A Perfect Murder

* * *

Andrew Davis directs this update of Frederick Knott's suspense play, Dial M For Murder, previously made into a masterful Alfred Hitchcock thriller. This time around, the technology and sensibilities have been updated, but the key story remains exciting and suspenseful.

Michael Douglas plays Steven Hayes, a junk bond investor whose world is collapsing. His company is under investigation, his finances are shot, and he recently discovered his wife is having an affair.

Emily (Gwyneth Paltrow), his rich wife, has been frequenting the company of starving artist David Shaw (Viggo Mortensen). Steven develops a carefully constructed plan which could solve all his difficulties. He will hire a man to kill his wife, the he can use her trust fund money to fix his monetary problems.

Fans of the Hitchcock movie, and the original play, will probably already notice some differences. The setup of the movie is roughly the same, but, though a key piece of concluding evidence is the same, the last half of the film is different in all but tone.

Although it is not a stretch, Michael Douglas fits his role perfectly. Though it is nice to see him stretch now and then, and he can play the modern rich white male in his sleep, he does such a good job at it that he's fun just to watch. His character here, as in Dial M for Murder, is a planner. We get to learn his meticulously crafted perfect murder plan, then watch as he rapidly adjusts when things begin to go awry. Michael plays his role in such a way that you hate and cheer for him at the same time.

Gwyneth Paltrow has a beefier part here than Grace Kelly did in Dial M for Murder, and she manages to do an admirable job with it. Though not without sin, she is the most sympathetic of the major three characters. And even if she does make a few big leaps of logic here and there in the film, she maintains credibility throughout.

As the third vertex of the triangle, Viggo Mortensen also has a bigger role than before. Of the three main cast members, he is the weakest, and his motives are never 100% clear. But, he does serve to add a little extra mystery to the plot.

And the plot here is strong (what a welcome change). The additions made to A Perfect Murder enhance the violence of Dial M for Murder, but maintain the same atmosphere.

The end result is about as good as you could hope for in a remake of a Hitchcock classic. It has some rough edges here and there which could have used the master's touch, but, for the most part, A Perfect Murder is an exciting and truly suspenseful thriller.

[R] (WB/Universal)


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