UK Release Date: 23rd March 2018
Runtime: 125 minutes
Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda
Writer: Hirokazu Kore-eda
Starring: Masaharu Fukuyama, Kōji Yakusho, Suzu Hirose
Synopsis: An arrogant defence lawyer tries to unravel the truth behind a murder case he is set to work on, despite his client changing his story on a regular basis.
It takes a serious set of balls to start a courtroom drama by showing us the defendant carrying out the crime. That is exactly, however, the way in which Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda chooses to get the ball rolling in The Third Murder. What follows is a stately examination of the nature of guilt, culpability, truth and the human condition. Kore-eda leaves multiple doors open and keeps a handful of disparate plates spinning in order to consistently wrong-foot an audience that thinks it knows exactly what to expect when entering a cinematic courtroom.
The murderer the audience sees in the opening scene is Misumi (Kōji Yakusho), who has two previous convictions for killing, hence the movie’s title. The victim is his boss, whom we watch as Misumi smashes his head in and then sets the body on fire. Misumi confesses to the crime, before changing his plea, leaving him vulnerable to the death penalty if he is found guilty at trial. Cocksure young attorney Shigemori (Masaharu Fukuyama) is appointed to represent Misumi and struggles to prepare an adequate defence due to his client’s constantly shifting version of events.
Kore-eda deploys a patient, methodical storytelling style in The Third Murder. It’s a movie that shares a lot of similarities with Netflix TV series Mindhunter in that, despite the lurid violence of its subject matter, it largely shifts that violence aside in favour of depicting people talking to each other about those acts and the motivations behind them. These scenes are the beating heart of the movie and the most interesting elements of it, with Yakusho and Fukuyama proving to be a powerhouse double act, regularly sparring through the glass of a prison interview room.
Whenever it’s outside of that room, though, the slow pace of The Third Murder makes it a chilly, difficult watch. A slightly leaner take on the material would have allowed for the story to keep its momentum going, particularly as the narrative twists and turns pile up in the third act. Kore-eda’s story is a little too stately and lacks the urgency that should power a courtroom drama. He’s interested only in ambiguity, and there are questions worth asking, but those questions can only take a movie so far.
Pop or Poop?
Hirokazu Kore-eda delivers an interesting story with The Third Murder, which is punctuated by a string of narrative shifts designed to wrong-foot even the most discerning of audiences. Masaharu Fukuyama and Kōji Yakusho ask complex moral questions to each other and to the audience as they discuss the very nature of truth. Unfortunately, Kore-eda doesn’t have enough answers to create a satisfying tale.
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