There are people who will tell you there is no such thing as a perfect murder. One that really annoys me is some ex-cop named Joe Something, who looks at the camera and says, “If you commit a murder, I will find you!” Bullshit, Joe. I’ll bet there are “open” (that is, “unsolved”) cases in your files. Every homicide detective has them. Most stranger killings, for instance, never get solved. If I used only basic cautions, I could go out tonight and plug some poor innocent person I don’t know, and have an excellent chance of getting away with it. Always assuming that guilt didn’t compel me to throw myself down before some police officer, sobbing “I did it! I did it!”
A staple of thriller books and movies is the really, really smart guy who plans the perfect murder. They hardly ever get away with it (we just don’t make a lot of movies like that), and there is almost always one good reason: their ingenious plans are too bloody elaborate. If one thing goes wrong, if you forget one tiny detail, the wheels come off and you find yourself in a jail cell asking yourself how did you fuck up.
But these stories are loads of fun. You get to try to figure out what the cop isn’t seeing, or how it’s going to go wrong. This is one of the better ones. Anthony Hopkins, at his most sinister, is a rich man whose wife is cheating on him. We see him shoot her in the head, so we are never in doubt as to whether or not he actually did it. He waits for the police to arrive, then surrenders. A gun is on the floor, his wife is bleeding out, and he frankly admits that he killed her. (The wife survives, but is in a coma and probably brain-dead, which will be important later.)
Hot-shot D.A. Ryan Gosling is about to depart public service for a lucrative job with some high-powered firm of shysters when this case comes in. There has seldom been a more open-and-shut certain conviction, so he takes the case. Hopkins elects to represent himself, and seems to be doing a pretty bad job of it … when suddenly, everything changes. The case goes right into the toilet. I won’t tell you how, but it’s pretty damn brilliant, as befits a criminal mastermind.
The case hinges on finding a gun. Because when they test the gun at the lab, they find out it has never been fired! So the real murder weapon must be in the house, because they are very, very sure that no one left the house. So the problem for us is to figure out where the gun is. It had better be in a really fine hiding place, because it is emphasized that the cops have torn the place apart no less than three times. I was apprehensive that it would be in some stupid false wall or some shit like that, which I wouldn’t have believed for a second. But the solution, when it comes, left me more than satisfied, I was filled with admiration.
So then we face the next question: How does it all go wrong …?