To Catch a Killer (2023), directed by Damian Szifron, is a nail-biting English-language thriller that follows the FBI’s investigation into a mass murder on New Year’s Eve in Baltimore. It keeps you glued to the screen for a runtime of around 120 minutes and gazes into the harrowing internal politics at the FBI and how it keeps the detectives from reaching the real murderer. It is a solid police procedural, superbly shot, and keeps the audience on their toes with a tense atmosphere.

There are so many events that take place simultaneously in this movie that the main plot may be difficult to keep track of. Don’t worry. We have broken down every bit of the two-hour narrative for you and tried to answer the most pertinent questions, beginning with ‘Why did the killer spare Eleanor’s life?’ Hope you find all your answers here!

To Catch a Killer (2023) Movie Summary & Plot Synopsis:

It is New Year’s Eve, and the city of Baltimore is replete with people partying in their apartments or just going about their business. Amidst this chaos, as soon as a round of fireworks goes out, 17 people are shot dead with bullets flying out of nowhere. On the other side of the town, Eleanor Falco (played by Shailene Woodley), a police officer, is trying to settle a meager squabble at a diner when she is paged to reach one of the sites of the shooting.

She arrives at the site, and the police ascertain that all the bullets have been fired from a certain 17th-floor apartment in the neighborhood. It is at the precise moment of this discovery the apartment blows up, sending a shock wave of panic among the other residents in the building. All the police personnel immediately rush to the site of destruction. Eleanor, along with one of her colleagues, stands outside the building recording videos of the fleeing residents. There was a possibility that the culprit was in the crowd.

Soon, the police and the FBI reach the site and find no trace of the perpetrator. Eleanor, who had by this time climbed the stairs to the 17th floor without a gas mask while resting against one of the walls of the apartment due to ill health, manages to hint at investigating the toilet for any possible evidence of the shooter. Back at the bureau, the chief FBI investigator, Geoffrey Lammark (played by Ben Mendelsohn), briefs the department about the task they have at hand – finding out the mass shooter – and explains the things they need to keep in mind while carrying on investigations. He particularly fancies Eleanor, who is prompt to tell him that the shooter is unlikely to strike again and why.

Shailene Woodley, Jovan Adepo, Ben Mendelsohn in To Catch A Killer Movie
Shailene Woodley, Jovan Adepo, Ben Mendelsohn in To Catch A Killer Movie

We get an insight into the lonely life of Eleanor as she returns home that night. However, very early the next morning, she is summoned by Lammark. The latter insists that she assist him in this case because her thought process would be insightful, and she could also serve as the link between the Baltimore Police Department and the FBI in this investigation. Here, they meet Mackenzie (played by Jovan Adepo), another FBI agent who would be following them closely in finding the shooter. What follows is a lot of brainstorming among the three as they try to understand the possible motif of the attack or the reason why it took place. We also understand that Lammark is under huge duress from the FBI authorities to successfully find out the shooter.

While the three are still trying to figure out who the killer is, investigators have narrowed it down to a teenage boy – who has confined himself to his room and watches ISIS videos – as their primary suspect. They proceed to zero down on him, despite Lammark’s orders. Unfortunately, the boy jumps out of his bedroom window and dies in the process.

As the authorities press upon Lammark to find the shooter, he invites Eleanor home and introduces her to his husband. He also confronts her about her FBI rejection, citing psychiatric issues such as depression as the reason. She confesses that she took up a job in the force to save her from her own self-destructive tendencies.

A few days later, another horrific incident takes place. In a shopping mall, a man is seen stealing the clothes of a guy from the male changing room and washing it clean in the sink area of the toilet. Another man spots him in the act and informs the mall security guards about this unaccepted behavior, who try to trace the stranger down. When they finally find him, he is stealing food at the food court. As the guards tried to ask him to leave, the man pulled out a gun and shot the people around him dead. He escapes from the rest of the police force, who are after him, by blowing them up with grenades planted in a nearby dustbin. Lammark and Eleanor reach the place shortly afterward and are horrified by the nonchalance of the man.

The news spreads like wildfire. The FBI takes down a group of local NRA members who support gun violence in another attempt at finding the perpetrator. In the course of the investigation, Lammark and Eleanor come to believe that the shooter has access to old guns and military equipment, and the lab stool result shows that the man was on a plant-based diet in the days following up to New Year’s Eve. However, the authorities lost confidence in Lammark and his team after the second attempt at crackdown and removed them from investigating the case any further. Subsequently, a realization strikes Eleanor, which leads her to the culprit and a devastating face-off with him in the end.

What happens to Lammark in the end?

While following up with their potential lead despite being suspended, Eleanor and Lammark visit Dean Possey’s mother, Mrs. Possey, at her house. They follow Mrs. Possey inside the house when she tells them that her son hasn’t visited her in a long time and gathers in her drawing room. The former talks about her son, his head injury, mental illness, and his subsequent inability to join the army. Eleanor comes to realize that Dean is hiding in the outhouse and has both her and Lammark at gunpoint. When she tries to caution Lammark about the same, he reaches for his gun and is immediately shot dead by Dean Possey. In the end, Eleanor negotiates with the FBI to honor Lammark with a posthumous medal of valor and transfer all his pension money to his husband.

Shailene Woodley as Eleanor in To Catch A Killer (2023)
Shailene Woodley as Eleanor in To Catch A Killer (2023)

Unmasking the Killer: Who is Dean Possey?

The real killer in To Catch a Killer (2023) is Dean Possey, played by Ralph Ineson.

Throughout the whole movie, the detectives at work come to identify the primary traits of this man – a white guy, not a meat eater, and someone with access to old military weapons. Luckily, one of the men who painted the apartment that originally blew up could provide a facial sketch of Possey and directed them to search at meat factories around where he was previously employed.

They find out about him from the older employees at a slaughterhouse and learn that Dean is believed to have killed one of his superiors, who was also a bully to him. This led to his imprisonment for two years before he was released on parole in December’99. Possey’s father, Sergeant Arthur Possey, was the shooting instructor of the 75th Rangers, and Dean’s parole had been supported by letters written by two of his father’s army friends. Eleanor and Lammark try to dig deeper into his past only to understand that he had no credit cards in his name, no home address, and no social security, rendering him the qualities of a ghost in today’s world.

After arriving at Mrs. Possey’s house, she briefs him about how he was injured in the head by two bullets during his childhood and how he started despising the world around him as he grew up and became extremely introverted, so much that he was overjoyed when everyone was locked up at home during covid. Later, in an act of confrontation with Eleanor, he confesses to his crimes. Dean mentions that he never received enough care or attention from anyone and expresses no remorse for having conducted two mass murders.

At Mrs. Possey’s house, Eleanor spots two cups of tea and a flannel shirt hanging from the clothes stand, ultimately realizing that Dean Possey may be hiding in the outhouse. While they can’t contact the force by any means, someone from the neighborhood possibly reports to the police about gunshots – one that Dean uses to kill Lammark and another that Mrs. Possey fires into her brains. When he starts attacking the police patrol who came to check on the house, he gets found out.

The Motive Behind the Killings: Why Did Dean Possey Kill?

When conversing with Eleanor, Dean Possey confesses that it made sense to him to shoot 200+ people because human beings made a lot of noise, appreciating fireworks display year after year. Dean wishes for there to be fewer lights so that one can see the stars. He appeared to be generally angry at the world, at the capitalist and cruel systems that prevail in society, from working 12+ hour shifts to be recognized in the country to killing cows for making burger patties.

Moreover, he felt observed at all times, constantly needing to be recognized or earn money to survive in the world. He doesn’t seem to have an iota of remorse when he says that if he couldn’t find peace in the world, he could at least deliver retribution. Dean also denied feeling like ‘love’ could save him because he had already traversed too far down the road of unhappiness and crimes. It is likely that Dean Possey was suffering from a chronic mental illness which led him to commit these crimes in cold blood.

A Twist of Fate: Why Does the Killer Spare Eleanor’s Life?

It is likely that Dean Possey finds Eleanor empathetic towards his mental health and attitude, hence deciding to spare her life. Eleanor doesn’t follow any of her regular police academy training while conversing with Dean. Instead, she tells him that she understands his feelings about the crudeness and pointlessness of the world, one of the reasons why she was roped into the investigation in the first place. She echoes his thoughts, suggesting that it was only love that could help them mend the broken bridges. Dean agrees to the suggestion but says that it is too late for him to avail of that option now.

To Catch a Killer (2023) Movie Ending Explained:

After Lammark and Eleanor get suspended from investigating the case, Eleanor drinks at a bar with Lammark and returns home feeling dismayed. As she is relaxing in the bath, she has a realization. She storms to the house of one of the three painters who helped renovate the now blown-up apartment a couple of years ago, Lang. She insists he tells the truth, realizing that the man could not be at multiple places doing the same job as his receipts suggested. He comes clean and tells Eleanor that he took up multiple jobs and outsourced a few of them to workers with no identification proofs who were ready to do it for less money, helping him make profits. He remembers one of the men he hired fitting the description of the killer and helps draw a facial sketch of the same man named Dean Possey.

They trace this man to one of the slaughterhouses where a certain older employee, Romana, recognizes Dean. She tells Lammark and Eleanor that he may have killed one of his superiors and was sent to prison for two years. On their way to Dean’s family home, Eleanor finds out more information about him from the police files, learning that he had been released on parole in December’99 and the prison psychiatrist had noted symptoms of sensitivity to light and a tendency to choose isolation in Dean.

Soon, they arrive at Mrs. Possey’s house and learn more about how a mistaken bullet shot at his head by his father scarred his childhood completely, changing him from a fun-loving extrovert to an introvert who started despising the world. In the meantime, Eleanor figures out that Dean is actually hiding in the outhouse, and as she tries to caution Lammark, the latter is shot dead. She instructs Mrs. Possey to take away her gun and her mobile phone, assuring him that she is off the case and wants to help him. Mrs. Possey tries to convince Dean to come out of the outhouse, failing which she kills herself with Eleanor’s gun.

Finally, Dean enters Mrs. Possey’s home and confronts Eleanor about his disdain for the human race and the capitalist grind that keeps society engaged. Eleanor tries to help him, even agreeing to respectfully fulfill his last wishes, but a police patrol car arrives at the scene. Dean suspects Eleanor of informing the police about his location while she pleads innocence and says that it may have been one of the neighbors who heard the sound of the gunshot.

Dean injures Eleanor in the head and holds her captive in the outhouse as he prepares to take down the police, killing the first two and blowing up several officers when they tried to move closer to the outhouse. Eleanor initially tries to rationalize with him, failing at which she bites Dean in the throat and tears some of the flesh, injuring him. Dean walks away into the night with his guns. Eleanor desperately frees herself and instructs the police about Dean’s whereabouts. They finally spot Dean and kill him with a shower of bullets.

The FBI negotiates with Eleanor to keep quiet about Dean Possey’s death in a police encounter. She is made a special agent at the FBI, and they also agree to honor Lammark’s contributions with a medal of valor and direct all his pensions to his husband. The movie ends with a shot of Eleanor walking down the streets of a busy city.

Also, Read: Woman on the Run [1950] Review – Shady Figures and a Marriage in Shambles

To Catch A Killer (2023) Links: IMDb
Cast: Shailene Woodley, Ben Mendelsohn, Jovan Adepo

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