A Kind of Murder

Movie review by
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
A Kind of Murder Movie Poster Image
Lust and murder in pulpy, book-based thriller.
  • R
  • 2016
  • 95 minutes

Parents say

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Kids say

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive messages

No real messages other than "be careful what you wish for." At least characters don't necessarily get away with bad behavior.

Positive role models & representations

Most characters indulge in poor/questionable behavior, whether they intend to or not.


Dead bodies. Gruesome crime scene photos. Knife fight, stabbing. Punching. Arguing, shouting. A woman tries to commit suicide by taking pills. Bottle-smashing.


Kissing. Possible off-screen sex. Some sex talk, discussions about an extramarital affair.


More than one use of "f--k," plus "goddamn," "hell," "whore," and "for God sakes."

Drinking, drugs & smoking

Frequent social drinking, cigarette smoking. A woman tries to commit suicide by taking pills.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that A Kind of Murder is a crime drama based on a Patricia Highsmith novel. Set in the 1960s, it's an entertaining, low-key, pulpy thriller, though it does have mature themes and content. Violence isn't constant but includes images of dead bodies, crime scene photos, fighting, a knife fight with stabbing, arguing, and an attempted suicide via pills. It's implied that a character is having a sexual affair, though nothing is shown beyond some kissing and brief sex talk. Language includes a few uses of "f--k," as well as "hell," "whore," and more. Adult characters smoke cigarettes and drink fairly frequently, mainly in social settings.

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What's the story?

In A KIND OF MURDER, it's the 1960s, and Walter Stackhouse (Patrick Wilson) is a successful architect who's married to the beautiful Clara (Jessica Biel). But he's not happy. Clara is frequently cold to him, and she doesn't care for his hobby: writing crime stories. Walter becomes fascinated by a local bookseller, Kimmel (Eddie Marsan), whose wife has suddenly turned up dead. Walter thinks that Kimmel actually killed her and got away with it. At the same time, he meets the beautiful Ellie (Haley Bennett) and finds himself drawn to her, and he starts to think about what it might be like to have his own wife gone. Unfortunately, Clare does actually disappear, and a detective (Vincent Kartheiser) who's already investigating Kimmel suspects a connection between the two men.

Is it any good?

Often, Patricia Highsmith's novels are adapted into high-class affairs, but this thriller feels refreshingly small-time and pulpy, getting closer to the story's raw emotions and impulses. Director Andy Goddard, a veteran of TV shows like Doctor Who, Downton Abbey, Daredevil, and Luke Cage, brings a small-screen economy to A Kind of Murder, stripping it to its essentials but still providing plenty of style and rich, 1960s-style atmosphere.

The screenplay by first-timer Susan Boyd feels logical and honest, following characters into emotional traps that make sense; the characters never come across as stupid. And the casting is pitch-perfect, with Wilson as a clean-cut everyman, Bennett as a potentially dangerous beauty, and especially Marsan as the twisted, repressed bookseller and Kartheiser (Mad Men) as the relentless, rodent-like detective. A Kind of Murder could almost be a movie magically transported from the bottom half of a 1960s double-bill to the present day. It's sordid, spiffy fun.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about A Kind of Murder's violence. Does the relative lack of gore lessen the impact of the violence overall? Do all kinds of media violence have the same impact?

  • What's the appeal of crime/murder stories? Why does the main character love them, and why do we watch them?

  • How are drinking and smoking portrayed in the movie? Do the characters enjoy them? Are they part of a social ritual? How does it compare to what you see in movies set in the present day?

  • Do you think viewers are meant to like these characters, even though they engage in less-than-admirable behavior? Why or why not?

  • How does this movie compare to others based on Patricia Highsmith's novels?

Movie details

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