I use hands to help my fellow man / I use hands to help with what I can / But when I face an unjust injury / Then I change my hand into FIST OF FURY

A Perfect Murder

tn_perfectmurderWith DIAL M FOR MURDER fresh on my mind I was really curious how they updated it in the 1998 remake A PERFECT MURDER. In this one Michael Douglas plays the scheming husband, Gwyneth Paltrow is the wife and Viggo Mortensen (when he was still a rising character actor and not yet the guy from LORD OF THE RINGS) is her boyfriend.

The basics are all there. The husband knows the wife is cheating, he blackmails someone else into doing the deed, but she ends up killing the guy, and he has to desperately maneuver to cover his tracks, ultimately being undone by a mistake he made after giving the would-be killer a key to the apartment. But within that framework they do all kinds of things to update, expand, complicate and alter things. Some of it is kinda clever in the way it will surprise you if you’re expecting everything to go the same as in the Hitchcock version (I can’t say “the original,” because that would be the play by Frederick Knott, credited as the basis of this).

mp_perfectmurderThe role of the boyfriend is significantly different. They’re still together, and we see them having sex in his gigantic Greenpoint warehouse studio. He’s an artist, but has hidden a secret past from her, which allows for one of the biggest changes to the story: it’s the boyfriend who the husband blackmails/pays to kill his wife, not some con man college acquaintance. Mortensen, as always, puts more into the character than required, and I like how it’s kind of ambiguous about his feelings on the matter. The husband makes a case that this guy sought out his wife for access to her money, and he has newspaper clippings about her from before they met which seem to confirm this. But when confronted he’s quiet and shaky-voiced. He never admits it, and Mortensen plays it like he’s a victim in all this. Even after he gets involved in her murder he keeps photos of her and seems to regret it all. A bad person, but not the bad guy.

I would also argue that the wife is not that great of a person. She doesn’t know that her husband is a maniac when she cheats on him. When she confides to her best friend about it she just talks about how self-centered and controlling he is. She doesn’t have the DIAL M excuse that it’s 1954 and hard for a woman to get out of a marriage. She’s even independently wealthy so there’s no financial reason why she would have a hard time leaving him. She should woman up and get a fuckin divorce, instead she has her secret rugged bohemian man of mystery on the side. You can understand why her husband would be pissed.

Still, when I realized she was being victimized by both of these guys I started to feel sorry for her and was okay with her being the protagonist.

When the inspector shows up it’s the actor David Suchet, and of course my first thought was “it’s the terrorist from EXECUTIVE DECISION!” but my second one was the more relevant “it’s Poirot!” Take that, Michael Douglas. Can your perfect murder hold up to one of British TV’s most prolific mystery solvers? But the bastard lucks out, because the inspector doesn’t end up doing much in this version of the story. He’s just the guy the wife tells what happened at the end. A bit where she impresses him by speaking Arabic doesn’t pay off the way I expected, as a method of secret communication. It’s just a reason for him to sympathize with her, but it doesn’t seem necessary, since her case for justifiable homicide at the end is pretty rock solid. It made more sense after I watched the alternate ending where she shoots him without being attacked and lies about how it went down.

They still have the phone call, but he doesn’t say anything and he calls from a cell phone which he throws away, because they have to account for 1998 phone-tracing technology. Of course, this was 15 years ago so the technology is already completely different now. It was too early for them to call it TEXT M FOR MURDER. It would’ve had to be EMAIL MURDER@AOL.COM. So they just said fuck it, A PERFECT MURDER, but with the M in a different color than the other letters in tribute to Hitchcock’s version.

Also she kills her attacker with a totally different household item than what Grace Kelly used. So that’s why it was worth doing a new one.

When I thought about it beforehand I wondered how they could make DIAL M into a 1998 studio suspense thriller, when it mostly takes place in that apartment. The answer is that they don’t do that. They have scenes in art museums and offices and on streets and in the studio and shit. They even have a chase scene. It’s just a normal movie. I can appreciate that they didn’t want to make an intimate dialogue based movie with long uninterrupted conversations, but it kind of takes away what is enjoyable about the previous version of the story. Simplicity was better.

The director is Andrew Davis of ABOVE THE LAW and UNDER SIEGE and to a lesser extent CODE OF SILENCE fame. I didn’t notice any stylistic connection to those movies. Maybe he was out of his element because it takes place in New York instead of Chicago. For a minute I thought George Wendt was playing one of the cops, but then it turned out it was just a guy who kinda looked like George Wendt. So I don’t know if he’s from Chicago or not.

It’s a competent movie of its type, I don’t think it’s very good, but it was enjoyable enough to watch and compare to DIAL M FOR MURDER. I’m sure it plays like gangbusters on Lifetime or something.


VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Thursday, March 14th, 2013 at 1:39 am and is filed under Reviews, Thriller. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

17 Responses to “A Perfect Murder”

  1. My least favorite Andrew Davis movie. He should stick to action films, he’s one of the all-time greats of that genre. Still, it’s kind of the movie that gave the world Viggo Mortenson as a leading man. (Though my favorite Mortenson performance will always be .) [man I hope I got that HTML right; is there a way to preview or edit these things?]

  2. Haha. I guess I blew it. That’s a link to clips of Viggo as “Moses Hochleitner” in WITNESS.

  3. FrankensteinMiller

    March 14th, 2013 at 4:27 am

    As much as I like this movie, I almost prefer to turn it off five minutes before the end. I want it to have a happy ending now, and in this movie’s case a happy ending is Michael Douglas punishing the psychopath criminal conman who wanted to rip him off, punishing the conniving harlot who betrayed him… AND getting away with it all. He’s the only gray-decent character in the story.

    The psychopath seducer “artist” is an extremely realistic character, by the way. His sorrow is less so, though he would likely be annoyed and could actually be fake-sad over the loss of his property/target, i.e. the female he’s been conning. Most of those ones do put on the persona of “an artist” at some stage in their existence. Well, at least he gets his due in the movie.

    There was the original scripted ending in which the betrayer is actually revealed to be presumably THE con behind it all – she murders Douglas, stages the scene and walks away happily, because her plan worked perfectly. A cop figures it out at the end but he can only look at her with anger, because he knows he has no evidence. She knows it too, and gives him an arrogant smile. For some reason the ending was cut and the betraying manipulative slut was somehow remade into… I don’t know, someone one is expected to feel sympathy for? Yeah, I have about as much sympathy for her as I do for the serial killer kid “Hob” from Robocop II. Davis should have kept the original ending, if he didn’t want to give the audience a happy one. At least the original ending showed the betrayer for what she really was, and poor Michael Douglas as her always-intended victim.

    By the way, reading forums about this movie makes it quite clear that Douglas actually is the viewers’ favorite and most who discuss it wanted him to get away scot-free.

  4. Darth Irritable

    March 14th, 2013 at 4:47 am

    The only thing I remember about this movie is OJ Simpson getting maced going to see it at the movie theater, because another woman in the audience thought it was inappropriate for him to be there.

  5. My favorite part of this movie (aside from the twist, which I really like) is the score by James Newton Howard. It’s pretty great.

  6. One of the better remakes in my opinion. Viggo does good sleaze (I like his delivery of the ‘In the meantime, do I keep fucking your wife?’ line), Douglas gives good bad guy and the twists on the original are nice. The original ending works better, but it’s a case of the ol Unsympathetic-protagonist-scaring-the-test-audience syndrome, so we get action ending, which isn’t bad either. Overall, decent. They shouldn’t really say it’s a perfect murder when it really isn’t though.

  7. FrankensteinMiller: So, married life treating you well?

  8. Is that what the alternate ending is supposed to mean, that she actually masterminded the whole thing, and Poirot couldn’t prove it? I thought we were supposed to take it that he knew she didn’t really do it in by-the-books self defense, but that he sympathized with her doing it (and with her as a person because of the shared bond of speaking Arabic) so he played along.

  9. I agree with Jimbolo… This is a poorly named film. Calling it a perfect murder bugged me even at the time. That should be a twisty, suspense film where the villain surprises us all by getting away with, well, a perfect murder.

    Anyway, this one was watchable but not great.

    Vern and fellow readers/commenters: I always wonder why people bother remaking Hitchcock. (Psycho aside, which I honestly think was just a pet project that Van Sant tricked a distributor into releasing.) Can any of you think of a Hitch remake that’s truly great or necessary? (Hitch remaking Hitch also doesn’t count.)

    I’m not asking this in a rhetorical or cynical way. I’m legitimately curious about whether there has been a good or great Hitchcock remake. Here’s hoping there’s a diamond in the rough out there…

  10. The Original... Paul

    March 14th, 2013 at 2:27 pm

    Lord, this is a pointless bore of a movie. I wish they’d have gone with FM’s alternative ending to at least add SOMETHING different to it. As it was, I saw it once, thought it was uninteresting tosh about unlikeable people, couldn’t care less what happened to any of them.

    If anybody hasn’t seen it yet and finds themselves usually agreeing with me, at least 70% of the other films you could see instead of this one would be better. And 95% would be more interesting.

  11. Hahaha! Lifetime was the channel where I first saw this movie. And the original ending where she gets away with it fits the name better.

    I can’t think of any Hitchcock remakes off the top of my head that were any good, although the Rear Window TV movie was at least an interesting take in that it used Christopher Reeves’ own disability as part of the plot. He did a decent job for a TV movie and the first time acting after his accident, but the movie itself was a mess.

    Checking out “Hitchcock remakes” on Google, I found that there’s a sci-fi remake of Lifeboat called Lifepod. Sounds terrible in a potentially fun way.

  12. Birdemic found an audience, and the Simpsons version of Rear Window is great.

  13. The Original... Paul

    March 15th, 2013 at 1:55 am

    Anonimouse – “Lifepod” really has nothing in common with “Lifeboat” in any way. It’s a whodunnit set on an escape pod in space. I guess you still get the “interplay between characters of differing motivations in a confined space” thing, but it’s a vastly different movie. And a pretty good one, although the main aspect of it – the whodunnit – isn’t managed that well.

  14. Vern, you’re right with your assessment on the ending. (As far as I remember) She figures out the plot and then shoots him, and then headbutts the counter to make it look like self-defence.

    Too cynical for people maybe (I, personally, am on her side). But, since she gets away with it, THAT would have been A Perfect Murder. As it is, we have A Perfect Killing In Self-Defence.

  15. I just remember when I saw the alternate ending I felt ripped off because it wasn’t THAT alternate. She still lives and kills Douglas. Also, the alternate ending of THE JACKAL had Gere shoot the Jackal in a different body part, so that’s totally different! And that’s when my naïveté about alternate endings died.

    I remember liking this remake, particularly for making the boyfriend more of a character and exploring how it would play out in the then present. This was way before Franchise Fred so I guess I owe it a revisit too. I actually did see DIAL M in 3D because my college movie theater had it, long before modern 3D was a thing. They had to bring in a special screen and everything. I remember thinking something was wrong because nothing came out of the screen. I guess that’s where my false worry about 3D began.

  16. I like that Vern recognises Suchet more as Poirot than as the villain from EXECUTIVE DECISION.

  17. I remember this one being pretty good. Not great, but a good cast, and all the characters are flawed in different ways which provides some offset to the otherwise pretty boilerplate nature of it. I thought it was good formulaic rental. Like Vern says, it’s “competent.” I like the dynamic between Douglas and Mortensen, and they’re very well cast. It’s a good Michael Douglas rich, out-of-touch douchebag roll and a good Mortensen brooding rebel type role. You could argue that it’s kind of cliche in that way, but I think that would just be hating.

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