TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL – For a man who takes great pride in being a writer of crime fiction, architect Walter Stackhouse (Patrick Wilson) sure acts like a blithering idiot when he get embroiled in an actual murder investigation. It’s quite astonishing, really; he doesn’t do one thing right. When his mentally unbalanced and suicidal wife winds up dead beneath a rural overpass—the same overpass where another high-profile murder victim was recently discovered—he seemingly goes out of his way to do everything wrong. He lies to homicide detective Lawrence Corby (Vincent Kartheiser) about his location on the night of the murder, about his knowledge of Kimmel (Eddie Marsan), the suspected killer of the first overpass victim, and his involvement with a beautiful nightclub singer named Ellie (Haley Bennett). He digs his own grave magnificently. The fact that he actually didn’t kill his wife hardly seems to matter.
Based on the Patricia Highsmith novel The Blunderer, Andy Goddard’s “A Kind of Murder” is a meditation on guilt and paranoia. In a sense it’s practically Hitchcockian: Stackhouse is the quintessential Wrongly Accused Man. His biggest error was his fascination with Kimmel. Convinced of his guilt, Stackhouse went to Kimmel’s bookshop to see if he was the type of man “who could kill.” After he orders a book to mask his true intentions while visiting, he inextricably pulls Kimmel into his life—and pushes himself into the first murder investigation when Corby connects the two together. For Corby, Stackhouse is a textbook copycat killer. For Kimmel, Stackhouse is blackmail fodder. And for Stackhouse? He’s just out of luck.
“A Kind of Murder” is a lavish film of great beauty bolstered by many wonderful performances—Kartheiser is especially nasty as the fanatical Corby while Marsan demonstrates a perfection in the art of slow-burn intensity. But I never felt fully engaged watching it. It builds suspense without generating any authentic tension until the very end when everything is resolved in an underwhelming fight. It feels more like an exercise in defining the mechanics of suspense than in actually utilizing them.
Rating: 6 out of 10
Nate Hood is Screen Comment’s main film critic in New York. Follow him here @NateHood257