A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that An Imperfect Murder is a dramatic thriller from James Toback, who was accused of sexual misconduct by hundreds of women soon after this film premiered at a festival. The story follows a famous actress (Sienna Miller) who kills her ex-boyfriend in self-defense and then tries to cover it up. The murder scene is shown without sound, but the ex is seen barging into her apartment, grabbing her wine out of the fridge, waving drugs around, and handling her aggressively before pulling a gun on her -- in the ensuing struggle, the gun goes off. There's also some swearing (mostly "f--k"), lots of wine drinking, and talk of suicidal ideation. Almost the entire film is shot inside a New York loft, to the point that it feels very much like a play -- complete with a whole lot of talk about negative feelings that isn't helpful or insightful. The idea seems to be that while we may believe we're good, upstanding, and honest, when circumstances change, maybe we aren't who we think we are. In a subplot, a compassionate slice-of-life scene shows how dementia feels both to the sufferer and his family. The camera frequently focuses on a large, classical-style painting in which many human figures are nude and interacting with one another and animals in suggestive ways. A woman is also shown wearing a tight, see-through T-shirt without a bra on.
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What's the story?
Actress Vera Lockman (Sienna Miller) has a nightmare that she kills her drug-dealing ex-boyfriend in self-defense. When she realizes that nightmare has come true, she's surprised by her real-life reaction. In the days following, with a detective (Alec Baldwin) sniffing around and asking lots of questions, Vera examines her role in AN IMPERFECT MURDER.
Is it any good?
A boring, self-important waste of time, this non-thrilling thriller was completed at the precipice of hundreds of #MeToo allegations being lodged against writer-director James Toback. But An Imperfect Murder unintentionally provides one related service: It offers a living example of what a predator looks and acts like. The film's concept feels like an inside joke for the Hollywood Good Ol' Boys club: A famous, beautiful actress believes she can get away with a murder because her acting skills are so second-nature that she can convince anyone of her innocence. This speaks volumes about the apparent disdain Toback feels for the female talent that vexes him -- which is accentuated by the fact that he actually writes himself into the piece as a "friend" who shows up, uninvited and without context, to Vera's house, saying he's worried about her. He then probes Vera with prying questions, including whether she's living a secret sexual life without telling him (again, his character appears to be a friend, not someone to whom she would owe any information about her romantic life). This longwinded psychoanalysis offers little information to help us understand Vera, but perhaps some to understand Toback -- especially when it becomes apparent that his visit was never about her but about him and what he hoped to get from her.
The massive quantities of information shared with real-life reporters about Toback's abusive behavior makes small nuances of the film even more unsettling and telling. For instance, the fact that he films Miller sleeping braless in a see-through white T-shirt: Exactly how does her nipples being in the center of the frame help viewers understand she's having a nightmare? And the film opens and closes by slowly panning over an unsettling painting of nude people that has sexual insinuations, all over an orchestral symphony, perhaps to help pretend that the art -- and this film -- has some artistic relevance? The stars all perform to expectation, with Charles Grodin in particular evoking pathos, authenticity, and understanding in his role as Vera's grandfather, who's frustrated by the dementia that's like a demon raiding his brain. His one unforgettable scene feels shoehorned into the film. It otherwise doesn't really fit, except to lay the groundwork for another bizarre moment in which billionaire Carl Icahn, playing himself, shows up at Vera's door and tells a story, doing nothing to move the plot forward. All of which is to say that An Imperfect Murder doesn't just fail as a Time's Up casualty: It fails on its own merit as a terrible, self-indulgent film.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how we should examine art made by artists who have been accused of reprehensible behavior. How do we deal with new pieces of work by directors like Toback or performers like Shia LaBeouf, and how does that compare to how we consume older entertainment by entertainers like Bill Cosby, Roman Polanski, and Michael Jackson?
How is the main character made to be sympathetic? How does the filmmaker indicate to viewers through the course of the film that she may not be worthy of our sympathy?
How does the scene with Vera's grandfather evoke compassion for those suffering from dementia? How can entertainment be used to create understanding?
Is drinking glamorized? If Vera were drinking hard alcohol instead of wine, would you feel differently about her character? Do you think the frequent depiction of characters drinking wine in film and on television can impact viewers' behavior?
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