American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
Michael Douglas is about as good as anyone can be at playing greedy, cold-hearted SOBs. He's also good at playing nice guys and victims--he's a versatile pro--but when he goes into his Gordon Gekko mode there's an extra charge on the screen, because we know everything his character says and does will be deceitful and self-interested.
Consider an early scene in Andrew Davis' "A Perfect Murder.'' Douglas plays Steven Taylor, a wealthy currency trader. Gwyneth Paltrow plays Emily, his wife. She comes home to their designer apartment to find him dressed for a museum opening. They kiss. She says how nice he looks: "I'll hurry and get dressed so I can catch up.'' Throughout this entire scene, dislike hangs in the air. There's nothing overt. It's simply a way Douglas has of pronouncing his words, as if he wants to say all the proper things even though he doesn't mean them.
The Paltrow character is an heiress who is having an affair with an artist named David Shaw (Viggo Mortensen). We learn that in the first scene. "A Perfect Murder'' doesn't fool around with a misleading opening charade to deceive us. This is not a happy marriage and the movie never pretends otherwise, and when the husband confronts the artist in his studio, there is a kind of blunt savagery to the way he cuts to the bottom line. ("You steal the crown jewel of a man's life, and all you can come up with is some [wimpy] Hallmark sentiment?'') A murder is arranged in the movie, but for once the TV ads leave you with a certain doubt about who is doing what and with which and to whom, so I won't reveal the secret. I will say that Paltrow does a convincing job of playing a chic wife who considers love to be a choice more than a destiny. Viggo Mortensen undergoes an interesting transformation in his key scene with Douglas; we believe him when he's a nice guy, and we believe him even more when he's not; he doesn't do a big style shift, he simply turns off his people-pleasing face.
The screenplay, by Patrick Smith Kelly, is based on the play "Dial M for Murder'' and the Hitchcock film of the same title. It has little in common with its predecessors. It's about negotiation more than deception, money more than love. Everybody's motives are pretty much clear from the beginning, and when the body is found on the kitchen floor the only mystery is how long it will take the survivor to find the key to the scheme.