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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Feb 18, 2017

A Kind Of Murder Movie Review: A Weak Thriller That Fails To Establish The Nail-Biting Effects Of Previous Movies Based On The Works Of Patricia Highsmith

PATRICIA HIGHSMITH is a well known writer of psychological thrillers who passed away in 1995. Her best known work is “The Talented Mr. Ripley”, published in 1955 and first filmed as “Purple Noon” starring Alain Delon in 1960 and then in 1999 using the original title starring Matt Damon. Before that, the late Alfred Hitchcock also filmed her 1950 novel, “Strangers on a Train”, and it was an acclaimed hit.

Lately, there seems to be a renewed interest in her works. In 2014, her “The Two Faces of January” was filmed with Kirsten Dunst and Viggo Mortensen. In 2015, her novel “The Price of Salt” was filmed as “Carol” and got Oscar nominations for Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara as lesbian lovers. Now, we see another old novel of hers, “The Blunderer” (1954), filmed as “A Kind of Murder” by Director Andy Goddard of “Downton Abbey”.

The movie starts with the brutal death of a woman near a bus stop restaurant in upstate New York in the 1960s. The victim’s husband, Kimmel (Eddie Marsan), who owns a bookshop, is the prime suspect of Det. Corby (Vincent Kartheiser), but he has a good alibi that he was watching a movie and a young man was there and vouched to have seen him inside the theater.

The crime story becomes very interesting for a wealthy architect, Walter Stackhouse (Patrick
Wilson), who is also an aspiring mystery novelist. He’s likewise feeling trapped in a loveless marriage to a clingy and psychologically disturbed woman, Clare (Jessica Biel), a real estate agent who has suicidal tendencies and suspects him of having an affair with a sexy singer (Haley Bennett of “Girl on a Train”).

Soon, Walter is secretly visiting Kimmel’s bookstore and trying to figure out what his secrets are. Of course, he could be just researching for one of his novels but slowly, we start to surmise that Walter must be planning to do something drastic to his own jealous wife. Clare often visits her sick and demanding mother in Saratoga and when she dies while on a bus ride going there, just like Kimmel’s wife, Walter becomes the primary suspect in his wife’s death.

When Det. Corby grills Walter, he keeps on giving the wrong answers about his whereabouts and sounds like he’s lying and guilty. This makes the investigator more suspicious, connecting the dots and deducing that there must be a deadly connection between Walter and Kimmel. This leads to a messy climax with no palpable tension, failing to really excite us viewers, and where a stupid character gets the cruel fate that he certainly deserves.

The best thing about the movie is the early 60s production design that makes it a handsome period piece, but the script fumbles in the storytelling and gives all the wrong clues. Instead of becoming the psychological thriller that it aims to be, it becomes such a botched up job that fails to achieve the nail-biting effects of “Strangers on a Train” and “Talented Mr. Ripley”.

The key here is to develop a tenuous but fascinating interplay between two major characters, like what Matt and Jude Law had in “Ripley” and Farley Granger and Robert Walker had in “Strangers”. But the script of “Kind of Murder” fails to establish that kind of connection between its two primary murder suspects.

We’ve always liked Patrick Wilson, even in his singing role as Raoul in the musical “Phantom of the Opera” and in franchise horror flicks like “Insidious” and “The Conjuring”. But his role here as a man who has every reason to wish his wife dead is badly written and no matter how earnest his interpretation his, it’s kind of an uphill battle for him. Eddie Marsan fares better as the more complex and obviously guilty Kimmel who, you can feel, is brimming with hate and malice, but is keeping it quite effectively under control.