J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Tribeca ’16: A Kind of Murder

Detective Corby assumes Mitchell Kimmel is an early 1960s Scott Peterson and he is probably right. He also assumes the same thing about Walter Stackhouse, but the mystery-writing architect is more of a Walter Mitty than a Bluebeard. Unfortunately, he will make every possible mistake to attract suspicion in Andy Goddard’s A Kind of Murder, which screens during the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival.

Stackhouse is indeed the title character of Patricia Highsmith’s The Blunderer. He ought to know better, since he has just had his second crime story published in a magazine—not that his wife Clara cares. Constantly scoldy but also prone to jealous delusions, she is difficult to live with. Poor Stackhouse dutifully intervenes during her latest suicide attempt, but he is not so sure he will do so the next time, especially after he meets the pretty and emotionally stable Ellie Briess.

For professional and perhaps also personal reasons, Stackhouse develops a fascination with the murder of Kimmel’s wife. It seems entirely possible the sleazy independent bookstore owner faked an alibi, in order to murder the woman during her intercity bus’s layover at a rest stop. He even ventures out to Kimmel’s store, but finds the proprietor rather unsavory. Acting on impulse, Stackhouse similarly stalks his own wife while she is on the same bus, but she rather inconveniently throws herself off a bridge before he can find her. At least, that is Stackhouse’s story, but the way he parses it out in piecemeal fashion will cast him in a decidedly guilty light.

A Kind of Murder is a blandly prosaic title compared to The Blunderer, but the film itself is wonderfully stylish Hitchcockian take on the early Mad Men era. Patrick Wilson is actually quite a good fit for the guilt-ridden and morally compromised Walter Stackhouse, while Jessica Biel makes an appropriately hot mess as the high-strung Clara Stackhouse. However, Eddie Marsan steals the show as the sociopathic Kimmel, which probably shouldn’t surprise anyone. Unfortunately, Vincent Kartheiser lacks the presence and heft to give Det. Corby any sense of menace. He is more like a Colombo who thinks he is a Dirty Harry.

Production designer Pete Zumba, costume designer Sarah Mae Burton, and the entire design team have crafted a wonderfully inviting period production, which cinematographer Chris Seager gives an uber-noir sheen. It is just a pleasure for genre fans to dive into this stylized New York that probably never really was. Goddard keeps the elements working in concert, fully capitalizing on the rich bourgeoisie trappings and Highsmith’s subversive motifs. Recommended with enthusiasm for thriller fans, A Kind of Murder screens again tonight (4/19) and Thursday (4/21), as part of this year’s Tribeca.

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