Third Murder, The

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 06/21/18 09:41:28

"A fair thriller from a filmmaker who is great at other things."
3 stars (Average)

SCREENED AT INDEPENDENT FILM FESTIVAL BOSTON 2018: It's kind of amusing that this sort of movie - a crime thriller that's more complicated than the plot of an hour-long TV show, but not necessarily by that much - is often treated as less impressive or difficult than the less plot-driven movies that filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda usually makes, because he stumbles here. This doesn't mean that the emperor has no clothes and genre work actually more difficult than closely-observed, subtle family drama, just that it's a different skill set, and a guy who is good at the sort of movies that regularly impress critics is not necessarily going to elevate other material when he gives it a try.

The case seems open and shut enough: Suspect Misumi (Koji Yakusho) has confessed to the murder and burning the body. The trouble is, the details of his story keep changing, and former judge Daisuke Settsu (Kotaro Yoshida), who had signed up to handle the plea agreement when it looked simple, wants his partner Shigemori (Masaharu Fukuyama) to take a closer look. As he does, Shigemori starts to realize that the crime has connections to a case his father (Isao Hashizume) tried as a judge in Hokkaido decades ago.

There are more details, of course, with the victim not being particularly much missed and something suspicious about his wife and daughter. It's not that intricate, though, especially to seasoned mystery fans. Kore-eda often seems to fall behind his relatively simple mystery plot, having Shigemori and his assistants spend time pondering and staring right past things the audience sees relatively clearly. The effect is oftne to draw out a story that is never that complicated so that it feels large enough to be presented with an ambiguity that isn't anything that his audience hasn't seen before.

You know this sort of thing by now - Shigemori and/or his family may have some sort of secret as well, so while he's trying to get the truth from Misumi, Misumim's poking at Shigemori may be uncovering something else. Meanwhile, Shigemori's daughter may have no interest in the family business, but she's got the instincts, showing up every half hour or so to cry some fake tears and manipulate her father. Meanwhile, witnesses and suspects appear to be extremely suggestible, a mystery may never be solved, and, by golly, when you when you stand back and look at all of this, you might start to wonder if there really is such a thing as truth or justice, or good and evil, or if it's all about what people can make each other think!

Kore-eda is a skilled enough filmmaker that he can get this across in terrific style - every time Shigemori returns to the jail to interview Misumi, Kore-eda seems to find a new way to use the glass between the two of them, from a side-on view where the partition is made invisible to a fantastic shot where the reflection of one face winds up superimposed on the other in the glass. Kore-eda, cinematographer Mikiya Takimoto, and the rest of the crew put on a clinic in those scenes, and there's no denying that both Masaharu Fukuyama and Koji Yakusho deliver strong performances on either side. I would not have any trouble whatsoever believing that the whole film was built around those scenes, but if so, it is not quite built well enough - all the pieces are there except a story that gives the viewer a genuine feeling that these two are connected and equivalent in some way.

That's the sort of thing that elevates genre, making a simple potboiler into something as philosophical and thought-provoking as it is thrilling. That material has to be worth lifting up in the first place, though, and there's not a good enough mystery movie in "The Third Murder" to make the effort. I can't help but think that if Yoshihiro Nakamura had made the same movie, it would never make it to the U.S., because he's not the reliable art-house name Hirokazu Kore-eda is. The filmmaker has made some great pictures, but he's out of his element here.

© Copyright HBS Entertainment, Inc.