Follow TV Tropes


Film / The Bone Collector

Go To

A thriller from 1999, directed by Phillip Noyce and based on the novel of the same name by Jeffrey Deaver (the first book in his Lincoln Rhyme series).

The main characters are quadriplegic forensics expert Lincoln Rhyme (Denzel Washington) and NYPD patrol cop Amelia Donaghy (Angelina Jolie), who team up to solve a string of murder cases in which the killer always removes a shard of bone from the victims.

The first victims are a couple named Alan and Lindsay Rubin who are kidnapped by the killer after taking a taxi home. Alan's body is found in a civil-war era gravel bed. A few pieces of evidence are recovered at the scene by the resourceful Donaghy, despite not having the training or equipment for proper forensic work; when they are presented to Rhyme for analysis he's so impressed that he insists she work the case with him.

This film contains examples of:

  • 10-Minute Retirement: After Rhyme becomes paralyzed, he later helps the NYPD solve the Bone Collector's crimes although no longer a police officer.
  • Adaptational Villainy: In the book, the Bone Collector's motive was that Rhyme's error in judgement led to a perp getting loose and shooting his family dead. The film omits this Freudian Excuse and the killer's motive was instead revenge on Rhyme for having him convicted for planting false evidence.
  • Adaptation Name Change: John Ulbrecht, Tammie Jean Colfax, Amelia Sachs, Ernie Banks, Peter Taylor /Colin Stanton and Lon Selitto in the book; Alan and Lindsay Rubin, Amelia Donaghy, Kenny Solomon, Richard Thompson /Marcus Andrews and Paulie Selitto in the film.
  • Adaptation Distillation: With no Dellray, there's no terrorist plot at the UN involving one of the killer's victims.
  • Alone with the Psycho: An especially creepy version - alone with the psycho while paralyzed below the neck.
    • It's even creepier in the book, where the psycho was actually Rhyme's personal doctor.
    • Any of those that end up getting in the wrong taxi.
  • Broken Aesop: Invoked, as Amelia is shown to fear succumbing to a fate similar to that of her father, a cop who killed himself, which Rhyme calls her out on and actually, in a change of character from his somewhat jerkass tendencies thus far, encourages her to not be afraid and that she makes her own fate. However, Rhyme himself is planning on a friend helping him with arranged suicide out of fear of becoming a vegetable due to his frequent seizures. Upon being informed of this by Thelma, Amelia gives Rhyme similar encouragement despite him insisting it's not a topic he wishes to discuss.
    • Actually averted entirely. After the killer is shot down by Amelia, Rhyme is left on the floor and seems unresponsive. The scene shifts to Rhyme's room being spotless and clean, with great emphasis on his bed not being used, making the viewer think that he died from his fight with Richard or that he went through with his plans to commit suicide despite Amelia's encouragement otherwise. However, it is revealed that not only is Rhyme still alive, but he has left his bed and is now moving around in a wheelchair and seeming to be trying to live his life to the best of his ability.
  • Bound and Gagged: What the killer does to his victims, using duct tape to silence them and restraining them with old-fashioned handcuffs.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Rhyme's NYPD badge plaque.
    • Amelia's .38 Smith & Wesson revolver.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Richard, the technician who works on Rhyme's life support machine. He turns out to be Marcus Andrews, the Bone Collector.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Thelma's knack at solving jigsaw puzzles.
  • Composite Character: Jim Polling and Fred Dellray are combined into Howard Cheney.
  • Creative Closing Credits: An opening example. They display a series of vintage photographs, headlines, and newsprint from old New York, usually relating to unsolved mysteries, crime sprees, and Serial Killer activity. This is important.
  • Creepy Souvenir: The serial killer is noted for collecting bones from his victims.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: One of the first victims is basically steamed to death. Other victims would have met similarly cruel fates had they not been rescued, including being eaten by a swarm of rats.
  • Da Chief: Donaghy has one of these, of the strict and by-the-book variety; although he is absolutely right that she is in over her head and is being asked to do things that are dangerous, of questionable legality, or simply out of her jurisdiction, his overzealous attempts to interfere and even take her off the case only hinder the efforts to stop the killer. Of course, he pays for this in the end.
  • Death by Adaptation: Thelma (Queen Latifah); also several of the victims survive in the book but die in the film.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Rhyme has nearly crossed over his due to his paralysis; Donaghy gets him to care about living again, and to reach out to his sister at the end of the movie. Helps when you have to fight for your life against a Serial Killer.
  • Disability as an Excuse for Jerkassery: Donaghy calls Rhyme out for this.
  • Enhance Button: Which Rhyme uses on his computer to clearly see what logo is on the pieces of paper that were left at each crime scene.
  • "Eureka!" Moment: A number of them, as is to be expected, but the identification of the image on the little pieces of paper as the publisher's logo of a true crime book and especially Donaghy realizing the clue left at the very last crime scene is Rhyme's own badge number take the cake.
  • Fair Cop: As Rhyme notes with a nonverbal smirk in the movie, Donaghy is quite hot. Justified, as she was a model before her cop father died.
  • Film Noir
  • Fingore: When the killer invades Rhyme's apartment to finish him off, Rhyme crushes his would-be murderer's fingers to bloody pulp, by using the mouth-control of his automatic bed to trap the gloating villain's hand between the bars of its frame.
  • Floating Head Syndrome
  • Fulton Street Folly
  • Gender Flip: Rhyme's caregiver. The book has Thom Reston, a male nurse, the film has Queen Latifah.
  • Genius Cripple: Lincoln Rhyme, a genius quadraplegic.
  • GPS Evidence: All the evidence points to the location of the next victim. They cross-reference the evidence and are able to pinpoint the exact location somewhere in New York City.
  • Hope Spot: When the killer's taxi is pulled over, it seemed like he would be caught. Wrong.
  • Iconic Item: The key chain which hangs off the rear view mirror of the killer's cab. It's never used to reveal his identity, only to let the audience know when someone has just become an incipient victim.
  • Improbable Infant Survival: The final victims are a young girl and her grandfather. While the heroes fail to save the grandfather, they barely manage to save the girl.
  • Insufferable Genius: Lincoln Rhyme is brilliant and does seem to have a problem showing it off. He is rough and rude to just about everybody in the movie at some point.
  • It's Personal: The killer's reason for targeting Rhyme and doing the murders that attract his attention—he blames him for ruining his life since he was a forensics expert and it was Rhyme testifying against his analysis in a case that ruined the killer's reputation. Also a case of Moral Myopia, since the killer doesn't seem to realize or care that if Rhyme hadn't said anything, and his mistaken analysis had been accepted as testimony, an innocent person would have been convicted and executed.
    • Hell, from his Motive Rant, it sounds like the killer made moral judgments against his arrested victims, clearly believing he was serving justice against 'scum' to the point of TAMPERING WITH AND FORGING EVIDENCE. In essence, he decided they were criminals and that they deserved to be sent to prison and fixed things accordingly. To him, none of them were innocent. Rhyme was doubly correct in his testimony, as was the killer was doubly a hypocrite in his motive, dismissing that all his victims suffered the exact same fate as him.
  • Jack the Ripoff: The killer's MO is to replicate a 19th-Century "true crime" penny dreadful titled "The Bone Collector". While discovering the book leads to saving (one of) his final victims, Donaghy also figures out that the killer left some clues pointing out his true final target is Rhyme. The killer also gloats that the only reason he copied the crimes was to leave an easy trail of clues for Rhyme to follow and try to prevent his rampage, and still Rhyme couldn't solve them in time to save anybody ("you failed, you fuck!").
  • Life-or-Limb Decision: A variation — Rhyme tells Donaghy to cut a body's hand off rather than risk damaging the handcuffs which he wants to examine.
  • Linked List Clue Methodology: The GPS Evidence listed above is this since each 'package' Donaghy finds for them to analyze contains evidence which if properly identified will lead to the location of the next victim. Played with, however, in that each package also contains a small scrap of paper with part of a picture on it; if the pieces are put together, they can find the book of old true crime stories the killer was basing his murder spree on and thus take a shortcut in the list, potentially getting to a crime scene early enough to save the victim.
  • MacGyvering: A minor one. Donaghy needs to take a picture of evidence before it is destroyed or damaged, but the picture won't give any sense of scale to the object. So she puts a dollar bill next to it, giving it the required sense of scale, and causing Rhyme to become interested in her crime-solving instincts.
  • The Main Characters Do Everything: Justified and deconstructed - Donaghy is a patrol cop with no forensics training beyond reading Rhyme's textbook on the subject, and she's only involved in the investigation at his insistence (he feels she has good instincts) and against her and her SO's objections. When Rhyme pushes her over the limit by ordering her to cut the hands off of a corpse, she storms off the scene.
  • Man Bites Man: Lincoln finishes off the killer this way.
  • Meaningful Name: Thelma might be a reference to actress Thelma Ritter.
  • Moral Myopia: The killer is revealed to have targeted Rhyme for getting him convicted, even bitterly asking him if he has any idea the hell he suffered in prison. Rhyme calls him out on the six innocent people he got convicted to the same fate (one got it so bad that hung himself), though the killer is dismissive of this, believing they deserved jail and he didn't.
  • Omniscient Database: Lincoln was said to have made one of these but it doesn't seem to appear or be used in the movie, except perhaps in the scenes where Donaghy is told to feed the information from the crime scene 'packages' into a computer.
  • Photographic Memory: Donaghy has this, making her invaluable to Rhyme at all the crime scenes. Becomes suspensefully relevant when she discovers numbers on a subway car at the last crime scene and has to think back through a Montage of every number she'd previously seen in the movie, culminating with Rhyme's badge number.
  • Phone-In Detective
  • Plot Device: The book of true crimes which, if they find it, will let them get ahead of the killer and save his victims. Though they don't know they're looking for it until they solve the crime scene puzzle.
  • Race Against the Clock: To a point, Rhyme and Donaghy have to do this for all the killer's victims, trying to find them before he's committed his crimes, but this is especially intense during the searches for the first victim (after the one found dead by the railroad) who has to be freed before a timed steam release from an underground vent blasts her, and the last victims, who have to be found before they drown or die of exposure.
  • Race Lift: Rhyme is Caucasian in the books.
  • Red Herring: During the scene when Donaghy goes to a used bookstore to find a copy of the book the killer was using as the basis for his crime spree, there's a rather creepy clerk who watches her with unusual intensity. It's played up as if he might be the killer, but of course, he's not.
    • When Donaghy realized that Rhyme is the next victim, we see Captain Cheney arrive outside Rhyme's apartment building, looking pissed. It turns out the actual killer Richard actually offed him first when we see him dead outside Rhyme's apartment right after stabbing Thelma.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: Donaghy's reaction when Rhyme tells her to cut the hand off the body of a woman she saw die not ten minutes previously.
  • Servile Snarker: Rhyme's caregiver in both book and film versions.
  • Signature Style: The killer, aside from basing all his crimes on a turn-of-the-century Serial Killer, has a love of old things which shows up throughout the story—vintage weapons, old locations, old items (like handcuffs)...
  • Swarm of Rats: One of the victims ends up covered in rats after being devoured by them.
  • Title Drop: The book of true crimes on which the killer is basing his murders is The Bone Collector, by no means a coincidence.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: Some of the commercials included a voiceover rant from what was obviously the movie's villain. Leland Orser might not be a household name, but he's fairly recognizable and has quite a distinctive voice, so if you saw that commercial you know he's the bad guy as soon as he shows up.
  • Villain Ball: Pretty much how the killer meets his end. Instead of straight-out killing Rhyme, which shouldn't be too hard given the latter's paralyzed from the neck down, the guy goes into full-on bragging mode. This first leads to him getting his hand mangled when Rhyme is able to make the bed lower itself. Then Rhyme gets pulled down to the floor by the killer and given his agony at this point, you think he'd kill him at that point, right? Nope. He continues rambling threats, until Rhyme manages to lure him closer by mumbling, and taking a bite out of his neck. When the killer finally decides to just do what he should have done at the start (to just stab Rhyme), he's quickly gunned down by Amelia Just in Time.
  • Voice with an Internet Connection: Rhyme's interaction with Donaghy in the field.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Due to his somewhat overbearing personality, Rhyme is subject to this several times by Amelia. Interestingly culminates in a dual case when she calls him out on reading into her files and her father's own file, to which he calls her out, significantly more gently than most examples, on holding herself back out of fear due to what happened to her father.
    Amelia: (Outraged at Rhyme reading her father's file) Man, you just keep charging at walls, don't you!?
    Rhyme: Stubbornness is a quality we both share...