The beautiful victim

Watching A Perfect Murder (1998) again reminded me how much I like it. Written by Patrick Smith Kelly for director Andrew Davis (The Fugitive), the story is based on Frederick Knott's play Dial M For Murder, which Knott adapted for Alfred Hitchcock's film version in 1954. There are a few nods to its heritage, such as the camera in the opening credits spiralling upwards to a loft window with a touch of Vertigo, but the story is its own movie.

A Perfect Murder works because it focusses almost entirely on the triangle of Steven, Emily and David: there's no relief from the mental lock they have on each other, and no rationalisation offered by other characters. And the casting is perfect. Michael Douglas and Gwyneth Paltrow are believable as wealthy, successful people (because they are) and Viggo Mortensen is just on the right side of smart. He lives in what is now an unbelievable loft, but his boho life is as intrinsic to the plot as the Taylors' wealth: if they didn't live like that, there wouldn't be a story. New York is presented as a village in three parts: the two apartments and Emily's home -- again, mirroring the characters -- and there is no escape either by car, boat or train. No friends, no-one you can trust. Most of all what I like about it is its economy. No set ups, no back story, information rolled out when it serves the story and not before. The technology has dated -- landline telephones, slow trading screens -- but it's credible. This is one of the last pre-smartphone thrillers: once everyone had a handset, killing would change.