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A handsome period piece that plays more like a scant-clues mystery than like the psychological thriller it intends to be, Andy Goddard’s A Kind of Murder turns to the work of Patricia Highsmith but finds little of what made Strangers on a Train and The Talented Mr. Ripley such nail-biters. A fine cast and Highsmith’s name will attract attention at fests, but commercial prospects aren’t what they might have been for this feature outing by Brit TV vet Goddard.
Patrick Wilson plays Walter Stackhouse, a successful architect whose mild nature is balanced by the vicarious mayhem of his favorite hobby, writing crime stories. He combs the newspaper for reports of crimes that inspire him, and as his wife Clara (Jessica Biel) grows increasingly hard to live with, one story perhaps inspires him too much. Walter reads of a man (Eddie Marsan’s rare-book dealer Mitchell Kimmel) whose wife was brutally murdered at a rest stop on a long bus trip, and begins to fantasize how the husband, not some vicious stranger, might have committed the crime.
Then Clara winds up dead at the bottom of a ravine, having perished during a long bus trip, just like Mrs. Kimmel. It’s unclear whether the film wants us to wonder if Walter killed her, but that’s certainly the suspicion of a stubborn detective, Corby (Vincent Kartheiser), who has a thing or two to learn about playing his investigative cards close to his vest. Detective Corby pesters both Kimmel and Stackhouse with visits that often go nowhere, harping on any connection he can find between the two. But what’s he hoping to prove? How would the fact that the men have met do anything to help Corby pin the first murder on Kimmel, a man everyone else thinks is innocent?
Walter has plenty of reason for worry, as the appearance of a new woman (Haley Bennett) in his life makes him look even more like a man who might have acted on his murderous fantasies. But the film won’t choose sides, devoting itself either to a Wrong Man tale about Walter’s world falling apart or to the calculations with which Kimmel (who’s almost surely guilty) attempts to keep Corby’s investigation at bay. Marsan never fails to be the most fascinating element of the movie, but Susan Boyd’s screenplay doesn’t justify the amount of time he spends onscreen.
This being Highsmith, one might expect the interplay between these two murder suspects to be the whole point. In one private interaction, trying to connect some dots, Walter tells Kimmel “you are my guilt.” But Wilson’s delivery is earnest, not sinister, and the character’s lack of unexplained motives keeps this from being the kind of thorny, manipulative relationship that has fueled other films inspired by the author. It’s hardly a relationship at all, and Detective Corby is one of the few who will find it something to get worked up about.
Venue: Tribeca Film Festival (Spotlight)
Production companies: Killer Films, Blue PM
Cast: Patrick Wilson, Eddie Marsan, Jessica Biel, Vincent Kartheiser, Haley Bennett
Director: Andy Goddard
Screenwriter: Susan Boyd, based on the novel The Blunderer by Patricia Highsmith
Producers: Susan Boyd, Ted Hope, Kelly McCormick, Christine Vachon
Executive producers: Darren M. Demetre, David Hinojosa, John Jencks, Nicolas Meyer, Alexa Seligman, Joe Simpson, Jay Taylor
Director of photography: Chris Seager
Production designer: Pete Zumba
Costume designer: Sarah Mae Burton
Editors: Jane Rizzo, Eliabet Ronaldsdottir
Composers: Danny Bensi, Saunder Jurriaans
Casting director: Jenny Jue
Rated R, 93 minutes
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