To Catch a Killer is a typically big-budget crime thriller film with elaborate action scenes and gritty central characters that also tries to make a bigger point against a number of accustomed ills in society. The plot is centered around the Baltimore Police Department’s beat cop, Eleanor Falco, who is made part of the FBI investigation into a mass shooting serial killer. Although the issue of mental health and the ostracizing effect of society take up a major part of the approach here, ultimately, the film does not seem to stay true to its cause. Despite overall being a film with nothing out of the ordinary, To Catch a Killer provides for an entertaining single-time watch.
What Is The Film About?
The city of Baltimore is amidst heavy celebrations on New Year’s Eve, with private parties for small groups of people taking place in almost every apartment building. Amidst such happy moments, though, absolute terror strikes when bullets fly out of nowhere and start to kill people randomly. An attack that lasts only a few minutes stops after 17 victims are killed, with eight more in critical condition. On a relatively busy night for the police, traffic beat officer Eleanor Falco had been trying to defuse an ordinary situation at a local restaurant when she received the police message and rushed to the scene. From the initial investigations at the sites of the deaths, it was ascertained that all shots had been fired from a seventeenth-floor apartment in a nearby building. Just at this moment, the very apartment blows up in a horrific explosion, resulting in all the residents having to be evacuated. Reaching the building along with a colleague, Eleanor quickly tells police officers to record videos of all the people running out, as the shooter would also probably be among them. When the authorities enter the burned-down apartment, no signs of the perpetrator are found. Despite being ill due to the heavy smoke, Eleanor manages to help the authorities understand that crucial evidence about the mass shooter can be found in his toilet.
Impressed by her quick-thinking abilities, the FBI chief investigator, Geoffrey Lammark, takes Eleanor on as part of his team, giving the woman the duty of serving as a bridge between the BPD and Lammark. Together with a trusted FBI agent named Mackenzie and the entire police and FBI force, Lammark sets out to find the mass shooting serial killer, but he makes his force cautious about making wrong decisions. Lammark reminds all not to dehumanize the perpetrator and think of them as some typical racist or a Nazi supporter with mental illness but instead wants to approach them with all the human connections. The killer, too, he says, must have struggles and loved ones, and the authorities must begin an extensive search to find them out.
Why Is The Case So Close To Eleanor’s Own Life?
There is a particular reason why Eleanor gets readily involved in this serial killer case and also why Lammark seems to take her under his wing. Having had a seemingly troubled childhood, Eleanor had grown up hoping to be a detective and had even applied for a job at the FBI. However, by this time, the woman had also had a history of drug abuse, and she was diagnosed with multiple mental conditions, starting with depression. The FBI had instantly rejected her application for this reason, and at present, Lammark is probably of the opinion that this was the wrong decision. Eleanor shows great potential as a detective who is not just good at finding clues but is also able to take quick, correct decisions, as proved by her making videos of the residents rushing out. Keeping her out only because she had internal struggles and a dark past did not make much sense to the FBI chief investigator, and for this reason, he kept the woman close and appointed her to work for him. It is also possible that Lammark believes Eleanor can track the killer better, or a connection between the two would also be possible, making the woman all the more useful for his case.
Eleanor herself is shown to be an extreme loner, with arguably nobody else in her life other than her pet cat. The woman can easily relate to the loneliness of the killer, for she too has faced a similar kind of ostracizing, possibly during her youth. Therefore, as an adult, Eleanor does not like being around people other than her professional requirements. As we are gradually let inside her apartment and her usual lifestyle, it is evident that Eleanor still has equipment and items from her drug abuse days lying around. Perhaps the woman’s lessons from her past and strong-willed determination keep her away from drugs even on bad days, but the character of Eleanor is slightly unrealistic in this sense. There are moments in To Catch a Killer that are very clearly there only to tell us that Eleanor is a dark character herself, who is similar to the serial killer but only on the right side of the law, but there are times when the film overdoes it. Lammark actually compares the police officer to the serial killer by saying that Eleanor’s habit of self-harm was similar to the shooter killing people dead with a sniper rifle. Of course, he means to say that both are loners, possibly yearning for love and attention, but still, this seems like a stretch.
Why Does The Attack At The Shopping Mall Take Place?
A few days later, as the FBI is still trying hard to find their perpetrator, a horrific second incident takes place at a shopping mall in the city. Complaints of unusual behavior and of stealing clothes are raised against a man dressed in a hoodie and carrying a side bag. When two police officers ask the man to stop, he keeps mumbling that he wants to go home and does not want to open his bag. As the officers pressurize more, the man pulls out a gun and shoots them dead before opening fire on other people at the shopping mall. He even craftily escapes the place by planting grenades behind him to take down the other police officers chasing him.
Despite Lammark’s advice against multiple instances of letting the media release photos and information, a similar matter takes place when a local news channel asks the masses for any information. As the real killer stays hidden away somewhere, a group of NRA members, who are racist gun-advocacy supporters, falsely claim the work to be theirs and ultimately get killed by the police in a shootout. Studying the video footage of the entire incident, Eleanor keeps stating that the perpetrator actually did not want to cause any harm to anyone at the shopping mall and that he was genuinely at the place only to grab some food. However, it was the reactions of everyone else that triggered the killer, and he went on his second killing rampage. By now, the authorities are sure of the physical attributes of the killer, and the weapons he had been using also suggested that he had been raised around guns.
Who Was Dean Possey? Why Did He Mercilessly Kill People?
The main thriller element in To Catch a Killer, which is the real identity of the perpetrator and the investigation into it, is pretty straightforward. From the beginning of the film, the detectives keep getting smaller clues and information about the man they are after, which they then use to find him. From the stool sample found in the blown-up apartment, it was found that the killer was on a solely plant-based diet. Going by the guns he was using for the attacks; it was evident that he had access to old-school guns that were no longer used in the army and therefore had been handed out to the police. Since the actual owner of the apartment stays overseas, it becomes almost certain that the killer found it and then used it as his safe house. Major renovation work had been done in this apartment a couple of years ago, and the three workers who had been involved are being interrogated by the police to find any leads.
It is Eleanor who ultimately realizes that one of the renovation workers, named Lang, had been lying during his interrogation. This worker had actually been outsourcing his work to earn more profits and, in the process, had been hiring people with no proper ID or permits. Lang now confesses to Eleanor and Lammark that he regularly hires ex-convicts and illegal immigrants to do his work because they charge dirt-cheap money, and he remembers a particular man who fits the description of the killer. Lang says that he knew this man as Dean and shares all the information he knew about him. Dean used to work at a meat processing factory earlier, and following his time there, he stopped consuming all meat and dairy products. The renovation worker then also provides a crucial facial sketch of Dean, which is used to ask around at the meat factory. Finally, one of the older workers recognizes the man as Dean Possey, who was even believed to have killed a superior during his time at the factory. Dean was a quiet man who was always picked on by the bullish superior, and one day, Dean claimed that the superior had fallen into the meat grinder. But the other workers were pretty sure that it was Dean who had killed the man. Dean Possey was even imprisoned for this but was released after two years on parole after two ex-army generals wrote letters in support of him. These generals had been friends and associates of Dean’s father, Arthur, who had served in the army and then even became an instructor.
Despite having been suspended from the case’s investigation, Lammark and Eleanor pursue the matter by themselves and do not contact Mackenzie either since he is still an active FBI agent. The two now track down the address of the Possey family from the factory, and upon reaching there, they meet with an elderly woman who is Dean’s mother. The woman then further clarifies things about her son, talking of how her late husband had given him gun training from a very young age. However, one day when Dean was just six, the parents accidentally shot their son in the head, believing him to be an animal, and this injury literally changed Dean forever. A very cheerful and extroverted child before, Dean started keeping to himself after this accident and grew up to be an extreme loner. The only time he was extremely happy was during the pandemic when the whole world had to stay home, and Dean would roam the empty streets by himself.
After being released from prison, Dean had possibly grown fond of taking human lives and had planned the entire mass shooting. Arthur had worked as the arsenal keeper of the police force and had removed the old guns himself, which he had possibly stored at his house. Dean now got hold of these guns and went about his business with them. In a later confrontation with Eleanor, Dean admits that he committed the acts because nobody had ever given him any attention or care. After all, Dean had complete knowledge and understanding of what he had done, and there was no guilt or contempt in him for having taken so many innocent lives.
What Happens To Dean & Lammark?
Although the elderly mother claims that Dean has not visited her in a long time, it becomes clear both to the audience and the characters that the man is actually hiding in an outhouse. Dean is indeed present at the scene, as he soon shoots Lammark and is also about to shoot Eleanor. As the FBI investigator lies dead, Eleanor convinces her mother that she could genuinely help Dean out of his situation. Eleanor says that she can help Dean get treatment at a secluded institution and can also help him avoid any jail term. The mother now tries to convince Dean of the same, and in the process, she shoots herself dead, possibly indicating that mental struggles run in this family. Dean now starts to believe Eleanor and gradually opens up to her, but it all goes wrong when a police car comes to the place. Someone in the neighborhood had reported the gunshot sounds earlier, and the police had come to check up on them.
Dean tries to keep Eleanor hostage in his underground shed while he puts up a fight against the entire police force, which arrives soon. Eleanor does try to reach out to Dean and make him surrender, but when it does not work, she starts to distract him and plan her own escape. Finally, when the opportune moment arrives, Eleanor bites Dean’s throat, severely injuring him. While the police officer manages to escape from the underground shed and safely make her way to the rest of the force, Dean Possey runs away into the vast open fields behind his house. The police eventually find the man lying down with his throat still bleeding, and as Dean makes a final attempt to raise his gun, he is shot dead by the police officers.
During To Catch a Killer‘s ending, the FBI strikes a deal with Eleanor, stating that she must not ever tell anyone about what exactly had happened, especially about her and Lammark being out of investigation when they had reached Dean’s house. It is officially reported that the FBI found out about the perpetrator, and the whole sequence, in the end, was part of their plan. In exchange, Eleanor is given the role of an investigator in the FBI. In the final moments, Eleanor is seen walking through Baltimore streets, still by herself but in a happy mood. The film here also adds a voiceover of Lammark’s words, which Eleanor seems to remember, in which he suggests that such violent cases and traumatizing crimes become a part of a detective’s life. Lammark possibly had the belief that Eleanor would surely get into the FBI after this case was over. These words remind one of the very complicated nature of most crimes, especially ones where the perpetrator is driven out by mental and emotional struggles. Perhaps sometimes seeing the killers as humans is also not enough, as happens in the plot of To Catch a Killer. The killer instinct in Dean had completely taken over his human instincts, and it was already too late to help him. This conflict, in which a perpetrator could have been saved and helped before they had turned violent, is something that sincere detectives like Lammark and now Eleanor will always have to live with.
Lammark had been very different from usual FBI agents, always questioning the wrong decisions of the bureau authorities. His protege, Eleanor, now does the same during her briefing with the FBI authorities. She talks about the series of blunders that the superiors committed, particularly by releasing information and video footage to the media. What followed was nothing short of a media circus, which in turn led to the deaths of numerous people. But Eleanor also maintains her edge and the upper hand in this entire matter as she negotiates a better deal for herself and for Lammark’s grieving husband. In the truest sense, Eleanor steps into the role of Lammark, ready to look at cases and perpetrators with the same analytical eye as the senior detective.