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A Perfect Murder

movie reviewvideo review out of 4

*Also starring: Viggo Mortensen, Michael P. Moran, Novella Nelson, David Suchet, Constance Towers

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

"A Perfect Murder" is an ironic title given the fact that Hollywood movies rarely involve killers who get away with their crimes. Considering the cleverness of its villain, it's difficult to believe he would commit so many flaws in planning the murder of his wife--or even that he would allow himself to lose so much money on Wall Street that he would be financially wiped out. While the errors in his scheme make the plot more predictable than we'd like, Andrew Davis's direction of Patrick Smith Kelly's screenplay is so disciplined that the film maintains its suspense from beginning to end. Based on the play "Dial M for Murder" by Frederick Knott, later made by Alfred Hitchcock ito a clunky movie starring Ray Milland, "A Perfect Murder" relies on its excellent cast to rivet audience attention. Though Michael Douglas is still Gordon Gecko, he plies his craft with enough variety to involve us. There's simply no one else who can carry off the demeanor of a cold, calculating, handsome and passionate money man.

"A Perfect Murder" begins in bed as Emily (Gwyneth Paltrow), the trophy wife of currency trader Steven Taylor (Michael Douglas), is carrying on a torrid affair with a much younger man, painter David Shaw (Viggo Mortensen). Though she is not yet aware, her husband has detected and photographed her afternoon movements and feels deeply deceived by the woman he loves for herself and not primarily for her $100 million worth. When she arrives home to their drop-dead designer apartment overlooking New York's Central Park, she and Steven say all the right things but you can tell by their body language that things are wrong. She avoids his eyes; his are flashing with justifiable anger. The couple are mismatched in age, Emily about twenty-five years Steven's junior. Though they attend the same functions and appear to be of the same social class, her straying is almost excusable.

The film spends most of its time in the planning of a murder, with Steven's offer of $500,000 to the man he is convinced will accept the assignment because of certain information he can use to blackmail the perp. Steven's motivation all the more believable as he has suffered a drastic financial loss on the market which has wiped him out. The narrative is gripping not only in the well-executed unfolding of the crime but even more in the insight the story gives us into the lives of the super rich and in the subtle ways the characters show their feelings for one another. Emily's mother, Sandra (Constance Towers) welcomes her daughter to a spacious suburban home and shoots a glance of dislike toward Steven. Is she disappointed that her daughter married a man who is so much older? Does she have some insight into the nature of his character? Mohamed Karaman (David Suchet), in the role of detective inspector Mohamed Karaman, is immediately suspicious of Steven, a vague intuition, perhaps, and as an Arab-American is charmed by Emily's knowledge of the Arabic language. Despite her wealth, Emily works, but in a glamour job as a multilingual translator at United Nations headquarters, where she is best friends with Raquel--a woman whom Steven calls "the Castilian femme fatale" (but who does not look at all Castilian). Steven plays cards at the club with $1,000 as a typical opening bet, and Emily "lunches" with her friend. Yet Emily takes the subway to a drug nest and charms a dealer by speaking his language while Steven spends some time in a dilapidated loft building in the downscale Greenpoint section of Brooklyn.

Director Andrew Davis gets good work from his classy cast, getting Douglas to portray a man who is driven by greed but by his feelings of betrayal as well. David Suchet, known to aficionados of detective stories as Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot, is appropriately all-knowing as the skeptical police inspector, and Viggo Mortensen--who plays a guy who is not what he seems--can effectively vary his chameleon-like demeanor according to the needs of the situation.

The film's ending is too neat, even juvenile. A European version would rely more on a chessboard artifice than on light artillery. "A Perfect Murder," which features opulent settings as one of its principal characters, is a vigorous entry into the summer entertainment market.

Copyright 1998 Harvey Karten

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