A Perfect Murder

Reviewed by Van T. Tran

Special Edition DVD

Warner, widescreen 1.85:1, 16x9 enhanced, pan&scan, languages: English (DD 5.1), French (2.0), subtitles: English, French, dual side-single layer, scene selections-32 chapters, rated R, 107 min., $24.98, street date 11/3/98.


  • Cast & crew biography
  • Production notes
  • Alternate ending
  • 2 audio commentaries featuring Michael Douglas, director Andrew Davis, producer Peter MacGregor Scott, screenwriter Patrick Smith Kelly, production designer Philip Rosenberg, cinematographer Dariusz Wolski, costume designer Ellen Mirojnick, and others

Studio Line

Directed by Andrew Davis. Starring Michael Douglas, Gwyneth Paltrow, Viggo Mortensen.

Three people. One triangle. A wealthy and powerful husband. The intelligent, beautiful young woman he married. Her soulful and attractive lover. A dangerous combination, to be sure. Perhaps a deadly one...

Millionaire industrialist Steven Taylor (MICHAEL DOUGLAS) is a man who has everything but what he craves most - the love and fidelity of his wife. A hugely successful entity in the high-stakes New York financial world, Taylor considers Emily Bradford Taylor (GWYNETH PALTROW) his most treasured acquisition. However, beneath Taylor's controlled veneer, he loves his wife, even needs her -- though he could never tell her just how much.

But Emily wants--and needs--more than just her role as a dazzling accessory in her husband's world. Brilliant and sophisticated, Emily, who works as a multi-lingual translator and aide to the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, has been involved with David Shaw (VIGGO MORTENSEN), a talented but struggling downtown artist who provides the emotional fulfillment for Emily that Steven cannot muster.

For months, Emily and David's affair, carried out in secret, passionate trysts in his Brooklyn loft, has been leading to what David hopes will be the demise of Emily's marriage and the beginning of their new life together.

It's only a matter of time before Steven Taylor learns the truth behind his wife's increasingly distant behavior toward him. And when he does, the knowledge sets in motion a scheme as complex as a lethal board game. The goal? That most impossible and terrible of aspirations--a perfect murder--with Emily as the target. Jealousy may be one motive. Her considerable trust fund may be another.

But in the final scheme of things, a perfect murder may be as impossible to achieve as a perfect love... and once foul play is in the air, the cat-and-mouse game that ensues reveals the sharpened claws of some unexpected predators.

Picture/Sound/Extras (A/B/B-)

Warner hasn't produced any significant hit in the last couple of years, but they sure know how to produce quality DVDs that somehow make their movies a bit more compelling. Such is the case with their latest release of A Perfect Murder. The studio could've saved the money and release this moderate hit movie on DVD without any supplement, instead the disc contains enough extras to add another interesting dimension to the movie. For starter, I think it is a great idea for the studio to include an alternative ending on DVD when there is one. Many movies are screen tested with different endings prior to the release. Usually the one that garnered the most favorable responses from the test audiences will be chosen. With the alternative ending on DVD, we are allowed the oppurtunity to see what the test audiences saw and perhaps we might arrive on a different conclusion. In The Boxer, I prefer the alternative ending which feel to have more of a closure than the original. For A Perfect Murder, I can see the reason behind why the original ending was a better choice. It's just another interesting aspect that I hope to see more on DVDs in the future.

The other supplements include a commentary track given by Michael Douglas, director Andrew Davis, and screenwriter Patrick Smith Kelly. That should be enough for this movie, but another commentary track is included with the producer, designers, cinematographer, and other crew. Having Douglas on a commentary track is a rare oppurtunity, so it was interesting to hear him talk about the role and career experiences. Most of the commentary though is occupied by director Davis and screenwriter Kelly. The movie is full of implausibilities and I was curious to see how they were going to wriggle out some explanations. Behind much enthusiasm, each did their part in dissecting the film and provided many interesting tidbits about the production that somehow lent more credibility to the plot. Unfortunately, the other commentary track is very difficult to understand as the background soundtrack is left too loud.

The pressing of this dual side, single layer DVD is excellent as with most Warner releases. There are some slight digital artifacts on the edges, but you have to really look hard to notice them. The production design evolves around the posh New York apartment where Steven and Emily live and a cluttered artist studio where David and Emily consume their affair. The rich and warm lighting in Steven's surrounding accentuates the luxurious lifestyle, whereas David's studio has more of a stark atmosphere. Colors have strong characterisitc and images are razor-sharp. Blacks are near glossy and shadow details are distinct. The picture is perfectly framed at approximately 1.85:1 and a pan and scan version is available on the other side.

Most of the ambience of the Dolby Digital soundtrack is provided by James Newton Howard's score which has an expansive frontal stage, but not as prominent in the surrounds. The richly layered score is effective, but also a very typical thriller style with heavy brass and percussion. It doesn't make me want to run out and buy the CD soundtrack. The city environment provides for an occassional split surrounds and punctuates by full envelopment from traffic and train noise. Dialogue is naturally integrated.

A Perfect Murder is watchable mainly for the three leading cast. At the same time, Paltrow and Douglas generate zero chemistry together. There is a nagging question of what Emily saw in Steven in the first place, especially when she is wealthier and twice as young. The suspense never reaches a boiling point as your mind is constantly trying to steer past the gaping holes in the plot. Moreover, the three characters are difficult to empathize with; one wants to kill his wife, the second is a con man, and the third is an adulterer. My recommendation is for rental and the supplements will add extra values if your interest is in the production.

Related Sites

DVD Empire Amazon.com

Current as of 11/11/98

  • Official Site--You are suppose to search for clues to the perfect murder, but the process is downright boring.
  • Roger Ebert--"A Perfect Murder works like a nasty little machine to keep us involved and disturbed."
  • James Berardinelli's ReelViews--"A Perfect Murder is a plodding production that generates almost no suspense from beginning to end."
  • The Michael Douglas Fan Page--An excellent resource for Douglas fans.
  • Celebsite: Gwyneth Paltrow--Full bio, news, interviews, and fan site ratings.
  • Viggo Mortensen--"He is big in Japan and getting bigger all the time in the United States."

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