A Perfect Murder

Alfred Hitchcock was such a great director that whenever he put his stamp on a property, it became his own. Which is why a lot of people forget that Hitchcock’s 1954 thriller “Dial M For Murder” was a successful stage play before he brought it to the screen. Some say it’s sacrilege to tamper with Hitchcock’s masterpieces, which explains the uproar that followed the announcement that director Gus Van Sant was working on a shot-by-shot remake of “Psycho.” Christopher Reeve received less flack for his remake of “Rear Window,” while Danny DeVito got more laughs than thrown tomatoes for turning “Strangers on a Train” into “Throw Momma From the Train.


” While most of Hitchcock’s films hold up after all of these years, “Dial M For Murder” seems antiquated. Even utilizing all of his camera techniques, Hitchcock still found himself restrained by the mechanics of Frederick Knott’s play and the morality of the period. aperfectmurderThat’s why “A Perfect Murder” is a welcome addition to those handful of Hitchcock remakes that not only work, but work incredibly well. Novice screenwriter Patrick Smith Kelly has done a brilliant job of reworking Knott’s stage play and opening it up for the big screen, something Hitchcock had failed to do. Instead of London, the action takes place in the hustle and bustle of New York, the perfect breeding ground for a manipulative Wall Street broker named Steven Taylor (Michael Douglas, giving his “Wall Street” character Gordon Gekko a run for his money).

Taylor looks and lives rich, partly thanks to his shrewd business savvy, mostly thanks to his rich wife Emily (Gwyneth Paltrow, the best looking trophy wife on the mantel). Steven and Emily live in a luxurious penthouse apartment, dine at the finest restaurants, and are slowly drifting apart. Emily is so bored with her non-marriage that she has taken up with a struggling artist named David Shaw (Viggo Mortensen, looking very much the part).

Emily and David think that they’re little afternoon lunch trysts go unnoticed, but Steven is very much on top of the situation. When Steven is informed that his business holdings are getting ready to blow up in his face (his associate tells him to think “Chernobyl”), he concocts a brilliant plan to blackmail David into murdering Emily so he can inherit her millions. Steven not only plans the murder, but covers every conceivable base in case something goes wrong.

His cleverness pays off when Emily ends up killing the murderer, thus opening a whole new can of worms. Now the police are involved, and Steven must try to keep one step ahead of the authorities and David if he is to get away with “A Perfect Murder.” Kelly’s script is filled with all sorts of unexpected twists and turns that make the plot more intricate and suspenseful.

Those familiar with the original film and the play will find themselves giddy with delight as the film takes on a life all its own. Douglas is superb as the manipulative Steven Taylor, a man who can say so much with one look than with a page worth of dialogue. There’s pure evil in Douglas’ glare. Paltrow perfectly conveys the disillusionment of a woman trapped in a loveless marriage. The passion she shares with David at the beginning of the film feels real. It’s a delight to watch Emily wise up as the plot progresses, going from victim to willing participant in game of life and death. I liked David Suchet’s Det.

Mohamed Karaman, a positive Arab character who is smarter than anyone else in the room. Suchet is a terrific actor, and he makes quite an impression as a police detective who knows baloney when he smells it. The film looks sensational, and very rich. The production design perfectly captures a lifestyle that’s definitely out of reach for most of us. You don’t have to be a millionaire to enjoy the rich dialogue and performances of “A Perfect Murder.” Davis makes these high rent cat and mouse games very affordable.

COMPLETE CHECK-UP

VISION: [ X ] 20/20 [ ] Good [ ] Cataracts [ ] Blind

“A Perfect Murder” comes to DVD in a drop-dead gorgeous digital transfer that looked complete free of compression artifacts, noise of pixelation. Just honest, warm colors, superior blacks and impressive flesh tones. The DVD is a flipper, with the original 1.85:1 widescreen transfer (enhanced at 16:9 for widescreen televisions) on one side, and a P&S version on the flip side. Both deliver sharp, vivid images and excellent color saturation.

HEARING: [ X ] Excellent [ ] Minor Hearing Loss [ ] Needs Hearing Aid [ ] Deaf

Composer James Newton Howard’s creepy score haunts the 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround with a clarity that will make the hair on the back of your next stand at attention. Gut wrenching basses and chilling high ends pump through the sound system with gusto, while the dialogue mix is outstanding. The stereo effects and spatial separation are definitive, while the ambient noise is effective and at times jolting.

ORAL: [ ] Excellent [ X ] Good [ ] Poor

Closed captions for the hard of hearing in English, subtitles in French.

COORDINATION: [ X ] Excellent [ ] Good [ ] Clumsy [ ] Weak

§ This Special Edition of “A Perfect Murder” features an alternate ending that was shot and then later abandoned. Please, by all means, and I know you’ll be tempted to jump right to this little extra, watch the movie first and then check out the alternate ending. You can view the alternate ending with or without the director’s commentary. Watch it without first. Judge for yourself. Then watch it again and listen to director Andrew Davis’ reasons for not using this ending. Personally, I like both endings, but Davis’ arguments are pretty persuasive.

§ “A Perfect Murder” includes two alternate audio commentary tracks. The first one features director Andrew Davis and writer Patrick Smith Kelly doing a live running commentary, while Michael Douglas chimes in on occasion with his thoughts about the film, his life as an actor, and his choice to play a villain once again. It’s obvious that the Douglas comments are inserts, and while they are both fascinating and informative, their placement occasionally robs Davis and Kelly the opportunity to comment on some of the film’s best scenes. Still, their commentary is filled with little gems, like the fact that the picture of the giant ship in Steven Taylor’s office is the same ship Davis used in “Under Siege.” Another fascinating tidbit is that Viggo Mortensen, who plays an artist in the film, actually painted all of the artwork in his character’s loft. It’s these little moments that make an audio commentary vital.

§ The second alternate audio commentary track features producer Peter MacGregor-Scott, director of photography Dariusz Wolski, Costume (spelled Custume in the on-screen menu) designer Ellen Mirojnick, set decorator Debra Schutt and production designer Philip Rosenberg. The track is mostly for those interested in the technical side of film making. Wolski talks about the difficulties of shooting and lighting places like the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, while Mirojnick discusses the task of creating clothes that won’t get lost in the background while not attracting too much attention. It’s all pretty chummy and quaint.

§ Color, moving interactive menus that use a keyhole motif to good advantage, plus cast & crew bios and filmographies. There’s also a handful of “Reel Recommendations” of titles available on Warner DVD, but surprisingly, no theatrical trailer.

PROGNOSIS: [ X ] Excellent [ ] Will Live [ ] Resuscitate [ ] Terminal

There’s no conspiracy here. “A Perfect Murder” looks and sounds great on DVD.

VITALS: $24.95/Rated R/108 Minutes/Color/32 Chapter Stops/Snapcase/#16643

ATTENDING RESIDENT: John Larsen

PATIENT: A PERFECT MURDER: SPECIAL EDITION

BIRTH DATE: 1998

HMO: Warner Home Video



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