Only the intended victim wins our loyalty, and that leaves us adrift in our seats, uninvolved and watching the plot details.
"A Perfect Murder" does everything right and still comes up short. Filmed in sumptuous detail to evoke the New York social and financial world, the movie is good to look at and manages to terrify the audience several times. So what went wrong?
A good murder story requires both a great villain and a great victim, and that's where this movie falters. Steven Hayes (Michael Douglas) lives the good life on his winnings from trading in the currency markets. He goes home each night to an enormous and perfectly furnished New York townhouse, where he lives with his trophy wife, Emily (Gwyneth Paltrow).
As an established New York power couple, the two move easily through the competitive culture of the very rich. It's a culture where most couples live stories that are very different from the carefully crafted facades they wear to benefits and parties. This couple's story is a lulu. Emily is having an affair with an artist, David Shaw (Viggo Mortensen). Steven is about to be hit with margin calls that will wipe him out.
For this husband, the way out is to hire the needy lover to kill his wife. Her $100 million will solve his financial crisis and save his lifestyle. At this point, the movie becomes the story of the details of Steven's nasty plot. The details are all we've got, because in the absence of interesting villains, Emily is the only character worth caring about.
Gwyneth Paltrow's Emily is entirely believable as she whispers advice to the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, perfectly credible when she replies to a detective in his native tongue. Paltrow is fun to watch precisely because her rare mix of sophistication and intelligence just happens to be touched with a talent so great that she seems to be able to play any part, slight or important, with style. She is perfectly cast here as the beautifully dressed cosmopolite, and the reason we root for her rather than her cuckolded husband or lover is that we have no choice. Emily has lousy taste in men.
Michael Douglas plays Steven as such a thoroughly dislikable cad that there isn't a moment in the entire movie when we can sympathize with him. Watching his perpetual frown and cold meanness, we wonder why Emily ever married him. Certainly she didn't need his money. Of course, she's having an affair. Go for it, Emily. Douglas gives Steven none of the smoothly polished slime so essential to a white-collar criminal.
Viggo Mortensen's David is pathetic in his inadequacy. There is nothing in his personality, his paintings, or his behavior that might explain his appeal to any woman, much less the glorious, urbane creature who spends her lunch hours in his bed.
Only the intended victim wins our loyalty, and that leaves us adrift in our seats, uninvolved and watching the plot details. In that regard, when you see the meat thermometer, dive for cover.
Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 497
Studio : Warner Bros.
Rating : R
Running Time: 1h45m
Copyright (c) Illusion
Return to Ellis Home Page