It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
Is there a better actor in America than Morgan Freeman?'' Pauline Kael once asked, to which one could add, is there one with more authority? Freeman has a rare presence on the screen, a specific gravity that persuades us. He never seems to be making things up. He never seems shallow, facile or unconvinced, and even in unsuccessful films such as "Chain Reaction" (1996), he doesn't go down with the ship: You feel he's authentic even as the film sinks around him.
In "Kiss the Girls,'' Freeman's performance is more central than his work in "Seven" (1995), the obvious inspiration for this one. He is the lead, at the center of the story, and that gives it a focus that the buddy aspects of "Seven" lacked. Again he plays a policeman on the trail of a kinky serial killer, and again the shadows are deep and the antagonist is brilliant and the crimes are supposed to send some kind of a twisted message. But the movie's not a retread; it's original work, based on a novel by James Patterson, about a criminal who (the Freeman character intuits) is not killing his victims, but collecting them.
Freeman plays Alex Cross, a forensic psychologist with the Washington, D.C., police, who becomes involved in a series of kidnappings in Durham, N.C. When his own niece (Gina Ravera) is abducted, he flies to Durham and calls on the police department, where he's kept waiting for hours until he finally bursts into the office of the chief. (In a movie that is generally convincing, this scene played like boilerplate.) The kidnap targets are being taken by a man who signs himself "Casanova,'' and one of his victims is found dead--tied to a tree and "left for the critters to find.'' Cross wonders why there aren't more bodies, and theorizes that Casanova is a collector who kills only when he feels he must. The other victims, including his niece, must still be alive somewhere. His theory is proven when a local doctor named Kate (Ashley Judd) is abducted but escapes, after making contact with several other captives in some kind of subterranean warren of cells.
The cop and the doctor become a team during the rest of the movie, working together as the trail leads to the West Coast, and unraveling surprises that it is not my task to reveal. David Klass, the screenwriter, gives Freeman and Judd more specific dialogue than is usual in thrillers; they sound as if they might actually be talking with each other and not simply advancing plot points. And what Freeman brings to all of his scenes is a very particular attentiveness. He doesn't merely listen, he seems to weigh what he is told, to evaluate it. That quality creates an amusing result sometimes in his movies, when other actors will tell him something and then (you can clearly sense) look to see if he buys it.