A Perfect Murder (1998)

A Perfect Murder (1998)
  • Time: 107 min
  • Genre: Crime | Drama | Thriller
  • Director: Andrew Davis
  • Cast: Michael Douglas, Gwyneth Paltrow, Viggo Mortensen


Millionaire industrialist Steven Taylor is a man who has everything but what he craves most: the love and fidelity of his wife. A hugely successful player in the New York financial world, he considers her to be his most treasured acquisition. But she needs more than simply the role of dazzling accessory. Brilliant in her own right, she works at the U.N. and is involved with a struggling artist who fulfills her emotional needs. When her husband discovers her indiscretion, he sets out to commit the perfect murder and inherit her considerable trust fund in the bargain.


  • A Perfect Murder, I thought, was a very entertaining movie, which I saw in the theaters 17 years ago. Full of twists and turns that keep you guessing right up until then end. I really had no idea how it was all going to turn out. And whenever you hear people in a theater yelling at the characters on screen to do, or not to do, something, you know it’s got everyone hooked. Michael Douglas plays Steven Taylor, a high stakes moneyman of sorts who is very rich, and very powerful. Gwyneth Paltrow plays his wife Emily, who is also very rich but also very lonely and tired of her marriage. She is having an affair with an artist named David Shaw (Viggo Mortensen) and early on in the movie, the three meet. This is when things start to turn interesting. I don’t want to ruin any surprises, but from the commercials you see that Steven finds out about the affair, and he also finds out things about David that leads him to believe that he can get David to kill Emily for a boatload of cash. Steven sets out to try and concoct the perfect murder; one in which he gets rid of his wife, and manages to implicate David, while keeping himself clean. But things go wrong, a man dies, and the cat and mouse game begins. I realize that isn’t much of a story to go on, but it’s hard saying what happened without ruining all the surprises. The movie really goes into detail showing how meticulous Steven is in his planning. Keep an eye on the envelopes and the cell phones. Think about the key. It really was a very well made suspense thriller. It had me on the edge of my seat. Douglas and Paltrow have always been terrific actors, and they play their parts well. Douglas as the quiet yet powerful and controlling husband, and Paltrow is the world-wise yet home-naive wife. But the standout in my mind was Mortensen. He is one of those guys you see in all sorts of movies, but you don’t know who he is. Here he steps out of the shadows and into the big time, and I think carries himself very well. His character is a mixture of lover, con man, and extortionist. He has a very quiet yet powerful demeanor that works very well. Overall the movie was very good, and kept me guessing most of the time. The attention to detail was amazing, and other than a small time in the middle when it seemed to slow down, A Perfect Murder is a great movie to see.

  • I’ve never considered Dial M For Murder to be among the best of Alfred Hitchcock’s oeuvre. Then again, that’s like saying scoring 30 points is an off night for Michael Jordan. Hitchcock, aptly named the Master of Suspense, set the standard for psychological suspense thrillers. Dial M For Murder, which originated as a stage play, was a solid film but it wasn’t as unforgettable as his other work, which included Rebecca, Rear Window, To Catch a Thief, North by Northwest, Vertigo, and Psycho. Still, Dial M For Murder contains Hitchcock’s unerring sense of pacing and building suspense, an ability many filmmakers have tried to replicate. A Perfect Murder, an updated reworking of Dial M For Murder, is a nifty, surprisingly nasty thriller that — dare I say it? — bests its predecessor.

    Michael Douglas and Gwyneth Paltrow, essaying the roles played by Ray Milland and Grace Kelly in the original, star as Steven and Emily Taylor, an affluent New York couple. The considerably younger wife has been having an affair with a struggling painter, David Shaw (Viggo Mortensen), and is thinking of leaving her husband. With his investments sinking and no prenuptial in sight, Steven concocts a scheme to have his wayward wife killed so he can inherit her trust fund. For an ironic touch, he decides to have Emily’s lover commit the crime.

    Twists and turns abound in Patrick Smith Kelly’s well-plotted screenplay. It’s exciting to have director Andrew Davis, who stumbled with the leaden Steal Big, Steal Little after the exhilarating The Fugitive, back in top form. He utilizes James Newton Howard’s persuasively ominous, if occasionally overbearing, score, Dariusz Wolski’s fluid camerawork and Philip Rosenberg’s sleek production design to enhance the suspense. The Taylors’ apartment, with its frigid, burnished elegance, serves as a fourth character. During the murder scene, the tension mounts as Emily makes her way through the cavernous abode, unaware that an attacker awaits her.

    David Suchet appears briefly, but unforgettably, as a detective who suspects Steven of the crime. Of the star trio, only Mortensen falls short. He is undeniably gorgeous — he has a brooding, romantic quality and is blessed with superbly chiseled features — but he’s been better in other films, most notably Sean Penn’s directorial debut The Indian Runner. By the way, the paintings shown in the film are Mortensen’s; he created them to get in character. At least we have the paintings.

    Paltrow’s tantalizing incandescence has yet to dim; she seems more and more luscious with each film. She’s such a vital presence that she almost doesn’t have to act so it’s of great comfort that she can. Paltrow brings a youthful melancholy, enormous sympathy as well as a dash of reckless insouciance to a character that is less complex written than played. She is particularly affecting in her scenes with Douglas before the attack; it’s as if she can sense her fate when he gazes at her. Yet watching her, looking chic and smartly attired, I began hoping she wouldn’t end up like Lana Turner, whose angelic softness gave way to a brittle, almost petrified glamour. Only time will tell.

    Douglas is villainous from the get-go, a decision I don’t quite agree with. His Steven is so conspicuously sinister that one has to wonder how Emily could have married him. Yet with the commercials and advertisements trumpeting his motives, I suppose Michael Douglas could have worn a sign reading, “I will murder my wife,” without any detriment to the plot.

    Douglas’ performance is his best since Basic Instinct. Since then, his performances have felt recycled, almost mechanical. In A Perfect Murder, Douglas finally breathes again. His Steven Taylor seethes with coiled fury and civilized menace. Some may complain that Douglas and Paltrow set off few sparks but that’s the point. Steven Taylor possesses, he controls, he does not love. When David tries to wrangle out of Steven’s plan, Douglas does a neat gesture: he tugs at his scarf with a certain jaunty arrogance. It’s a mocking touch: how dare the boy think he can outwit me? When Douglas allows a sigh of relief towards the end, it is because he has seemingly regained everything he feared lost. “Greed is good,” he intoned in Wall Street, “greed works.” For a while, it does for Steven Taylor.

    As the film progresses, A Perfect Murder begins to resemble a macabre screwball comedy as Steven juggles an ever-increasing avalanche of lies and obstacles. Douglas scampers about, coming apart in his designer seams, and his doggedness is a sheer wonder. He reminds us that Michael Douglas is an actor and a movie star, and an indispensable one at that.

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