MPAA Rating: R/Genre: Crime Thriller/Stars: Michael Douglas, Gwyneth Paltrow, Viggo Mortensen, David Suchet, Sarita Choudhury, Constance Towers, Novella Nelson, Michael P. Moran, Gerry Becker, Will Lyman/Runtime: 107 minutes
In 1954, the Master of Suspense Alfred Hitchcock gave us a slice of cinematic pie known as Dial M for Murder. A movie that proved to be quite the riveting look at what would happen if a husband decided to secretly bump off his wife due to his knowledge of a secret affair she’d had and how his plan to do so unfolded both in ways that he had expected and in ways that he hadn’t. It should come as no surprise of course to learn that this movie both at the time of its release to say nothing of in the time since then is seen both as an chilling entry in the thriller genre, but also as a worthy addition to Hitchcock’s filmography. It also shouldn’t surprise you to learn that this slice of cinematic pie has been remade by the land of movie magic. A remake that incidentally is the movie I am reviewing for you today, 1998’s A Perfect Murder. Yet although it is nowhere near as great as the original (though if it had been I would have been quite surprised), I must admit that I do nevertheless find myself actually enjoying this movie a bit whenever I decide to get out my DVD copy and put it in on a rainy day. Indeed it might not be the say all, end all when it comes to the mystery thriller genre of movie magic and you might be able to see where this one is going from a good solid 10 miles away minimum, but A Perfect Murder still makes for perfectly good entertainment in large part thanks to both a genuinely novel wrinkle or 2 thrown into the mix as well as truly engaging and riveting work from a quartet of performers who, despite playing clear archetypes, are still able to give quality-level performances to help keep this film afloat.
The plot is as follows: Moving the action of the narrative from the flats of jolly ol’ London to the thriving metropolis of New York City, A Perfect Murder tells the story of a couple by the names of Steven and Emily Taylor. A couple that are not only fixtures in the upper echelons of New York City society, but that also seem to have a loving and wonderful marriage. Or at least that would be if it weren’t for a few things I guess I can let you in on right off the bat. Those of course being that Emily is having an affair with a bohemian artist of some skill and talent by the name of David and that Steven, unbeknownst to her, has figured it out. Yet Steven isn’t entirely upset about this potentially devastating news since he has information about David that the madly in love artist would rather Emily not know about. To that end, Steven decides to use this information to his advantage and presents David with a proposal. One which takes the form of if he were to eliminate Emily from the equation then Steven would be willing to pay David 500,000 dollars for doing so since he needs Emily’s personal fortune of 100 million to get himself out of some bad financial situations he’s gotten stuck in lately, but is unable to get at it whilst Emily is still among the living. Of course should David refuse then Steven will be more than willing to leak this information about David to both Emily and the police thus leaving him in one horrific bind. Seeing no other options, David reluctantly decides to go along with the scheme. However sometimes the best laid plans of mice, men, and conniving husbands don’t exactly go to plan and I think it is safe to say to you dear reader that this is most assuredly going to be one of those times….
Now although a large chunk of this narrative is one that deviates from the original stab (pun intended) at this material when it was presented all the way back in 1954, I am also going to be upfront with you and say there is also not much in the way of original material here. By that I mean yes this is an engrossing movie don’t get me wrong. At the same time though, this is a movie where not only can you pretty much figure out how everyone’s separate arcs are going to wind up, but you can also with relative ease be able to figure out just how this entire slice of cinematic pie is going to end as well. Yes there are a few wrinkles scattered in throughout that I must admit do make for unique twists in this narrative that help to distinguish this from its predecessor that I dare not spoil. By and large though this is one mystery that is honestly not that mysterious thus really taking a lot of the enjoyment from viewing it since when one chooses to watch a slice of cinematic pie in this particular genre you don’t want to be able to figure everything out in advance. Rather, you like to be both surprised and, as more and more information comes in, try to piece things together along with the characters. A task that this film is sadly unable to pull off though not for lack of effort.
Wait a minute though Alan! You said you thought this movie was good! How can it be good when there really is no mystery to the whole thing thus leaving the whole thing a little bit flat? Indeed dear reader I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if the majority of you are thinking what I just wrote out since that might seem to be quite the contradiction and rightfully so. However, there is a key element to this film that ultimately helps it rise just enough over the level of mehhh predictability and actually turn out if nothing else to be a good little entry in this genre. That of course being the fact that this slice of cinematic pie is the fortunate recipient of a trinity of fairly good performances at the helm and one really good supporting performance. Yes the characters themselves are fairly obvious archetypes for this particular genre of movie magic, but at least the actors playing them are skilled enough that they still manage to be quite riveting to follow through this slice of cinematic pie’s 107 minute runtime. This starts with Michael Douglas in the role of scheming husband Steven Taylor and he is absolutely terrific. Indeed Douglas, in addition to all his other terrific attributes as an actor/producer, was at one time a brilliant go-to guy for when you wanted someone portrayed in a slice of cinematic pie who is charming, calculating, and yet slimy in the best ways possible (see Gekko, Gordon from Wall Street in 1987) and this is exactly what Douglas brings to the role of Steve. Yes you know this is a guy who you should despise, but Douglas brings such a slimy charm to the role that you can’t help, but be hooked in by him and his performance all the same. Also giving us good work in this is Gwyneth Paltrow as Emily Taylor. Indeed it is not the easiest task to update a character played so memorably in their original incarnation by screen icon Grace Kelly, but Paltrow manages to bring a degree of style, vulnerability and insightfulness to the role and thus not only pay respect to the work done by Kelly the first go-around, but also really make the character her own as well. Now I do like what Viggo Mortensen did in his variation on the role that was originated by Robert Cummings in the original, but I also felt like the role was also severely underwritten. As such while Mortensen does do the best that he can, but is ultimately left with a performance that I honestly wanted more out of. As for the terrific supporting performance that would belong to David Suchet as the main detective investigating the case. Indeed it might not be the biggest part in the movie, but Suchet still does manage to bring a wonderful mix of stoic, silent observing, respect, and subtle warmth to a role that could have been extremely one-note. Thus there may be problems with this film, but the work done by the cast does at least mask a fair amount of them.
All in all is the 1998 slice of cinematic pie that is A Perfect Murder the say all, end all when it comes to the section of the world of movie magic that is the Mystery genre? Nope. Not even close. If you want that might I recommend such movies as the 1974 Murder on the Orient Express (or even its 2017 remake), Se7en, The Usual Suspects, or even Dial M for Murder from 1954? At the same time however, is this a genuinely bad movie? Honestly I wouldn’t say that. In fact, I would put this on the same pedestal as another mystery movie from Warner Brothers released in the 90s known as Murder from 1600 in that both movies are good, but not exactly stellar or likely to be met with much in the way of critical acclaim. Suffice it to say then that while it might have issues in regards to narrative predictability among other things, A Perfect Murder is still a very-well acted little movie that, if nothing else, makes for perfect material for you to put your little grey cells to work in trying to figure out on a rainy day. Make of that therefore what you will dear reader….On a scale of 1-5 I give A Perfect Murder “98” a solid 3 out of 5.