A Perfect Murder

A Perfect Murder


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Who would contemplate bumping off Gwyneth Paltrow? Michael Douglas for starters. She's having an affair with an unwashed angry young artist from Brooklyn, which is grounds for divorce maybe, or the implication of sanctions on a joint account. Murder most foul - and it must be foul to make it look like the work of a violent thief - seems altogether too fundamentalist.

Things, as usual, are not what they seem. Steven Taylor (Douglas) may wear $500 shirts and be a member of the most exclusive club in town and know everybody on Vanity Fair's A-list by their first names, but in the office he's losing the plot. Dodgy investments, sailing too close to the law and the prospect of world recession has left him high and very nearly dry. Nobody knows for sure, certainly not Emily (Paltrow), his beautiful young wife, who works at the UN with the US delegation, as translator and personal advisor to the ambassador.

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Emily is an heiress - old money, oodles of it. If she dies, Steven cops the lot. Motive, indeed. He may not be the shrewdest investment broker in the world, but he's a dab hand at digging the dirt. There isn't much he doesn't know about people and he makes it his business to find out the rest. The artist, David Shaw (Viggo Mortensen), isn't. His real name is Winston le Grange. He has a criminal past.

Steven offers Shaw half a million to kill the woman he's been sleeping with. If he refuses, he will be exposed. The plan has been carefully worked out (by Steven). All Shaw has to do is follow instructions and deliver a dead wife. Easy enough, you might think. Does Shaw have the nerve? Will Emily be in the apartment on the fatal evening? Is Steven's alibi detectiveproof?

By its nature, this is high gloss thrills. Douglas knows the territory well. He's back playing The Game, except this time Sean Penn isn't around to wind him up. He has perfected the iced stare to such a degree you worry in case the wind changes. Paltrow and Mortensen are the rhythm section, Paltrow on alto sax, Mortensen on drums. Maybe she's too young. Why would a sharp, smart, sexy blonde, who doesn't need the money, fall for an old smoothie like Steven? Shaw is trailer park lowlife masquerading as the avant-garde. Mortensen shows glimpses of street savvy beneath the scruff of a painter who works with photographs. He has the instincts of a fox and the social skills of swamp trash.

Hitchcock's 3-D film of Frederick Knott's popular drawing room drama of the Fifties, Dial M For Murder, must be the worst he ever made. Patrick Smith Kelly has taken the skeleton of the idea and expanded it beyond recognition. Instead of a dated, stagy, West End whodunit, it metamorphoses into a clever, pacey New York thriller, with Andrew ("The Fugitive") Davis at the helm. The only recognisable flaw, apart from looking too chic, is the ending. Up until then, every twist has a surprise filling. The denouement, however, feels cosmetic. Like the bow on the ribbon around a box of tricks.

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001
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A man plots to murder his adulterous wife.
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Director: Andrew Davis

Writer: Patrick Smith Kelly based on the play by Frederick Knott

Starring: Michael Douglas, Gwyneth Paltrow, Viggo Mortensen, David Suchet, Sarita Choudhury, Michael P Moran, Novella Nelson, Constance Towers, Will Lyman, Maeve McGuire

Year: 1998

Runtime: 107 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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