Genre: Mystery and Thriller Running Time: 1 hr. 47 min.
Release Date: October 1st, 1993 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Harold Becker Actors: Alec Baldwin, Nicole Kidman, Bill Pullman, Bebe Neuwirth, George C. Scott, Peter Gallagher, Anne Bancroft, Tobin Bell, Josef Sommer
erry Goldsmith’s music, featuring magnificently serene, choral voices singing over the opening credits, possesses a superb contrast to the title as it flashes onscreen. Something is off, but it’s impossible to know just what. In the initial moments, a young woman bicycles home from Westerly College, only to be strangled by an unseen assailant as she attempts to feed her cat. The culprit is a serial rapist, as yet uncaptured, whose M.O., which includes cutting off all the women’s hair, has the New England campus spooked. “There’s a maniac loose in this town.”
Associate dean and professor Andy Safian (Bill Pullman) is particularly perturbed, as well as his wife Tracy (Nicole Kidman), a children’s ward volunteer. At the St. Agnes hospital, new hotshot surgeon Dr. Jed Hill (Alec Baldwin) manages to save the latest victim’s life – though he makes sure to harshly scold an underling who accidentally raises fears among the staff about the potential for failure (“Everybody likes me!”). He’s also introduced to Andy, who coincidentally attended the same high school. In short time, the good doctor moves in to their upstairs room – a hasty plan that should have allowed for some extra money to mitigate an expensive plumbing issue (and provide for a new couch). But Jed’s nocturnal activities immediately prove to be distracting at best, as he has rambunctious female accompaniment at all hours. And he even walks in on Tracy as she prepares for a bath, despite the fact that he has his own restroom.
With a screenplay by Aaron Sorkin (and Scott Frank), there’s an abundance of dialogue and countless little details unfolding continuously. Plus, the use of uncommon words like “genuflect” pepper the script. Strangely, however, several scenes transition abruptly, as if during the editing phase bits of the plot were cut out to speed things up. In these sequences, ominous music also kicks in, transforming what started as an engaging mix of familial drama and a murder mystery into a bizarre blend of psychological thrills and a medical malpractice legal spellbinder. At the halfway point, just as anyone could be a murder suspect, the picture practically abandons that plot in favor of a deposition showdown; “Malice” is a remarkably convoluted endeavor.
“Welcome to the game.” Shortly after the courtroom-battle-of-sorts, the film even ventures down the path of horror and then action. Slower moments typically sort out additional complexities, but “Malice” has a tendency to continue to deviate from one storyline to the next (or to a completely new one), as if it never knows which genre or which premise is the one worth pursuing. And red herrings abound.
Twisting and winding its way to a shock conclusion (though one audiences might see coming, especially considering how often the characters and scenarios reveal themselves as disingenuous), the project’s labyrinthine design has already done too much damage. It’s difficult to take anything seriously when behaviors fail to line up with established expectations; in its efforts to be unpredictable, the film instead becomes unbelievable. It does, however, have a somewhat satisfying close (even if devoid of sensibility), as well as an impressive supporting cast, including such recognizable players as Bebe Neuwirth, Gwyneth Paltrow, Tobin Bell, George C. Scott, Peter Gallagher, and Anne Bancroft.
– Mike Massie