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Film / Malice

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Malice is a 1993 thriller film starring Alec Baldwin, Nicole Kidman, Bill Pullman, and Bebe Neuwirth, with Anne Bancroft, George C. Scott, Tobin Bell, and Gwyneth Paltrow turning up in smaller roles. The film was directed by Harold Becker, previously known for such films as Vision Quest (1985) and Sea of Love (1989), and co-written by Aaron Sorkin.

Andy Safian (Pullman) and Tracy Kennsinger (Kidman) are a young married couple. He is an Associate Dean at a college, while she volunteers in the children's ward at the local hospital. They have recently settled in the suburbs of Boston. Their residence is a Victorian house needing renovations, and they are considering renting out the top floor. At that point a serial rapist threatens one of Andy's students. Her life is saved by Dr Jed Hill (Baldwin), a brilliant surgeon. Andy recognizes Jed as an old friend from his high school days. They reacquaint themselves and Jed rents the top floor.

Their lives are further complicated by two events. First, young Paula Bell (Paltrow) is raped and murdered. She happens to be another of Andy's students, making him a prime suspect in the eyes of the police; Detective Dana Harris (Neuwirth) plans to keep an eye on him. Second, Tracy is hospitalized with abdominal pains, soon discovered to be the results of ovarian cysts and a new pregnancy. Jed convinces Andy that they will need to remove her ovaries for her to survive, sterilising her for life; however, it turns out the necessity of the operation was questionable. Tracy sues the hospital for several million dollars and ends her marriage.

Andy has two further surprises waiting for him. First, in connection with the rape investigation Dana has had a sample of his semen examined. He is infertile and therefore couldn't have got Tracy pregnant. Second, his mother-in-law Mrs Kennsinger (Bancroft) contacts him with some information, which comes as a shock since Tracy had claimed to have no living relative.

From there the story proceeds with several twists and turns. Several layers of deception and misdirection complicate the story. As Roger Ebert put it, the film is "jampacked" with "blind alleys and red herrings".

This film provides examples of:

  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Tracy is presented as a pristine type, then revealed to be a remorseless con artist.
  • Broken Pedestal: Andy adores Tracy and is floored at the realisation of her duplicity.
  • Cat Scare: A young woman arrives home from school and can't figure out why her normally friendly cat is cowering under a chair. We soon learn—he's afraid of the intruder lurking off-screen, who promptly jumps out and attacks her.
  • Clear My Name: Andy is suspected of raping and murdering his female students, which gives him motivation to locate the actual killer.
  • Con Man: Tracy is revealed to be a professional con artist.
  • Dr. Jerk: Besides his extreme arrogance, Jed tends to threaten people:
    Jed: If you don't like my jokes, don't laugh. If you have a medical opinion, then please speak up and speak up loud. But if you ever again tell me or my surgical staff that we're going to lose a patient, I'm gonna take out your lungs with a fuckin' ice cream scoop. Do you understand me?
    Dr Sullivan: I'm not going to like you very much, am I?
    Jed: Don't be ridiculous; everybody likes me.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Jed, an egotistical surgeon who has no qualms about committing insurance fraud and destroying the careers of his colleagues or the marriage of his supposed friend, is horrified when Tracy suggests killing the 10-year old witness to their crimes, outraged enough to slap her when she won't relent, and threatens to be the first to testify against her should anything happen to the kid.
  • Fair Cop: Police detective Dana Harris is played by 35-year-old Bebe Neuwirth.
  • Fatal Flaw: For Jed: it's Pride. And for Tracy: it's Greed. Both lead to their downfall. Bonus points for Jed getting killed by Tracy, because of Greed.
  • Foreshadowing: At one point, Jed asks Andy if he would cut off part of his body for a million dollars. This is almost what Tracy ends up doing. And Jed knowing this beforehand is probably exactly why he asked such an unusual question in the first place.
  • Footsie Under the Table: Defied by Andy (see Ignore The Fan Service below).
  • A Glass in the Hand: Tracy shatters the wine glass that she's holding as Andy rattles off a list of all the evidence against her that he's garnered.
  • A God Am I: Jed has a self-described God complex and gives a speech about it:
    Jed: I have an M.D. from Harvard, I am board certified in cardio-thoracic medicine and trauma surgery, I have been awarded citations from seven different medical boards in New England, and I am never, ever sick at sea. So I ask you; when someone goes into that chapel and they fall on their knees and they pray to God that their wife doesn't miscarry or that their daughter doesn't bleed to death or that their mother doesn't suffer acute neural trauma from post-operative shock, who do you think they're praying to? Now, go ahead and read your Bible, Dennis, and you go to your church, and, with any luck, you might win the annual raffle, but if you're looking for God, he was in operating room number two on November 17, and he doesn't like to be second guessed. You ask me if I have a God complex. Let me tell you something: I am God.
    • And then it turns out that the trope is Played With: the whole speech was staged to ensure a conviction by the court— but at the same time it is implied that Jed didn't really have to pretend when he gave it.
  • Good Victims, Bad Victims: Jed's lawyer warns him that he's basically screwed, describing Tracy and Andy as the perfect young couple with lovely dreams for their future—"That is a Norman Rockwell painting, and you slashed it to bits with your scalpel". But when Andy learns that Tracy was unfaithful to him, he urges Jed to continue fighting the lawsuit. Jed truthfully points out that as far as his situation goes, it doesn't matter what kind of a person Tracy was, but Andy contradicts him, claiming, "The jury thought they were dealing with Snow White. What if Snow White was sleeping with her lawyer?" erroneously believing that he was Tracy's lover
  • Grammar Nazi: Tying in with his arrogant personality, Jed shows himself to be one when he corrects Tracy on some common errors—"What did he say (in his letter)?" "He didn't "say" anything, he "wrote"", etc.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Tracy gets pregnant so as to look more sympathetic and be awarded more money in the lawsuit. Andy learning that it wasn't his baby prompts him to investigate and uncover the scheme rather than moving on with his life as he presumably would have otherwise.
  • Hospital Hottie: Dr Jed Hill is played by Alec Baldwin.
  • Hot Teacher: Tracy Kennsinger is an art teacher.
  • Ignore The Fan Service: At one point, Tracy starts playing footsie with Andy under the table, telling him in a breathy voice how she misses him and still wants him, to which he coldly replies: "I think you dropped your shoe".
  • Insufferable Genius: Jed. Though at least part of that is just to make the scheme work.
  • Losing a Shoe in the Struggle: Andy goes to his wayward student's house to check on her, as she's missed yet another appointment with him. The first hint that she's met with foul play is when he finds her shoe discarded in her backyard. Sure enough, a few steps more and he finds her mutilated body.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: Which heavily implied that Jed was the Serial Rapist terrorizing the campus and raised the possibility that Tracy would be a potential victim, neither of which turned out to be true.
  • Plot Hole: So with all the planning Tracy and Jed did — her injections, his getting the position of chief surgeon etc., how could they be certain that her ovary would rupture a night when he was on-call AND had been drinking? Did he work every single night? Was he drunk every night? Too many things came together too perfectly for their plan to be successful.
    • This might be a subversion of this trope, as ultimately, their plan wasn't successful. But it's still too convenient that Andy discovering that he was sterile led to everything unravelling.
  • Red Herring: Several contained in the film. One of the major ones is the subplot with the serial rapist/murderer. The film arguably invites the viewers to seek the identity of the killer and how the murders fit with the machinations of the characters. They don't. The killer is college handyman Earl Leemus, a minor character who plays no part in the money-making schemes of the main characters.
    • The rape storyline ties in somewhat — when Andy's semen is tested in order to rule him out as a suspect, he learns he's sterile and couldn't have been the father of the baby Tracy was carrying. While he has yet to realise the extent of Tracy's depravity, the realisation that she was cheating on him instantly shatters any illusions he has about her.
  • The Sociopath: Tracy proves to be this when she is willing to murder an innocent child witness, just so she doesn't share half the money with Andy. Even Jed is shocked by this and threatens to turn on her if she goes through with it.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Andy goes from a mild-mannered teacher to a man who pulls off gambits that would make David Xanatos proud.
  • Touché: When Andy makes a crack about Dana's abilities as a detective, she snarks about Andy's "collegiate wit", and responds, "Bite me." Andy says, "Touche" in response.
  • Waxing Lyrical: Jed's line "I am never, ever sick at sea" from his A God Am I speech is from H.M.S. Pinafore. Doubles as Author Appeal, since Aaron Sorkin, who co-wrote the script, is a major Gilbert and Sullivan fan; he would later reuse the same line in a similar context, in Charlie Wilson's War.
  • Wham Shot: Andy tracks Tracy down and hides as she enters the house. . . followed by Jed, revealing that they've been in cahoots the whole time.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Tracy gets pregnant for the sole purpose of looking more sympathetic during the lawsuit, and later plans to murder the child who supposedly witnessed her and Jed's shady dealings.
  • You Have GOT to Be Kidding Me!: Tracy's reaction when she sees the child who supposedly witnessed her and Jed's shady dealings while being arrested and realizes when he pulls out a cane that he's blind.
  • You Just Told Me: Tracy's reaction when Andy tells her that the kid next door witnessed her and Jed's nefarious activities—their affair, him giving her the hormone injections—tells you that this is exactly what was going on.