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With: Patrick Wilson, Jessica Biel, Vincent Kartheiser, Haley Bennett, Eddie Marsan
Written by: Susan Boyd, based on a novel by Patricia Highsmith
Directed by: Andy Goddard
MPAA Rating: R for language and some violence
Running Time: 95
Date: 12/16/2016

A Kind of Murder (2016)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Architect of Crime

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Often, Patricia Highsmith's novels are adapted into high-class, blue-ribbon affairs, but this thriller feels refreshingly small-time and pulpy, getting closer to the story's raw emotions and impulses. Director Andy Goddard, a veteran of TV shows like Doctor Who, Downton Abbey, Daredevil, and Luke Cage, brings a small screen economy to the movie, stripping it to its essentials, but still providing plenty of style and rich, 1960s-style atmosphere.

In A Kind of Murder, it's the 1960s and Walter Stackhouse (Patrick Wilson) is a successful architect, married to the beautiful Clara (Jessica Biel). But he's not happy. Clara is frequently cold to him, and does not care for his hobby as a writer of crime stories. He becomes fascinated by a local bookseller, Kimmel (Eddie Marsan), whose wife has suddenly turned up dead; Walter thinks that Kimmel actually killed her and got away with it. At the same time, he meets the beautiful Ellie (Haley Bennett), and finds himself drawn to her, and begins to think about what it might be like to have his own wife gone. Unfortunately, his wife does actually disappear, and a detective (Vincent Kartheiser), who is already investigating Kimmel, suspects a connection between the two men.

Based on Highsmith's 1954 novel The Blunderer, the screenplay by first-timer Susan Boyd feels logical and honest, following characters into emotional traps that make sense; the characters never feel stupid. The casting is pitch-perfect, with Patrick Wilson as a clean-cut everyman, Haley Bennett as a potentially dangerous beauty, and especially Eddie Marsan as the twisted, repressed bookseller, and Vincent Kartheiser (Mad Men) as the relentless, rodent-like detective. A Kind of Murder could almost be a movie magically transported from the bottom half of a 1960s double-bill to the present day. It's sordid, spiffy fun.

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