aperfectThis week sees the US release of The Road. Adapted from the Cormac McCarthynovel, it follows the story of a man and his son struggling to survive in a post-apocalyptic environment. The man is played by Viggo Mortensen.

Relatively unknown before winning the role of Aragorn in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, he has done well to shake off the shadow of the popular series with critically acclaimed roles in films like A History of Violence. Pre-LOTR his biggest part was in Young Guns II, riding alongside a pre-CSI William Petersen. Then his first major supporting role, in the 1998 thriller A Perfect Murder.

Michael Douglas is Steven Taylor, a successful business man. His complex investment portfolio is starting to collapse, meaning he will need his wife’s financial stability to remain afloat. Unfortunately, his younger wife Emily (Gwyneth Paltrow) has embarked on a tumultuous affair with a struggling artist, Mortensen’s David Shaw. Steven is aware of his wife’s infidelity, and confronts David.

Anxious to stop his wife from leaving him, and keen to get his hands on her personal fortune, he proposes a deal with the penniless artist. A trade of sorts. Steven will pay David half a million dollars, on the condition he disappears. Oh, and murders Emily. David has a dark past, a confidence trickster working under an assumed identity. Despite his developing feelings for Emily, he might find the pull of the money on offer too tempting to turn down. Steven has a plan carefully laid out, allowing himself an airtight alibi. However, in the movie world, all good plans are doomed to failure.

On the surface a by-the-numbers thriller, at it’s heart lies a dark tale of reprehensible people living terrible lives. The relationship between Steven and Emily is strained from the beginning, a marriage built on lies and paranoia. The blossoming relationship between David and Emily seems genuine at first, until the revelations about his past cause you to question his motivations, and keep you guessing about whether he has plans of his own, or is a petty crook in over his head.

Douglas plays the spiteful, rich executive to perfection, having had much practice as the iconic Gordon Gecko in the eighties, and would revisit another similar role in David Fincher’s The Game. He exudes a genuinely mean air with but a look. Paltrow does a decent job of playing the scared but feisty target of Douglas’ malice.

Mortensen? He does a good job of conveying an ambiguous character. He agrees to the plan, but looks conflicted in the lead-up. But there’s really no portent of the great performances to come in later films. This is due in large part to the the role not being particularly demanding. As the true villain of the piece, this movie belongs to Douglas. Apart from that, there is also no real spark about Mortensen, nothing remarkable on display.

A remake of the 1954 Alfred Hitchcock film Dial M For Murder, there is nothing really new here. The twists aren’t revolutionary, and little attempt has been made to subvert the genre. The main plot twist occurs fairly early on, meaning you guess immediately that something is up. With all three characters guilty of some dishonest or malicious act, there is only the story to root for, and in the end it lets the viewer down.

This is the kind of unambitious movie Mortensen doesn’t have to attach himself to now, and he’ll be glad of that. Whereas a big role like Aragorn would have made it hard for lesser actors to move on to different roles, for Mortensen it has turned out to be a true blessing, and we can all be thankful for that.

The Road opens in the US this Friday 27th November, and in the UK in January 2010.

A Perfect Murder is available on DVD now.

Bazmann – You can now follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/baz_mann