A Perfect Murder
Dial M for Murder absolutely did not need remaking, and any attempt to go near something that Hitchcock made indelible is a fool’s mission. That said, Andrew Davis’ update is a surprisingly stylish affair, blessed with strong performances and knowing just how to mine each development for maximum tension.
Nevertheless, the modern touches (in 1998 mobile phones were still exciting) can’t disguise the movie’s very traditional “classic” murder plot origins. Some of the changes are cosmetic, such as replacing scissors with a meat thermometer, and refocussing Michael Douglas’ husband as a dodgy Wall Street hedge fund manager; a choice that lends his sociopathic bent a (current) topicality.
But, whereas in the original Ray Milland enlisted an old acquaintance to carry out the murder, here Douglas coerces the lover of wife Gwyneth Paltrow into committing Murder One. It has to be admitted that there is a certain neatness to this choice; the streamlining gives a pre-Aragorn Viggo Mortensen a much meatier role. In contrast, the detective inspector played by David Suchet gets short shrift, the deductions shifting to wife Gwyneth Paltrow (pre-Oscar). It also bears the tell-tale signs of reshoots (the ending was changed, but the parting comments made by Suchet suggest a different version, even if you had no direct knowledge of it).
Suchet was dipping his toes in Hollywood roles around this time, a not wholly successful endeavour. It’s interesting to see Mortensen and Paltrow on the cusp of fame. Post Lord of the Rings Mortensen’s roles carry gravitas and stature; here he’s essaying the latest in line of weasels and bastards. Paltrow is luminous, of course. 1998 proved to be her banner year, and she has sadly made largely forgettable choices in the fifteen since. Douglas is of course, in full Machiavellian mode. I suppose he doesn’t actually play the villain that often, but this feels like standard thriller fare for him. He turns it into a part you feel like you’ve seen many times before (for example, he’d only just played another rich bastard in The Game). his parting shot to Mortensen is as cheesy as they come, but it’s probably the best line in the picture.
The production feels a lot more sumptuous than one would expect from Andrew Davis, most likely due to Dariusz Wolski’s handsome cinematography. Davis scored back-to-back hits with Under Siege and The Fugitive but, Murder aside, his hit ratio dwindled rapidly and his career has all-but stalled. A Perfect Murder has a much more generic (and sensible) title than the film it remakes, which very much reflects its content. It’s glossy and efficient but it doesn’t linger in the mind.