Wealthy Steven Taylor, is shocked to discover that his wife Emily is having an affair with artist David. Steven sets about planning the perfect murder of his wife.
Loosely adapted from Hitchcock's Dial M For Murder — generally considered to be among the more pedestrian outings from "the master of suspense" — A Perfect Murder bolts the requisite 90s sheen onto the spouse-offing storyline, more often than not sacrificing substance at the altar of style. Yet, if it never actually hikes up the palm-sweating tension of the greatest potboilers, it delivers a solid, no frills, entertaining thriller.
At the heart of the movie lies a ménage à trois between shifty commodities trader Stephen Taylor (Douglas), his trophy wife Emily (Paltrow) and her painter lover David (Mortensen). Learning of his spouse's passionate trysts, Taylor researches her beau's life and discovers the would-be bohemian is, in fact, a criminal with a history of fleecing wealthy women of their assets. However, rather than blow the whistle on the illicit affair, Taylor, with his own agenda, proposes a simple plan to the starving artist — kill Emily in return for $500,000.
In a terrifying and brutally handled set piece, the attempt on Emily's life goes horribly awry leaving the plot to plunge into a complex panoply of subterfuge, double-cross and blackmail. Sensibly, director Davis never tries to ape the Hitchcockian style. Yet while his direction is suitably slick and his storytelling taut, the staging is imbued with a colourless quality lacking the twisted imagination, macabre sense of humour and quirky sense of character that would have really brought the proceedings to life.
Still, there's loads to enjoy here: eschewing untold car chases and overwrought shock tactics, the film trades more in an intriguing battle of psychological cat-and-mousery, excellently orchestrating the shifting suspicion and tension between the protagonists. Douglas has a field day devising cover-ups in a flash, pulling evil faces and generally dallying with people's lives whereas Paltrow perfectly balances icy chic and fear-stricken vulnerability with a growing awareness of the machinations going on around her.
While the resolution may never be in doubt, how the film arrives there is a constant source of pleasure.