DVD Review - A Kind of Murder

A lot of the shots, the framing and staging, are reminiscent of a few film noirs. Images, especially toward the end, gave me flashbacks to Carol Reed's The Third Man (1949). This movie is based on a Patricia Highsmith novel, so it's also reminiscent of her previous works, including one of her most successful noir films, Strangers on a Train (1951), directed by Alfred Hitchcock. This movie embraces sensibilities from Hitchcock not only in that 1951 classic but some of his other works as well. Unfortunately, the ending to this movie is nowhere near as good as any of Hitchcock's. The ending is rather ambiguous, which isn't typical of Hitchcock, but it doesn't go as far with that ambiguity.

The movie focuses on two men. Both are accused of killing their wives. There's some ambiguity about whether both are guilty or not. The movie answers the question that one is guilty and the other isn't, but it loses some of its power when it does so. It would have been better if the movie never reveals one to be a killer. The ambiguity on both should have been maintained because the movie becomes about something other than the murder mystery. The mystery in fact is the least interesting thing about the film.

Patrick Wilson (Hard Candy and The Conjuring) stars as Walter Stackhouse, an aspiring writer who made a good deal of money as an architect. He is really obsessed with creating a mystery novel, particularly a murder mystery. As such, he becomes fixed on a New Jersey man who doesn't live far and who was accused of killing his wife. It doesn't help that Walter is in a very unhappy marriage with his mentally unstable and suicidal wife, Clara, played by Jessica Biel. In a private therapy session, Walter even admits to thinking about killing his wife in the exact, same way as the Jersey man.

When Walter's wife actually does die, Walter becomes the prime suspect. Her death is never shown, so there is that ambiguity as to whether or not he did kill her. The movie never tips its hand, even at the very end, so we never know if Walter is guilty or not, which is to the movie's benefit. What isn't to the movie's benefit is the ambiguity surrounding the Jersey man being lost.

Eddie Marsan (Happy-Go-Lucky and The Disappearance of Alice Creed) co-stars as Marty Kimmel, the aforementioned man from Jersey who owns his own bookstore and who was under suspicion of murder. He becomes the object of harassment of a zealous, police detective named Corby, played by Vincent Kartheiser (Angel and Mad Men). Marty continues to deny but his behavior and actions indicate that he is guilty. It's lesser but there is ambiguity surrounding his character. Yet, the movie does pull the trigger and reveals the truth about him in flashback.

It ruins a visual at the end, which could have been a great metaphor for the entire film. We see the shadows of both Walter and Marty fighting or grappling with each other against a wall. It's a great metaphor because the whole movie is these two shadowy figures in a duel, but the movie makes one of them less shadowy than the other when it wasn't necessary.

Perhaps some in the audience would have felt cheated, not knowing the full truth about both. I probably would feel the same, if I didn't also feel like the movie had anything else to offer. It doesn't have as much to offer as Strangers on a Train or The Talented Mr. Ripley, another Patricia Highsmith novel-turned-film, but those weren't about the murder mystery. We knew who the murderer was. It was mainly about if he would get caught, which forces the movie to be about something else. This movie doesn't do that, or it does so in half measure. Either tell us both Walter and Marty are killers or let them both be ambiguous. That would have allowed the ending to hit harder.

Rated R for language and some violence.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 36 mins.


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