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Film / A Perfect Murder

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A Perfect Murder is a 1998 thriller film directed by Andrew Davis, starring Michael Douglas, Gwyneth Paltrow, Viggo Mortensen, and David Suchet. It's a remake of the 1954 Hitchcock film Dial M for Murder.

Steven Taylor (Douglas) is a Wall Street hedge fund manager who has risen his way through riches and has a seemingly ideal marriage to Emily (Paltrow). However, unknown to him, she isn't a faithful wife as she is having an affair with a wealthy artist, David Shaw (Mortensen), and plans to leave Steven.

Upon discovering the affair, Steven confronts David and exposes him as a con-artist whose real name is Winston LaGrange and who is after Steven and Emily's money, but offers to pay him a substantial amount of money anyway... in exchange for killing his wife.

Tropes included:

  • Age-Gap Romance: Steven is about two decades older than his young wife Emily. (When the film was released Gwyneth Paltrow was 25 and Michael Douglas was 53.)
  • Ankle Drag: At the end of the movie, Steven and Emily get into a fight and he grabs her ankle to trip her up. Also occurs only seconds later when she's on the ground and he grabs her and pulls her to him but Emily is still able to grab the gun and kill him.
  • Assassin Outclassin': Emily, turns the tables on her killer with a cringe-inducing meat thermometer right to the neck.
  • Bond One-Liner: "How's that for wet work?" is what Steven says after stabbing David to death, a response to David mocking him for being unable to kill his wife himself.
  • Casting Gag: Michael Douglas as a wealthy Wall Street schemer. Sound familiar? And don't tell me that seeing David Suchet play an astute detective doesn't ring a bell.
  • Cunning Linguist: Emily is a translator at the UN and fluent in numerous languages. This pays off when she's able to forge a personal connection with one of the detectives assisting her—asking about the welfare of his wife and children—leading him to put in the extra effort to look after her. Later in the film, as she ventures into an inner-city neighborhood, her perfect Spanish similarly impresses the local hoodlums.
  • Composite Character: David is a cross between Mark, having an affair with a married woman, and Swann, being blackmailed into killing her.
  • A Deadly Affair: At first, Steven's plan to murder his wife Emily, who's cheating on him with David, involves blackmailing his wife's lover to execute the murder. It doesn't go according to plan, as not only does David 'sub-contract' out the killing, Emily accidentally kills the assassin instead of the other way around. At the end, Steven kills David, then outright tries to murder Emily himself, but it also turns out that, even more than for her affair, he's murdering her for her (rich family's) money.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Steven and Winston have frequent sparring matches.
  • Decomposite Character: Unlike Swann, David does not attempt to kill Margot, but instead hires a man to do it.
  • Evil Wears Black: Murderous Steven always dresses in black whereas his would-be-victim Emily is usually dressed in white.
  • Foreshadowing: Winston asks Steven why he'd want to go so far as to kill his wife for cheating on him. Steven responds with a none of your business type answer. Because the reason he wants to kill his wife has nothing to do with her being unfaithful.
  • Ironic Echo: "And what if there were no tomorrow?"
  • Out-Gambitted: Subverted, Winston believes he does this by intentionally setting up the murder to fail and then revealing to Steven that he was recording his conversations about planning the murder of his wife. However, Steven makes it clear that Winston is messing with someone above his league by killing him with no witnesses after pretending to give up.
  • Red Herring: The viewer is lead to believe that Steven wants to kill his wife for being unfaithful, when in reality, he is doing so because his wife is richer than him and from a wealthy family. And he needs the money he'd get from her life insurance to save his failing business (of course, finding out she was cheating on him might just be the straw that broke the camels back).
  • Too Dumb to Live: That's right, Emily, shout "THIS IS FUCKING OVER!" at the psychopath who tried to kill you before trying to storm out of the penthouse.
  • Villain Protagonist: Steven is the main character, despite being the villain.