Review: A Kind of Murder

Set in 1960 New York, Patrick Wilson is an architect and sometimes crime novelist with a mentally unbalanced wife (Jessica Biel). He becomes obsessed with the case of bookstore owner Eddie Marsan’s wife’s violent murder at a bus rest stop. A nosy detective (Vincent Kartheiser) thinks Marsan’s likely guilty, but he has an alibi. Wilson becomes so fascinated that he even dares to go to the man’s bookstore to meet him. Meanwhile, Biel starts getting hysterical at the thought of Wilson having an affair with a woman he’s only recently met (a singer played by Haley Bennett). Soon enough, Biel is found dead near the spot Marsan’s wife was last seen. Coincidence? C-grade version of “Strangers on a Train”? Or something else?

This 2017 crime/thriller from director Andy Goddard (mostly a director of TV in the UK) is based on a Patricia Highsmith novel. It doesn’t surprise me and I have no doubt the book would be pretty damn good. Scripted by Susan Boyd (a first-timer who also produced), the film is no “Strangers on a Train”, “The Talented Mr. Ripley” or even “Carol”. It runs out of steam too early, just as Vincent Kartheiser’s detective with his jarring and awful scenery-chewing comes to the fore. He brings nothing but a whole lot of mannered, distracting hot air to the film. It also has a frustratingly abrupt ending, unfortunately.

It’s been wonderfully well-shot and lit by Chris Seager (“Straightheads”, “New in Town” with Emma Roberts), and Patrick Wilson might just give his best performance to date (perhaps not saying a lot) as a man with some rather dark fascinations, with Eddie Marsan also well-cast. On the other hand, Jessica Biel is completely out of her depth in a very tricky role (it’s basically early Shelley Winters territory), and Haley Bennett isn’t sultry, alluring, or any of the other requirements of her role. So that’s two very bad cases of miscasting.

A real throwback to 40s/50s murder-mystery/noir (despite not being set quite in that period), this film looks terrific and features a couple of good performances from Wilson and Marsan. Unfortunately, it also features three dud performances, and runs out of gas before the (weak) conclusion. It’s still watchable, but quite disappointing. Vincent Kartheiser is particularly appalling, and you can see why no one has ever heard of the film despite Highsmith being a popular author.

Rating: C+


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