Walter Stackhouse (Patrick Wilson) seems to have the perfect life in 1960’s New York. A successful architect who enjoys writing crime fiction stories, his wife Clara (Jessica Biel) is a real estate agent who sells the houses he designs. Behind closed doors it is a different story, as their marriage is strained due to Clara’s deep depression and tormented jealousy.
After reading a news article about a woman who was brutally stabbed to death, Walter becomes obsessed with the crime and as a writer develops his own opinion of what happened. Concluding not only was she killed by her husband Marty Kimmel (Eddie Marsan), but how he committed the murder as well. So confident of his evaluation of the case, Walter even decides to visit Marty at his bookstore, to meet the man he believes killed his wife.
Things soon start to change for Walter however when his wife is found dead by a bridge, the body coincidently found not far from where Marty’s wife was previously murdered. The circumstances of her death are unclear and Walter himself suddenly becomes a suspect for murder.
With both murders being investigated by a hardnosed homicide detective Corby (Vincent Kartheiser) Walter decides to lie to the police in an attempt to distance himself from suspicion. As information starts to surface about his domestic issues at home and his relationship with a nightclub singer called Ellie Briess (Haley Bennett), Walter finds himself in a dangerous situation. The police want to charge him for murder and through his curiosity he has now attracted the interest of a dangerous killer who is still on the loose.
A kind of murder takes a while to get going and although it is stunning to watch, it feels very generic as the initial events unfold. Once Clara is found dead and the investigation turns to Walter as a suspect for murder, the film throws in a few twists as it begins to pick up pace. The film is set up for the audience and isn’t at all subtle in laying out the clues to follow. Walter’s web of lies immediately seem self-destructive and you can instantly see how they will resurface later to make him look guilty. When the events do unfold, it is entertaining to watch detective Corby confront Walter, yet it lacks the tension which these scenes should create, mainly because it never feels as though Walter will be convicted for the murder. Each time a lie is uncovered, Walter admits that he lied and then the film moves on. This is no Alfred Hitchcock The Wrong Man (1956), there is no urgency to prove his innocence, because it never looks as though they are really pursuing him for the murder.
Things are very different for Marty, a rather sheepish character, who seems confined to working in his small dark and dreary antique book store. Suspected for murdering his wife and constantly hounded by the detective, you feel it is only a matter of time before he is charged with murder, whether the evidence is there or not. Marty and his wife’s murder plays a pivotal role in the film, though there is very little development of his character and the motive behind the murder is never really explained. We get a glimpse of Marty’s relationship with his wife as a flashback, where we see him meeting her before she is murdered, but apart from her complaining about his coat, it doesn’t really elaborate on why he would go through so much trouble. Like most of A Kind of Murder, it concentrates a lot on looking good and how the story will unfold, yet lacking the development of the characters relationships.
Patrick Wilson who lives at the other end of the social spectrum is well suited to the role as Wilson and it’s interesting to see how the events unfold when he is accused of his wife’s murder. The relationships with the women in his life are barely touched on, so you don’t get a real emotional connection with the characters. Jessica Biel and Haley Bennett do a good job with their short screen time, however they both feel underused in the film. They are used to offer little more than a supporting role to Wilson, rather than being incorporated into the events of the main story.
The visual look of the film is impressive, with some of the outside shots of the rain and snow capturing an ambiance of the times which is probably more glamorous than it was. My favourite scene occurs during a chase under the nightclub, looking as though they are running through the dark abandoned rooms with the shadows reflecting on the walls, it was a great nod to the genre and the iconic shots from The Third Man (1949).
A Kind of Murder is a beautifully stylised film noir, which has some nice twists throughout to keep the viewer interested. Despite some great performances the film lacks the character development and tension which would have made it more memorable.