A Perfect Murder might not be the ‘perfect’ thriller but it is an effective one. Director Andrew Davis manages to keep the pacing going throughout the fairly lengthy running time despite a predictable storyline and characters. The performances from the three leads are all well done albeit I’ve seen better work from each of them in the past and since the movie’s release. Still, this a good flick worth checking out if you haven’t already, just don’t judge too critically by comparing it to Hitchcock…
Genre(s): Suspense Thriller
Warner Bros. | R – 107 min. – $19.98 | July 17, 2012
Directed by: Andrew Davis
Writer(s): Frederick Knott (play, “Dial M for Murder”); Patrick Smith Kelly (screenplay)
Cast: Michael Douglas, Gwyneth Paltrow, Viggo Mortensen
Theatrical Release Date: June 5, 1998
Features: 2 Feature Commentaries, Alternate Ending
Number of Discs: 1
Audio: English (DTS-HD MA 5.1), French (Dolby Digital 5.1), Spanish (Dolby Digital 5.1)
Video: 1080p/Widescreen 1.78
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Disc Size: 21.8 GB
Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Region(s): A, B, C
THE MOVIE – 3.75/5
Note: This review does contain spoilers.
“That’s not happiness to see me, is it?”
A Perfect Murder is one of the many movies inspired by or straight-up remakes of an Alfred Hitchcock movie. In this case, while the movie is based on the play “Dial ‘M’ for Murder”, it’s most associated with Hitchcock’s 1954 version which was adapted by the playwright, Frederick Knott.
The relatively modern story, size of cell phones aside, centers on rich married couple Steven Taylor (MICHAEL DOUGLAS), a stock trader – go figure – and wife Emily Bradford Taylor (GWYNETH PALTROW), a researcher for the United Nations. Since Steven is works in the stock market, you know he’s up to no good and indeed, he’s made some highly illegal margin calls and those trades went under and he stands to lose his entire fortune. Fortunately Emily is loaded, to the tune of $100 million and there was no prenuptial agreement before they married.
Meanwhile, his marriage is hardly going well as, when the movie opens, we find out Emily is having an affair with a Bohemian-esque artist named David Shaw (VIGGO MORTENSEN). Emily doesn’t think Steven knows but he does and eventually, with the help of some leverage including Shaw’s real name and checkered past, propositions Shaw, for a fee of $500k, to kill his wife. Shaw doesn’t want to do the deed himself and sends someone else who fails after Emily shoves a meat thermometer into the perp’s neck.
With the attempted killer dead and his wife still alive and well, along with her lover, Steven has a big problem only exacerbated by a suspicious homicide detective (DAVID SUCHET) and David wants to collect the rest of the money using a conversation he taped of Steven talking about the murder. What’s a rich douche-bag/scumbag sociopathic husband to do?
A Perfect Murder is one of those movies that never get old, not so much for the plot as it’s pretty much telegraphed from the beginning so there’s little mystery in what’s going to happen and instead one can sit back and enjoy the performances:
– Gwyneth Paltrow filling the Grace Kelly role is good, though some might have trouble relating or feeling sorry for her as she’s hardly an angel, even if she’s in a controlling marriage (yes, I know several times she wants to tell him because “he deserves to know”, but that doesn’t quite do it). By the same token, however, it’s hard not to sympathize after the brutal attack…
– Viggo Mortensen does well as the shady and ethically questionable David Shaw. It’s a hard role to play because he’s got to be just bad enough to be a believable conman, followed by somebody who would actually agree to kill his lover. The character might not be overly nuanced by Mortensen does well with an underwritten and secondary character.
– Last and not least, Michael Douglas seems to be the go-to guy, especially back in the 1990s, to play the rich asshole with no ethics. Like the Shaw character, there’s not much good about the Steven as he’s controlling of his wife, things only of money with revenge coming a close second.
Directed by suspense-thriller maestro (alright, a bit heavy of a description) Andrew Davis, who also directed the equally effective films Under Siege and The Fugitive (as well as the not-so-successful Chain Reaction and Collateral Damage), does well with A Perfect Murder. It’s easy enough to distract audiences with shiny action sequences but when there’s little of it, save for the attack scene he’s able to keep the intensity going throughout the film’s two-hour running time.
A Perfect Murder might not be a classic or even comparable with the Hitchcock classic, but it’s an effective enough thriller that one can admire for its performances. No, it’s doesn’t break new ground in the genre and even Michael Douglas merely plays his usual douchebag bad guy persona seen countless times before, but together with Gwyneth Paltrow and Viggo Mortensen, it makes for an entertaining experience that remains just as good today as the day I saw it 10+ years ago.
SPECIAL FEATURES – 1.5/5
Not much here except an Alternate Ending (5:26; SD) and Two Feature Commentaries: (1) Director Andrew Davis, Screenwriter Patrick Smith Kelly and Michael Douglas (his was spliced in); (2) Producer Peter Macgregor Scott, Director of Photographer Dariusz Wolski, Costume Designer Ellen Mirojnick, Set Decorator Debra Schutt and Production Designer Philip Rosenberg.
VIDEO – 3.75/5
A Perfect Murder arrives on Blu-ray presented with a 1.78 widescreen aspect ratio (1.85 in theaters) and 1080p high-definition. The picture, while not bad, is hardly impressive. I actually thought it was a tad soft in places and showed a fair amount of artifacting in some scenes. That being said, it’s still pretty good when compared to the Blu-ray as the detail levels aren’t too bad, just that this not a picture that will pop off the screen.
AUDIO – 4.0/5
The disc comes with a clear 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track which primarily shines through James Newton Howard’s effective yet low-key score. Dialogue levels do sound nice, however, coming through the center channel while other elements make use of the front and rear speakers, although I can’t say it’s an immersive experience. Again, it might not a huge step up from the DVD’s Dolby Digital track at least it’s a bit more even.
OVERALL – 3.0/5
Overall, A Perfect Murder might not be the ‘perfect’ thriller but it is an effective one. Director Andrew Davis manages to keep the pacing going throughout the fairly lengthy running time despite a predictable storyline and characters. The performances from the three leads are all well done albeit I’ve seen better work from each of them in the past and since the movie’s release. Still, this a good flick worth checking out if you haven’t already, just don’t judge too critically by comparing it to Hitchcock… As far as the Blu-ray is concerned, the video and audio aren’t the best but good enough while the features, what little there is, is OK but nothing special.
Brian Oliver, The Movieman
Check out some more screen caps by going to page 2. Please note, these do contain spoilers.