premise down your throat in the most conventional, obvious and overused storytelling means available. Cyber-crime fighters behind their desk for two hours might have been the better path to take. At least that way, all the characters would have been able to stick around and enjoy the Blu-ray exclusive picture-in-picture feature and enveloping lossless audio rather than letting a spindly nerd take a few out.
– Dan Bradley