Warner Bros. // 1998 // 107 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // July 30th, 2012
A powerful husband. An unfaithful wife. A jealous lover. All of them have a motive. Each of them has a plan.
"Can you spare 400 grand?"
Steven Taylor (Michael Douglas, Wall Street) is a businessman who has accumulated everything his heart desires: wealth, power, a lavish home and a beautiful wife named Emily (Gwyneth Paltrow, Bounce). One day, Steven makes an upsetting discovery: Emily has been having an affair with a soft-spoken painter named David Shaw (Viggo Mortensen, A History of Violence). Enraged and eager for revenge, Steven begins hatching a scheme to murder Emily and inherit her sizable trust fund. Ah, but getting away with such a crime is much trickier than simply committing it. In order to pull off his evil scheme, Steven must determine how to construct...A Perfect Murder!
Remakes tend to be ill-advised in general, but remaking the films of Alfred Hitchcock seems a particularly unwise idea. After all, Hitchcock's movies are largely defined by the director's signature style; take him out of the equation and you're generally left with something limp and uninspired. Contrast Rear Window to Disturbia, or Notorious to Mission: Impossible II, or even Psycho to Gus Van Sant's shot-for-shot remake. By that standard, I suppose Andrew Davis' A Perfect Murder (a remake of Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder) fares reasonably well, but it's still a vastly less suspenseful and involving experience than its predecessor.
In many ways, A Perfect Murder feels like a stereotypical '90s thriller. It features Michael Douglas as a slippery businessman (a role he could undoubtedly play in his sleep, which is something he actually appears to do on occasion in this flick), Gwyneth Paltrow as the distressed female lead, love scenes with blend the gratuitous time-filling nature of '80s sex scenes with the conservative "L-shaped sheet"-style sheepishness of the modern era, direction from Andrew Davis (The Fugitive, Chain Reaction, Under Siege) and a James Newton Howard score dominated by electronic stings and cooing female vocals. There's so much about the movie that just feels so...familiar. It's not a bad movie, but it's awfully anonymous.
Andrew Davis is a competent director, but he's better at bracing action than mounting tension. The reason that his big-screen adaptation of The Fugitive worked so well (aside from strong casting) was that he was able to turn a fundamentally atmospheric and suspense-driven television show into a pulse-pounding action movie. Considering that, the more visceral scenes in A Perfect Murder (such as an early scene of attempted murder) pack a considerable punch, but the twisty mystery never really manages to get us on the edge of our seats. The actual plotting is reasonably intelligent (if not too surprising), but it's presented so flatly that we feel as if we're observing it from a distance; it's more akin to reading a detailed newspaper article about a crime than it is to actually witnessing one.
The acting is competent but somewhat unmemorable. Michael Douglas is superbly cast as the husband, but he doesn't go out of his way to bring anything extra to the table. Douglas can be a remarkable actor when the occasion demands it, but in this instance he's content to coast on his well-established vibe of untrustworthy sleaziness and icy professionalism. Gwyneth Paltrow works a little harder in her role, but the part is underwritten. She's mostly relegated to looking terribly concerned for the duration of her screen time. David Suchet (Poirot) is wasted as a police detective, though he does a fine job of disguising his British accent. In the end, the actor who makes the biggest impression is Viggo Mortensen, whose gentle presence seems to be masking some diabolical undercurrents. He's the only character who keeps us guessing throughout, and he manages to steal every scene he appears in by slyly underplaying the role.
A Perfect Murder (Blu-ray) offers a pretty decent 1080p/1.78:1 transfer which does a nice job of highlighting Dariusz Wolski's fine cinematography. The film certainly looks good; sporting a slick upper-class sterility during many of Douglas' scenes and offering a more impassioned sense of warmth during the scenes in Mortensen's home. It's an above-average effort on a technical level, and the fine work of the crew can be well-appreciated thanks to the transfer's exceptional detail. While the image isn't quite as deep as I would like, it looks natural and free of DNR tampering. The DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio Track is adequate but not particularly involving, as this is a dialogue-driven film which never gets too heavy on enveloping sound design. One early cue in James Newton Howard's score (an overheated "chika-chika-wow-wow" piece that accompanies one of the love scenes) is a bit loud in contrast to everything else, but otherwise balance is exceptional. Supplements include two audio commentaries (one featuring Andrew Davis, Michael Douglas and screenwriter Patrick Smith Kelly, the other featuring Dariusz Wolski, producer Peter Macgregor-Scott, costume designer Ellen Mirojnick, set decorator Deborah Schutt and production designer Philip Rosenberg) and a terrible alternate ending.
A Perfect Murder is a functional thriller that rarely rises noticeably above or below mediocrity. Too bad the talented folks involved weren't able to deliver something more compelling.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 107 Minutes
Release Year: 1998
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Alternate Ending