The films success lies in telling a strong, intelligent story. It has clearly done its homework about serial killers and constructs an excellent thriller set around current psychological and forensic understanding of classic cases and their motivation. Particularly impressive is the characterization the film takes its time with characters, even lesser characters such as J.E. Freemans captain are given time and some, such as Will Pattons colleague, who is initially painted as a jerk, are shown with surprising sympathy. If there are faults in the script it is that it does take its time to get there, making occasional detours away from the main action, such as the long scene with the drug bust that sets up Dermot Mulroneys death. It is obvious where the film is heading that the culminating killing will be a re-enactment of the Daryll Lee Cullum attack on Sigourney Weaver and that she will have to fight for her life by finding the reserves within herself to overcome her agoraphobia but it works extremely well nevertheless.
Jon Amiel, the British-born director of the likes of Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter (1990), Sommersby (1995) and Creation (2009), does an excellent job. There is a particularly gruelling opening moving from the lecture where Sigourney Weaver makes a number of potently effective points about profiling to Harry Connick Jrs killer emerging in the ladies room, ending with Weaver strung up over the toilet by a noose around her neck. There are no other scenes that quite match the shock effectiveness of such an opening, but Jon Amiel still manages to keep the film wound at an intensity the suspenseful unveiling of the existence of a copycat killer; the eerie computer messages Sigourney Weaver receives; and especially the introduction of William McNamara where we go from seeing him calmly talking to his mother to the shock revelation of a girl tied up in his basement.
The film is well cast, particularly its two female leads. Sigourney Weaver does this coldly logical and harshly defensive role well and the intensity of her neurotic introverted performance takes one aback. Holly Hunter is also good, she has natural commanding charisma and the characters reliance on own her instincts and rapport with her male comrades is well established. Singer Harry Connick Jr has a particularly alarming part as the serial killer Daryll Lee Cullum.
Director Amiel has directed other genre works such as the Dennis Potter tv mini-series The Singing Detective (1986) set inside a hospital patients fantasies of a cheap detective novel and the Magical Realist Queen of Hearts (1989). Amiel next went onto the lame millennial caper thriller Entrapment (1999), which fails to work in every way that Copycat succeeds in doing, and the rather terrible big budget journey to the centre of the earth sf film The Core (2003). Amiel also produced the Magical Realist Simply Irresistible (1999), directed by this films producer, Mark Tarlov.