William H Macy in A Slight Case of Murder

A Slight Case of Murder


One of those feelgood made-for-TV films that’s somehow managed to net a great cast as they were commuting between better paying jobs. I suspect that that’s because William H Macy is involved, David Mamet’s favourite actor being the star and the adapter of Donald Westlake’s novel about a film critic who kills his girlfriend by accident and then uses his film buffery to cover up the crime. It’s a neat conceit obviously designed to appeal to film lovers, who get double helpings when the cop on the accidental killer’s tail (Adam Arkin) also turns out to be a film buff himself. Comic noir is the prevailing tone, once the film’s initial skittishness has dissipated, with black humour as back-up for people who aren’t quite catching the film references. Best of all are the “oh god don’t do that, you’ll only make it worse” moments. Macy has just the face to pull this sort of innocent abroad shtick. Always great as a dupe, he’s especially good here because this is one of those very knowing films (there’s lots of breaking of the fourth wall with Macy’s addresses to camera) where the critic is convinced he’s one step ahead of the law, yet we’re generally one step ahead of the both of them. If it never quite hits the Billy Wilder heights it has probably set its sights on, Felicity Huffman (Macy’s wife in real life), James Cromwell and Paul Mazursky are among those making it A Slight Case of Murder an enjoyably slight case of entertainment.


© Steve Morrissey 2000


A Slight Case of Murder – at Amazon


4 thoughts on “A Slight Case of Murder”

  1. Co-scripted by William H. Macy from, arguably, Donald E. Westlake’s best and hardest to find novel, "A Travesty". *Very* faithful to the story, the movie stars Macy as a hapless man who gets in way too far over his head after attempting to cover up an accidental death. Costars Adam Arkin and James Cromwell in good supporting roles. The strength of the movie is in the intricate twist-after-twist storyline and in the acting, particularly by Macy who routinely and delightfully breaks through the 4th wall here and gets away with it every time. A good storyline with much dark humor, this one engaged me enough that I’ve watched it three times in the week since it came out. Prepare to shelve your critical faculties and emit a loud, bipartisan "wheeeeee!".

  2. Okay, I love Bill Macy, who’s invariably fun to watch, with those pouchy eyes and that "please don’t kick me again" expression– or maybe it’s "please don’t kick me again so hard." And I love Donald Westlake, one of the best writers of light capers on the scene today. Westlake wrote the novel on which this is based, which I seem to recall reading as "Enough," not "A Travesty," which is what it says in the credits. The combination of these two guys is inspired, all the better in that Macy co-wrote the adaptation and tailored the lead precisely to his acting strengths. Macy just looks like a typical Westlake hero– only, as one of the other characters points out, he really can’t be the hero if he’s killed his girlfriend, even accidentally. And he’s not really the hero, I guess, although you do sort of root for him. Macy plays Jerry Thorpe, a not-very-nice TV film critic, whose attempts to evade the consequences of committing an accidental murder get more and more involved as the plot thickens. It’s an anti-Columbo, where we follow the criminal, not the cop, and wonder when and how he’s going to blow it. Macy’s stayed true to the book, adding a lot of character touches and a couple of nifty flourishes. He even includes a funny reference to one of his own previous pictures, "Searching for Bobby Fischer." I guess, for me, the fun was just watching Macy have so much fun in a leading role– like Steve Buscemi, he’s a terrific character actor who rarely gets the chance to carry a film. He carries this one, and I hope to see him carry more.

  3. "A Slight Case of Murder" is an excellent TV movie, which is defiantly worth the price of a rental. William H. Macy is great as a movie critic who accidentally kills his mistress, and then has to try to conceal the crime. Although that may sound dark, the film is actually quite light hearted and funny, with many memorable lines ("Acting is harder than I thought- you ever see BODY HEAT? I think I owe Bill Hurt an apology" and my personal favourite "For next week answer these two questions about film noir, What do these people do during the day? and Why is it always raining?). The film has a great supporting cast including Macy’s real life wife Felcity Huffman, James Cromwell and Adam Arkin. A must see for Macy fans!

  4. This was a riveting film, one that really drew me in. I’m a big fan of William H. Macy, and he puts in a wonderful performance. His great likeability, coupled with the way his character breaks the fourth wall, really gave me a sense of complicity in his actions. I found myself waiting tensely for the whole house of cards to come collapsing down around him (and by extension myself, as his confidante and silent witness). It took several minutes for me to relax once the film had ended, I was so wrapped up in it.

    Good performances all around, too, not just with Macy. Arkin was quite good, as was Cromwell (he was surprisingly fierce). In short, I highly recommend this film to any fans of Macy and/or the murder mystery. But you may want to prepare to feel a little guilty.

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