Michael Douglas has made a career out of playing a rich meanie in a suit. It doesn't matter if he's Gordon Gekko, Nicholas Van Orton, or in the case of 'A Perfect Murder,' Steven Taylor. Douglas usually plays people who aren't all that easy to trust. He struts around in his tailored suits, lives in mansions and penthouses, and slicks his hair all the way back like a used car salesman. His characters typically think they're above everyone. They're regularly convinced they're too clever, too conniving, and too perfect. Only in 'A Perfect Murder' - a loose remake of Alfred Hitchcock's 'Dial M for Murder,' the hubris backfires.
Steven Taylor is sick of his wife (Gwyneth Paltrow). She's young, pretty, and a cheater. Taylor is rich and resourceful. He knows she's cheating on him and has concocted a plan to get vengeance. Also, she's worth a whole lot of money if she's dead, so he decides that he's going to have her killed.
It's a perfect plan. Blackmail her boyfriend (Viggo Mortensen) who she's been seeing on the side, and have him do the dirty work. Only, it doesn't end up playing out the way Taylor had envisioned it. His wife is much more capable with a meat thermometer than he ever thought possible.
Directed by Andrew Davis ('The Fugitive') 'A Perfect Murder' starts out strong but slowly spins out of control. The back and forth between Taylor and his wife Emily has palpable tension. How do two people who obviously don't like each other act civilly in their home? Douglas and Paltrow have the calculated loathing for each other down pat.
The setup is great. As Taylor is setting up the murder of his own wife, we can really feel the tension ratcheting up. The suspense is great mainly because Douglas is so adept at playing this kind of character. A cold scheming businessman. He'll bribe, cajole, and threaten just to carry out his plans. The way he treats the cold hard facts of having his wife murdered is chillingly business-like. One has to wonder if he ever loved his wife in the first place.
Everything up until the actual home invasion is exciting and tense. After that the movie sifts into a typical cat-and-mouse thriller that doesn't have the same calculating coldness of the first half of the film. A detective is brought in played by David Suchet. Suchet is well-known for playing Agatha Cristie's famous detective Hercule Poirot, but here he does little more than walk around with a grimace. Whether the police investigation is a red herring or simply a missed opportunity I have no idea. The fact is none of them really needed to be involved since they had no bearing on the outcome of the plot anyway.
As mentioned earlier, 'A Perfect Murder' is a supposed homage to Alfred Hitchcock's 'Dial M for Murder.' However, it fails to capture the pure terror of that classic and substitutes terror for cheesy 90s thriller clichés that don't really end up working out.
As the steam of the first half burns off, the rest of the movie falls limp. Its third act is far too by-the-numbers for its own good. It crosses off everything a thriller is required to do, but doesn't add anything to the table. What we're left with is a bland finish from a promising start. Douglas knows this kind of character inside and out, sadly, the movie he's stuck in restrains him far too much. They should've let him loose like Gordon Gekko in 'Wall Street.' Maybe then the ending would've been much more exciting.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
This is a Warner Bros. catalogue release. This is a region free 25GB Blu-ray Disc which has been packaged in a standard eco-friendly Blu-ray keepcase.
Catalogue titles from the 90s are often hit and miss in terms of video quality. Most of the time we end up getting stuck with an ugly transfer that looks like it was the same master used for the standard definition release. I'm glad to say that Warner's 1080p transfer of 'A Perfect Murder' looks much better than many mid- to late-90s movies released on Blu-ray.
The rich, swanky vibe is carried throughout the movie. The marbled hallways of the Taylors' high-end New York apartment shine. Woodgrain on wall trim, shelving, and end tables is visible. Veins in the snazzy tile can be seen even in mid-range shots. Facial detail works just as well also. You can even see Viggo Mortensen's slight harelip (I'm not pointing this out in a comical or mean fashion, I'm simply saying before now I had never noticed it). Douglas' slicked back hair shines under the light. The woven texture of his suits is easily recognizable.
Colors are richly rendered. Much of the movie is surrounded in lush earthy tones like all of the luxurious wood in the Taylors' home. The earthy tones are counter balanced by the boyfriend's colorful artwork featuring strong reds and yellows. Blacks are deep and create nice even shadows. I didn't notice any real crushing that should detract from viewing. There are a couple soft shots here and there, but they're to be expected. I also didn't notice any significant artifacting other than a couple shots where suit jackets shimmer. On the whole, this is a good-looking presentation.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is sort of your standard thriller mix. The foreboding, tension-building music composed by James Newton Howard fills the channels. It seems a little overbearing at times though. Rear channels do pick up the score along with some ambient sound, although there aren't many scenes that require heavy rear involvement. The attack scene does feature some nice directionality as the attacker and Mrs. Taylor fight each other in the kitchen.
Dialogue is always clear even when Douglas is doing his patented growling whisper. The LFE is bolstered by the tense soundtrack, but that's really the only low-end frequencies you're getting. There aren't any other scenes that really require heavy bass.
The first audio commentary features director Andrew Davis along with screenwriter Patrick Smith Kelly and Michael Douglas. This is kind of a strange commentary since Davis and Kelly were together at the time they recorded their commentary, but Douglas' commentary was recorded at a different time and edited in between their remarks. Douglas talks about all the stuff you'd expect the star to talk about like being drawn to the movie and character. Davis and Kelly are a bit dull too. They provide one of those "pointing out the obvious" type of commentaries where they kind of reiterate what's happening on screen. The do talk about location shooting and casting decisions, but mainly this is a pretty dull commentary.
The second commentary is producer Peter Macgregor-Scott, costume designer Ellen Mirojnick, cinematographer Dariusz Wolski, set decorator Debra Schutt, and production designer Philp Rosenberg. This is another haphazard commentary with individually recorded segments spliced together as the movie plays. Each person discusses their area of expertise, but it becomes old pretty fast.
If you're looking for a late 90s thriller I guess you could do worse. The beginning does set you up for a better movie, I'll say that. Once the last part of the film rolls around it devolves rather quickly. It just doesn't seem to hold up once the he-said-she-said game starts. The video presentation is surprisingly well done and the audio sounds pretty good too. I guess 'A Perfect Murder' is worth a look even if it is a less than perfect thriller.