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IN SHORT: Perfect fun.
Andrew Davis' A Perfect Murder is based upon the play Dial M for Murder by Frederick Knott and the subsequent movie by Alfred Hitchcock. As always, Cranky makes no comparison to the original material. In this case, it just wouldn't be fair.
Being more than fair, as Cranky strives to be, would have me saying that A Perfect Murder is a film in the best tradition of Hitchcock. The audience is clued in early, and knows more than some of the characters. This knowledge doesn't mean that we aren't surprised by the plot twists -- the story takes about as many twists and turns as you'll be able to handle. Top notch performances, specifically the one delivered by Michael Douglas, had the audience cackling with glee. The violence, what little there is of it, is sudden and shocking and, in the words of the woman behind me "almost gave me a heart attack."
You are gonna have so much fun . . .
Emily Bradford Taylor (Gwyneth Paltrow) is a multi-linguist attached to the U.S. Mission to the U.N. She is young, pretty and incredibly wealthy. She loves the young, handsome, almost penniless and therefore struggling artist David Shaw (Viggo Mortensen). Problem is, she's married to financial big shot Steven Taylor (Michael Douglas). What she doesn't know is that Steven has played the money markets wrong, and is about to be bankrupted by margin calls and probably slapped with a Federal indictment.
Wait, there's more. Emily doesn't know that Steven is aware of her affair. Nor is she aware of David's secret criminal background. Steven's got a file full of criminal records and reports, and uses his knowledge to enlist David in a plot to murder Emily. The motive? No prenuptial agreement exists and a hundred million dollars inheritance is his if David pulls off the perfect murder. Steven knows the coming murder will be perfect, because he has planned every detail down to the minute.
A Perfect Murder is almost perfect in its simplicity. The murderous motive is crystal clear. The behavior of the characters is easy to follow, and all three of the principals go through at least two major changes each. Is David the loving, innocent artist or a scheming swindler? Is Steven a man forced to do the unthinkable because of bad decisions, or is he the swine we all want him to be? What will Emily do when she figures out that she loses no matter whose bed she ends up in?
Douglas' performance is nearly matched by Paltrow, who says more with a glance than she ever could with the scripted word. Speaking of which, the screenplay by Patrick Smith Kelly rarely failed to keep Cranky's attention fixed to the screen, filling the characters with language that sounded --real". Rich people speak differently than the rest of us normal folk, and Douglas drops words I haven't used in conversation since I was jammed full of 'em back at SAT time. Steven also delivers a pithy review of David's work -- "Trashy but Potent." Can't you just see it in a newspaper ad? The clever and very modern characterizations extend to the supporting characters. The police detective assigned to the case (all PBS viewers will immediately recognize David Suchet from their adaptations of Agatha Christie Inspector Poirot stories) simply and subtly grounds the movie in the real world of real people from different places -- not just the born wealthy. All the extra details are delivered with great subtlety. It's a joy.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to A Perfect Murder, he would have paid . . .
Director Andrew Davis blew us away big time a couple of years back with The Fugitive. That flick was filled with big effects and a big story. This time out, he keeps the focus small; the characters simple. Small, in the case of A Perfect Murder, is good. Go. Go and have fun.
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