Untraceable: Gregory Hoblit’s Techno Thriller, Starring Diane Lane

The world of virtual crime becomes all too real in Untraceable, a techno thriller directed by Gregory Hoblit and written by Robert Fyvolent, Mark R. Brinker and Allison Burnett, from a story by Fyvolent and Brinker.

Diane Lane plays FBI Special Agent Jennifer Marsh, a woman working hard to maintain a delicate balance between her life as a single mother and her job as a law enforcement officer. Each night, she trolls the Internet with her partner Griffin Dowd (Colin Hanks), cracking down on credit card fraud and sexual predators from the bureaus Portland, Oregon field office. When they receive a tip regarding a creepy new website, the partners begin to monitor killwithme.com in an effort to determine its authenticity.

At first the site seems too outrageous to be real. The creator has stranded a kitten on a sticky rat trap and is calling on his viewers to spread the word as the cat slowly dies on camera. An intense Internet search reveals an intricate web of servers and hosts that make the website virtually untraceable, but reveals that the killer is taunting the agents with clues that all point to Portland.

When a local man is kidnapped and takes the kittens place, a more frightening scenario unfolds: An online readout indicates how many users are logged onthe more people who visit the site, the sooner the man will die. Unable to stop more and more visitors from clicking on the site, the agents must watch in horror as the counter reaches the fatal number.

Marsh is drafted to investigate the case as part of a multi-agency task force with Portland Police Detective Eric Box (Billy Burke). As the killers crimes escalate and Marsh turns her considerable talents to finding him, she grows increasingly distracted from her family, unaware of a looming threat to her loved ones. As the task force gets closer to their quarry, the killer tightens an invisible noose that draws Marshs FBI partner into his deadly scenario. With time running out, Marsh and Box begin to untangle the intricate web of clues and interconnections, but the solution may come too late.

Job’s Pressures

Being able to work with a real-life cyber-cop gave Diane Lane the opportunity to get to know not just the professional FBI agent, but to explore the pressures the job puts on her personal life. Thats what I really wanted to talk to her about, she says. What can I use from all this to take home in my real life It was very interesting. Ive told my daughter that I can see everything she ever does, and everybody can always see anything anybody ever does on the computer.

Lane dedicated a great deal of time and energy to learning the details of the job, says Brilheart. She came into our office to see me go online. She was interested in finding out the little things. You know, do you carry your gun every place How do you track down an IP address She had some great questions.

Lane was also interested in how Brilheart found balance between her life as an agent and her role as a mother. There are times when it is a hard thing to handle, Brilheart says. I explained to her that with your kids you tend talk about some of the dangers, but you also have to remember that, kids being kids, they need a mom, and you have to step back and shed your law enforcement life to be with them.

The filmmakers also brought in Phil Blanchard, a police technical advisor. It’s my job to see to it that I can create it as realistic as possible for the director, Blanchard says. I would say there’s a little cinematic license, definitely. But somewhere we’re going to meet a happy medium, and it’s going to look real good when it’s done.

In Burnetts script, Jennifer Marsh became a complex and sometimes contradictory character with equal parts vulnerability and toughness. Marsh is a very intense, determined FBI agent, says producer Lucchesi. She’s the mother of an eight-year-old girl, who she’s raising with the help of her own mother. She’s the breadwinner of the family and also a devoted mom. And because of that, she works nights. She comes home at six in the morning, wakes her daughter up and takes her to school.

To capture the various facets of Marshs personality, from driven law enforcement agent to guilt-ridden single mother, the part required an actress of considerable range. Producer Koch says that everyone involved in casting the film was immediately enthusiastic about Diane Lane playing the role.

Lucchesi remembers: Director Gregory Hoblit liked Diane. We all thought she would bring a level of verisimilitude to the role. We had met female FBI agents and theyre interesting women, determined women and attractive women. Diane seemed to fit the bill very well.

Grounded Actress: Diane Lane

Hoblit says he has been a fan of Diane Lane ever since he saw her in George Roy Hills 1979 comedy A Little Romance. She was all of 12 years old, he remembers. Weve seen her grow up and do some really remarkable work. There is always something very grounded and very real and authentic about her. Shes a genuinely a gifted actress and brings a lot of intelligence and integrity to what shes doing.

Typically Male Role

Lucchesi notes that the role of Special Agent Marsh, a tough cop who struggles to leave the gritty reality of the job at the office and stay connected to her family, would more likely have been played by a man in the past. But it’s now Diane Lane instead of Harrison Ford or Mel Gibson, as it would have been a few years ago.

Female-Driven Thriller

Lane found the idea of a female-driven thriller irresistible. I like smart movies where the woman is at the helm of figuring it out and not just a damsel in distress prototype. And I was fascinated by the whole cyber-crimes division of crime. Im so nave, you cant imagine. I literally thought that computer viruses just spontaneously occurred, like viruses that we know in the world. It never occurred to me that people would maliciously invent harm and send it out into the universe like an arsonist or something.

With Marshs workplace family complete, her real-life family began to take shape, as well. Mary Beth Hurt was cast as Marshs mother, Stella. Hurt was happy to once again trade lines with Lane, with whom she had worked on the New York stage many years earlier. Diane and I did The Cherry Orchard at Lincoln Centers Vivian Beaumont Theater when she was 12 and I was 28. To get to work with her again is wonderful. The way that things come around again is one of the nicest things that happen in this business. For Lane, working with Hurt again was like family reunion. It was like cheating, having somebody that you know from so long ago, she says. Mary Beth gets it. She has seen it all and done it all. And I have great admiration for her self-knowledge and how much of herself she brings to her work.

One of Lane’s scenes embodies a parents worst nightmare. Early one morning, an exhausted March sends her daughter Annie to watch television while she sleeps in. She suddenly realizes that the killers website is broadcasting live from right outside her houseand Annie has gone missing. Theres nothing contrived in the reactions of Marsh and Stella as they frantically search for the little girl. There is just a great piece of blocking in that scene. As we come tearing down the stairs in our pajamas and run outside to find Annie, I come down in front of Diane. And when we reach the landing, she just pushes me back and goes first.

Annie is played by Perla Haney-Jardine. The fourth-graders personality and commitment as an actor impressed Hurt immediately. She’s a dolla really sharp little doll. Unspoiled, bright, unself-conscious and very thoughtful, you know. She is able to follow direction, and do what she needs to do.

Former Child Star

Lane, a former child actor herself, also couldn’t resist giving the youngster some motherly advice. One day I said, I feel like I could do that better, and Diane said, Well, you know the biggest room in the world is the room for improvement. Now my mom says it all the time and its getting kind of annoying.