A crime novelist obsessed with an unsolved murder case begins to fantasize about committing a crime of his own. His marriage is an unhappy one, and his desire to be free from his beautiful but damaged wife becomes an obsession. But when his wife is found dead the lines blur between innocence and intent, forcing the question who, in fact, is the real killer?
Crafting a mystery is a delicate balance of giving and taking. The storyteller has to grab the audience's attention by dropping little story and character nuggets without dropping the whole bag. If too much is given, the audience is ten paces ahead and there isn't a mystery. If not enough is given, the audience loses patience and can feel tricked. It's the same for novels as it is for movies - and it's especially true when adapting a novel into a movie. Based on the Patricia Highsmith novel, A Kind of Murder sports great performances from Patrick Wilson, Eddie Marsan, and Vincent Kartheiser, incredible period production design, and is shot beautifully. Unfortunately, the final product lacks much-needed forward momentum to keep it suspenseful and arresting.
On the surface, life is picture perfect for Walter Stackhouse (Patrick Wilson). He's married to the beautiful Clara (Jessica Biel), owns an incredible home, and is a rich and successful architect with a burgeoning career as a mystery novelist. But that's just the surface. In real life his marriage to Clara is strained, he'd much rather be a poor writer than a rich architect, and he's rapidly falling for the attractive bohemian lounge singer, Ellie Briess (Haley Bennett). At the same time, Walter has become obsessed with rare bookstore owner Marty Kimmel (Eddie Marsan) - a man believed to have killed his wife.
As Walter is inspired to write a new story similar to events in the Kimmel murder case, Clara's troubles worsen. After a nasty fight that ends in declarations of divorce, Clara leaves to visit her mother. The next morning, Walter gets a phone call from police detectives informing him that Clara has died and that her body was found in the same location as Marty Kimmel's wife! Now with the hard-nosed bully cop Lieutenant Coby (Vincent Kartheiser) on both cases, Walter may have more in common with Marty than any man should. Could Walter actually be a killer? Or is he an innocent man caught in a web of suspicion?
Having only read Highsmith's The Talented Mr. Ripley, I'm familiar with the author's tendencies to build suspense around obsessive characters. Sometimes one or more of these characters just so happens to be a murderer. Such is the case for A Kind of Murder. The obsessive in this instance is Walter. His desire for a better happier life causes him to not only obsess over his writing but become increasingly interested in the Kimmel murder, imagining a life without Clara and being happy with Ellie. When Clara dies in a suspiciously convenient location, it would be natural to assume that Walter took his obsessions one step too far. It's in this aspect of increasing doubt and suspicion of the main character's innocence that works best for A Kind of Murder. By trying to keep the audience in the shadows about Walter's guilt or innocence, we come to know Marty Kimmel's own true nature as well as the violence within Lt. Coby. The meek and meager bookstore owner is much more than he seems and the well-meaning detective could be as bad, if not worse, than his two primary suspects.
Unfortunately, all of these elements for a terrific and suspenseful murder mystery thriller never really come together. The film's choppy editing constantly undercuts the suspense and any narrative cohesion. Many scenes cut in the middle of an important and interesting conversation and leaves a lot of plot threads dangling. When these threads fail to be picked up and the film ends, you're left asking more questions than given answers. Again, as I haven't read the source novel I don't know if the story is intentionally cryptic, but the film becomes frustrating to watch and isn't as wholly satisfying as it easily could have been.
The shame of this choppy storytelling framework is that it undercuts so many other incredible aspects of the film. The performances from Patrick Wilson, Eddie Marsan, and Vincent Kartheiser are all top notch. You quickly start to understand these characters and feel for them and their emotional turmoil. Then there is the impressive 60s period production design work. Everything within the film maintains that colorful 60s mod gloss and shine that feels authentic while also maintaining a dark nightmarish quality to it. Shot by Chris Seager, A Kind of Murder is an impressively beautiful noir-style thriller to look at featuring rich primaries and deep blacks - the sort of imagery that makes you think a killer could be lurking anywhere in the shadows. But somehow these pieces just don't come together.
A Kind of Murder was an almost terrific movie, but at only 95-minutes, it doesn't give the audience enough and takes away too much create a successful suspense murder mystery thriller. It's got some terrific moments, but the final result isn't as great as it could have been.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
A Kind of Murder arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Magnolia Home Entertainment. Pressed onto a Region A locked BD-25 disc, the disc is housed in a standard snapper Blu-ray case with identical slipcover artwork. The disc loads to trailers for upcoming releases from Magnolia Home Entertainment before arriving at an animated main menu featuring traditional navigation options.
A Kind of Murder leaps to life with this beautiful 1.85:1 1080p transfer. Shot digitally, the film sports an impressive range of detail levels that allows the viewer to dissect everything from the facial features and period clothing to the impeccable production design. Colors are designed to reflect the wintery setting of upstate New York playing up cooler blues and grays. Primaries do enjoy their day in the sun - especially neon signage. Flesh tones look healthy and accurate. Black levels are deep and inky with plenty of shadow separation to give each scene a sense of space and dimension. Occasional video noise creeps in, but nothing too severe. Free of any other artifacts or serious issues, this is a pretty terrific looking release.
With a lively English DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix, A Kind Of Murder enjoys a strong auditory presence. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout keeping a strong front/center presence. Sound effects and the score are layered in nicely giving the film a terrific sense of atmosphere and space. Imaging tends to fluctuate naturally scene to scene as necessary. When Walter and Clara host a party there's plenty of chitter-chatter and clinking of glasses to provide a nice surround effect while quieter arguments keep to the front and sides with hints of echo and background noise to fill the rest of the channels. All around this is a splendid mix that works nicely for this film.
Bonus features are relatively slim EPK-style pieces, but what's here does offer up a brief and interesting look at the film's story and production.
The Psychological Andy Goddard (HD 10:39). While brief, Goddard does a nice job explaining his attraction to the story and his attraction to the project and the characters. Wilson, Marsan, Biel, and Kartheiser all chime in with their experiences working with the director and how they brought out their characters.
The 60's Look (HD 5:07). Cast and crew discuss what it was like shooting in Cincinnati to recreate 1960s New York and the period clothing, housing, and locations.
The Noirish Character of A Kind of Murder (HD 14:33). Of the bonus features assembled, this one feels the most like your standard EPK bonus content. It's fairly routine material with the various actors discussing their characters intercut with out-of-context scenes. Beyond scratching the surface, there isn't much to this one.
A Kind of Murder is a film that almost works. So many of the key elements; plot, acting, production values, script, cinematography, are all in place. Unfortunately, the clunky editing makes for an uneven presentation that is more frustrating than suspenseful. See the flick for the great performances and the terrific period design scheme. Magnolia brings A Kind of Murder to Blu-ray in great form with a stellar A/V presentation. Bonus features may be slim, but they're at least interesting to watch. the film may not be a complete success, but it's still an interesting watch. Worth a look.