Tightly wound, at times brutish, but always intelligent police procedural worth a look
By Jimmy Gillman
Holly Hunter leads a strong cast as homicide detective M.J. Monahan in director Jon Amiel’s Copycat, a tightly wound, sometimes brutish, but always intelligent police procedural whose occasionally derivative plot does not keep it from being engaging throughout.
Born out of the rash of serial killer screenplays that emerged in the aftermath of director David Fincher’s Seven, which helped to reinvigorate the form, Copycat takes a slightly less visceral approach to the hunt for a demented killer, focusing more on the characters that seek his capture than the murderous deeds he’s committed.
In addition to Hunter’s outspoken Monahan, there’s Dermot Mulroney as Ruben Goetz, her younger but still experienced partner, and Sigourney Weaver as Dr. Helen Hudson, an expert on serial killers who’s become a traumatized agoraphobic after surviving an attempt on her life.
The usually sophisticated Weaver tones down the glamour and turns off the sophisticate charm she so often uses to define her characters, creating a chronically depressed, frequently unlikable damsel in distress whose past serves as a parallel plot to the present-day hunt for the killer.
It’s an effective role given considerable screen time, but make no mistake—Copycat is Hunter’s picture; the Academy Award winning performer demonstrating her intense, direct approach to acting.
Copycat also shows Hunter’s aptitude for comedy, which despite the storyline the film gives her ample opportunity to display in interludes that help to bring about a certain kind of humanistic reality often missing in this type of exercise.
For the most part, Amiel and his three screenwriters resist the urge to turn Copycat into a cliché—the two women never become best friends; Weaver’s shut-in academician doesn’t turn into a karate chopping, gun-toting heroine; and the male characters are neither omnipotent nor buffoons.
The three lead performers feed off one another convincingly, each growing stronger as the plot creeps forward. There are plenty of strange and unnerving moments befitting a film about scary people, and few seem gratuitous or contrived. And while the pedestrian framework Amiel employs prevents Copycat from reaching beyond its roots as slick entertainment, there’s more than enough Hollywood artisanship present to make it worth a look.