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With Malice Towards Some
by Jon Schuller

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I really love mysteries. Doesn't matter if they're the classic detective whodunits; or based on a techno/scientific/spy book; or historical fiction where real characters from the past populate the landscape; or one in which the real story is hidden among many diverse sub-plots to keep me on my mental toes or totally confused. Books, of course, can weave a lot of different plot lines and characters for many chapters until maybe the final one. Meanwhile, you've gone through 400 or so pages to get there. Movies have a much more highly, defined sense of time and, at most, 2 to 2 hours to move the story along and reach a satisfying conclusion. There have been mysteries from the very on-set of films, many built on a historical narrative. As the cinema became more sophisticated the audience was whisked from one place to another, to foreign locations and back to the starting place, in an instant, as the actors and the action demanded. Some plots were simple and right there in front of us: hero unintentionally investigates a friend's death, becomes involved with the friend's girl, solves the mystery and, finally, gets the girl. Easy to follow and you probably had it figured out before the last scene was played out. But there are many movies, too numerous to mention, in which you must sit and watch and try not to be confused. I'll try to pick out a few that I consider to be masterful at subterfuge and the smoke-screening of details. Malice, released in 1993, is one of my favorites in this genre.

Andy Safian (Bill Pullman) and Tracy (Nicole Kidman) are married and trying to restore a Victorian house. Andy
is an Associate Dean at a local college and one of the female students there is attacked by a serial rapist. Her life is saved by a new surgeon at the hospital, Dr. Jed Hill (Alec Baldwin). Andy recognizes Jed from their high school days and invites Jed to rent a room in their house to help pay for expensive plumbing repairs. Jed is notorious with women and, as a tenant, he doesn't hesitate to bring the women back to his new place. It puts a strain on Andy and Tracy as they must listen to Jed's romantic encounters. Then another student (Gwyneth Paltrow) is attacked and killed and Andy discovers her body as he attempts to find out why she's missed classes. Andy becomes a suspect in the murder, being investigated by Detective Dana Harris (well-played by Bebe Neuwirth), and must submit a semen sample at the police station. While there he's told his wife has been hospitalized with a ruptured ovary and Jed is the surgeon called in for the operation. She's also pregnant but the trauma has caused the fetus to abort. Her other ovary is removed by Jed and later found to be healthy; she will never be able to bear children as a result. Tracy and her lawyer sue the hospital for negligence and receive a $20 million settlement. During the legal depositions Jed responds to someone accusing him of having a "God complex" to which he then (famously) declares that, as a surgeon, "I am God." Tracy then leaves Andy and he and Jed discuss the current problem.

In the meantime Andy visits the basement area where the college's handyman, Earl Leemus, (Tobin Bell) lives, in search of a light bulb. Andy discovers some
personal items near Earl's bed and becomes suspicious. Earl surprises him and after a short, hesitant discussion, Earl attacks Andy but Andy somehow subdues him. Earl is the serial rapist and Andy's a hero. Detective Harris realizes that Andy Safian is a good guy, not a killer, and we realize he's a lot tougher than he appears. Harris tells Andy that he couldn't be the father of the unborn child because his sperm are sterile. He goes to Tracy's attorney and confronts him, accusing the lawyer, Dennis Riley, (Peter Gallagher) of making Tracy pregnant. Riley tells Andy he should talk to Tracy's mother about her daughter's history and Andy says, no that can't be, Tracy's mom is dead. As Mrs. Kennsinger, Ann Bancroft's cameo role is a revealing one about Tracy, her con artist daughter. She tells Andy that Tracy had conned a wealthy man into paying for an expensive abortion but kept the money and it done illegally. The name Dr. David Lilianfield comes up as Tracy's lover; Andy's suspicions are that his friend, Jed, is the same man.

Andy travels to Dr. Lilianfield's house near the ocean and discovers Tracy is there with Jed. The puzzle pieces have fallen into place and Andy comes back to confront Tracy about her confidence game; he tells her he wants half of the $20 million settlement money. If anything happens to him a letter will be sent to the police department with the truth about her scheme and directing them to the young boy who lives next door to their house who apparently saw Tracy and Jed together. Tracy goes to the house to eliminate the boy and as she enters the boy's room discovers, much to
her surprise, that she's attacked a dummy. The boy is really blind and she had been lured there by Andy and Detective Harris. Tracy is led away to a waiting police car.

I enjoy all the twists and turns this film takes and, although some critics found it to be a rehash of other movies, I don't agree. There are false trails laid out for both us, the audience and of course the protagonists. Andy becomes a very adept amateur detective as he unfortunately discovers his wife's infidelities, and worse, her carefully plotted scheme to make money again. Alec Baldwin plays the snobby, super-intelligent, sex-crazed surgeon to the hilt who gets his ultimate reward - not the girl or the money - but a bullet from Tracy's own gun. Nicole Kidman is not only beautiful but smart and cunning as she too is caught by someone she least expects to figure it out, her husband, Andy. Bill Pullman underplays Andy, first as the bookish professor in love with his wife, caught up in seemingly unrelated events; then, as a wily, amateur sleuth who slowly comes to realize what's been happening between his wife and his old friend. We watch his transitions, his facial expressions, his discoveries as his routine, daily life becomes mixed up with murders, dangerous surgical procedures and the ultimate betrayal foisted upon him.

There's an excellent supporting cast and the film was shot on locations in Boston, Amherst, Northampton and Holyoke, Massachusetts. Even if you figure out the plot(s) before the movie ends, don't let that deter you. It is well-done, solid and believable in my opinion as the actors push the film to its conclusions.

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Cinema Savant
Every other Thursday

My views on an eclectic mix of films and personalties, past and present; emotional interpretations; some laughs, some cries.

Other Columns
Other columns by Jon Schuller:

Have You Been Spying On Me Lately? For How Long?

But Can She Act? That's What I Want to Know

They're Not the Same People They Used To Be

Time Does Fly When We Watch Movies

Before Minimum or Maximum, There Was Only Prison

All Columns

Jon Schuller
I am a former New Jersey native, living in Charlotte, N.C. for almost 30 years. I am a lifelong movie lover with lots of movie trivia knowledge and soundtracks in my CD collection. I enjoy sharing my love of films with everyone and have so many fond memories growing up in darkened movie theaters. I have been married 50 years (as of December 22, 2018) and we both share a passion for film (and each other of course).

If you have a comment, question, or suggestion, you can send a message to Jon Schuller by clicking here.

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