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Internet Turns Deadly in 'Untraceable'

Diane Lane stars in a new Hollywood thriller that puts murder on the internet and makes everyone who logs on an accomplice. Alan Silverman has a look at Untraceable.

Special Agent Jennifer Marsh heads an FBI team of computer experts investigating cyber-crimes: offenses committed over the internet. Most of the time they are tracking down and stopping sexual predators or swindlers; but then they encounter something more sinister and deadly:

The live video stream on the computer screen shows a bound and gagged victim with a medical intravenous tube in his arm.

More victims show up online with more gruesome methods of murder and the agents realize they are dealing with a serial killer. As word of the web site spreads across the internet, morbid curiosity draws more and more viewers to log on. Racing against time to identify the killer and stop him, the FBI team is stymied because, it appears, he is as savvy about the technology as they are ...perhaps even more so.

"What is unknown is what's the most scary and people don't know how this stuff works," actress Diane Lane says.

Lane stars as Agent Marsh and admits that, like so ," Lane says. " It is pretty fascinating ...just where we already are."

Lane says her portrayal is inspired by a real FBI cyber-crimes expert whom she was able to meet with while researching the role.

"She dressed well, had great hair, wore lipstick, was a great mom who had teenaged daughters that had respect for her and this is what she does," Lane says. "She works behind a computer screen and at a keyboard and is really an angel on people's behalf, intercepting harmful intentions."

Colin Hanks co-stars as a key member of the cyber-squad and he, too, says meeting with real-life counterparts helped him understand the character.

"I spent a day with an FBI agent and I told him early on 'I want you to be able to show me anything. You can't offend me so please don't censor yourself because I want to get an idea of what this guy had to go through.' He was very quick and discreet about it, but he showed me stuff that was truly shocking ...images that made me very upset and made me want to help this man get these guys," Hanks says.

A basic premise in Untraceable - as the title indicates - is that the murderer knows so much about the Internet he can digitally cover his tracks and prevent his location from being discovered.

"Cautionary-wise, it could happen. Can we track them? Absolutely ...and a little faster tomorrow than I could a year ago," says E.J. Hilbert, who served as a technical advisor on the film. A former FBI computer crimes investigator, Hilbert acknowledges hiding places on the web may not get found as quickly as they do in the movie.

"If you're savvy enough, you can do this. I chased guys that did this," he says. "When I worked with the FBI doing this undercover, I was a 'bad guy' online. I hid myself because I knew that these guys were just as likely to find out where I was coming from if they wanted to invest the time and effort. Would it take as long as they do in the movie to find them and track them back? It might have a year ago, but it's evolving every day."

While it is not as gory as some recent horror films such as the Saw or Hostel series, Untraceable does depict the gruesome murders as they would appear online. Director Gregory Hoblit says he tried to make them graphic enough to shock the audience.

"Just show enough to tell the story," Hoblit says. "Don't linger ...don't be ourselves what this movie is talking about. I think it would have lost the importance of the movie as a cautionary tale ...illustrating what the FBI and cyber-crime units around the country do every day to catch the bad guys. That's the story I was interested in telling."

Untraceable is written by Robert Fyvolent and the cast also features Billy Burke, Joseph Cross and Mary Beth Hurt. The film was shot on location in the American Pacific Northwest city of Portland, Oregon.