Ethics & Public Policy Center

Perfect Murder, A

Published in EPPC Online on June 1, 1998



So let me get this straight. The sleazy boyfriend (Viggo Mortensen) of the stunning sex- goddess Gwyneth Paltrow, an unhappy wife with a hundred million dollars in her butter-and- egg jar, is going to use this desperate woman — as he has used many desperate and lonely women before — to make half a million dollars and then is going to take it on the lam in hopes of using his new fortune to buy — what exactly? A woman who looks better than Gwyneth Paltrow? Meanwhile, the husband, played by Michael Douglas, a tycoon in his own right who has access to her fortune anyway (since she did not require him to sign a pre-nuptial agreement) is going to have her killed in order to inherit it and cover his astronomical losses in foolhardy investments which he is apparently powerless to get out of before he is ruined.

This is the premiss of A Perfect Murder, directed by Andrew Davis from a screenplay by Patrick Smith Kelly adapted from Frederick Knott’s classic, Dial M for Murder. If, like me, you don’t buy it, I’m afraid there’s not much of a picture here. As pleasurable as it is to watch Miss Paltrow in anything, let alone in the bath, the rest offers too little to detain the attention. Even if you disregard the central implausibility, it is a thriller of very middling quality. There is too little surprise that Michael Douglas turns out to be a sleaze, and rather too much that Mortensen does. For Miss Paltrow’s character is as remarkable for naïveté as for beauty if she believes Mortensen’s to be the sensitive artist he pretends to be, missing completely the hard edges of a man who has twice done time for robbing old women.

Nor does her feeble complaint against her husband — “that every single thing has to be on his terms; that he doesn’t really care who I am” — by way of justifying her affair with a man who is even worse do much to make her appear sympathetic to us. The standard issue wom-jep [woman-in-jeopardy] plot not only allows for no sympathetic male rescuer, presumably on ideologically feminist grounds, it can’t even manage to make the poor woman very likeable. In spite of having to watch Grace Kelly instead of Gwyneth Paltrow, the time would be better put in watching Alfred Hitchcock’s version of Dial M. . . on video.

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