UK Release Date: 2nd October 2017
Runtime: 95 minutes
Director: Andy Goddard
Writer: Susan Boyd
Starring: Patrick Wilson, Eddie Marsan, Jessica Biel, Haley Bennett, Vincent Kartheiser, Christine Dye
Synopsis: A short story writer who is unsatisfied in his marriage becomes fascinated by the case of a bookshop owner accused of murdering his wife.
The work of Patricia Highsmith has a rich history on the big screen, most notably in the shape of Hitchcock’s classic take on Strangers on a Train and Todd Haynes’s poetic, beautiful Carol. Somewhere way down that particular league table, languishing in the dirt at the bottom, is A Kind of Murder – adapted from Highsmith’s 1954 novel The Blunderer. It’s a tedious and unsatisfactory adaptation of the material that fails to engage with the central themes of the text. The original story is one of two men fascinated by each other, but the film isn’t fascinated with anything.
Architect Walter Stackhouse (Patrick Wilson) spends his spare time writing macabre crime stories inspired by newspaper clippings of real atrocities he collects in a scrapbook. He has a turbulent relationship with wife Clara (Jessica Biel) and builds a flirtatious rapport with nightclub singer Ellie (Haley Bennett). While researching in the local newspaper, Walter comes across the case of bookshop owner Marty Kimell (Eddie Marsan), who is accused of killing his wife by dogged detective Corby (Vincent Kartheiser). His morbid fascination with Kimell soon puts Walter in a very difficult position.
There’s initially some intrigue to A Kind of Murder, which wastes no time in establishing a unique sense of time and place. The setting is realised nicely and Andy Goddard‘s direction establishes a slightly murky, criminal world that is the perfect home for the loathsome rogues’ gallery that makes up the cast. As with previous Highsmith adaptation Carol, this is a world that is able to wreak a surprising amount of atmosphere just from the ever-present fog of cigarette smoke that surrounds all of the central characters every time they experience any sort of stress.
The problems, though, arise from almost every other aspect of A Kind of Murder. Its plot unfolds at a snail’s pace and the antagonistic, but curious relationship between the two male protagonists is not explored in the way it should be given how strongly it is hinted that their duality is the heart of the film’s message. By the time the finale kicks into gear and there’s a lot of life or death chase sequences set in shadowy streets, the lack of depth in their relationship becomes clear in how little impact those moments have.
Matters are not helped by Patrick Wilson’s utterly dismal central performance. He’s as bland as leading men come and shows absolutely no development throughout the movie. His line delivery is often stilted and it’s impossible to believe that he and Biel ever had enough romantic chemistry to get married. Even when he is paired with Haley Bennett, who is incapable of appearing in a film without exuding sultry charisma, he feels like a man completely incapable of expressing any excitement.
It’s especially sad to see how badly A Kind of Murder uses the reliable talents of Eddie Marsan. His enigmatic portrayal of Kimell works well initially, making the most of the sinister weirdness that Marsan used in Tyrannosaur, as well as the dorky, weedy other side of his on screen personality. It soon falls apart, though, as the twists come calling. This is a film that wastes a talented cast and a solid literary source on a bland period tale that squanders interesting roots with a third act desire to do a lot of running around in the dark.
Nothing on the disc I had for review.
Pop or Poop?
A Kind of Murder is a period-set snooze that wastes a potentially interesting Highsmith source on a poorly cast movie that feels like a trudge even at just over 90 minutes. Patrick Wilson gives one of his worst ever performances in the leading role and, were it not for some impressive Eddie Marsan work, there would be no reason to recommend it at all.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.
A Kind of Murder is available on DVD in the UK now, courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.