|A Perfect Murder|
|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 03 November 1998|
As one character here points out, sexual jealousy and money are the two biggest motives for murder. Odd, then, that 'A Perfect Murder' doesn't generate more sense of lust or greed. It is diverting and reasonably competent, give or take a few plot holes, but the film disappears from memory minutes after it ends.
Fabulously rich commodities trader Steven Tyler (Michael Douglas, doing a variation on his 'Wall Street' character) discovers that his independently wealthy, beautiful young wife Emily (Gwyneth Paltrow) is having an affair. Interestingly enough, her lover David (Viggo Mortensen) is not really the sensitive starving artist Emily imagines him to be. Steven, out for revenge and Emily's loot, offers David $500,000 to murder her. And then . . .
As all of the above happens fairly early in 'A Perfect Murder,' we might reasonably anticipate plenty of twists to follow. The developments will come as less of a surprise to viewers already familiar with Frederick Knott's play 'Dial M for Murder' and/or Alfred Hitchchock's film version, but there's one great pivotal shock in store. After that, Patrick Smith Kelly's script moves along with speed, but events unfold more or less as we expect they will. Little touches that we first assume to be clues--a police detective's fluency in Arabic, the fondness of Emily's best friend for Steven--turn out to be grace notes instead. It's nice that the filmmakers want to fill their landscape with idiosyncratic details, but in a suspense thriller, we also want story threads that pay off, and 'Perfect Murder' is short on these.
Director Andrew Davis ('The Fugitive') stages a couple of good "jump" scares and gives Steve and Emily's world a suitably sumptuous look, but neither he nor Kelly ever really make us sit up and take notice. Davis does make good use of silence rather than sound to create suspense, so it's a good idea to view this in a quiet room for maximum impact.
The special-edition DVD version of 'A Perfect Murder' is an improvement on its bigscreen predecessor, mainly by virtue of special audio tracks that do much more than round up the usual suspects. Yes, director Davis and star Douglas weigh in with their opinions and recollections, but so does writer Kelly. Any behind-the-scenes effort that realizes screenwriters are an integral part of the creative process automatically deserves high marks. A separate audio track contains the reminiscences of producer Peter Macgregor-Scott, cinematographer Dariusz Wolski and the film's design team. Davis even provides commentary over footage of a more cynical alternate climax. The extensive supplemental material provides handy insight into how decisions are made about what you do and don't see on screen, even if the finished product in this instance isn't all that compelling.