A Killer Within (2004) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)
Despite its straight-to-vid provenance, A Killer Within
is an interesting murder mystery because the screenwriters gave some
serious thought to what they were doing.
A straight-arrow lawyer comes home one evening to find his wife murdered and his pre-school son unconscious. Needless to say, the police consider him to be the #1 suspect, despite the fact that the murder was committed in the manner of a recently paroled criminal who had a grudge against the lawyer. It happened just five days after the baddie's parole, and the words "now we're even" were written on the walls of his house. The police lieutenant rightly figures that the murder was either committed by someone who had a grudge against the lawyer, or by someone who wanted the police to make that assumption, and he's leaning toward the latter.
The wimpy lawyer wants to clear himself and find out who killed his wife, so he undertakes his own investigation. He finds that is a lamb who simply cannot do any research by himself in the haunts of wolves, so he hires an alpha wolf to help him - an ex-cop named Vargas who originally arrested the new parolee. Only one problem - Vargas hates the lawyer (who once got him pulled from the force) about as much as he hates the parolee. Say, wait a minute - don't all the clues also point to Vargas as well as to the parolee? I could keep writing those "say, wait a minute" sentences for quite a while, because many other suspects will later enter into the circle of suspicion, either because they had a grudge against the lawyer or because they knew about somebody who did, and could therefore have rigged up a frame. In addition, there is also the possibility that the lawyer killed his own wife.
Four weaknesses come to mind in reviewing my notes:
Well, the first two are likely to be perceived as weaknesses by most people. The last two didn't bother me at all.
Having registered those complaints, I'd like to add that the movie maintains a reasonably high level of tension during all of the twists and turns, so that I never reached for the fast forward button while watching the film. The script is not wildly inventive, but it's thoughtful. In fact, the basic script was good enough to carry the director through some problems. In addition, the acting and character development are at least adequate. Giancarlo Esposito was especially good as the disgraced cop, and his role was meticulously constructed, right down to the details of his apartment. Finally the ending of A Killer Within is kind of cool and original, so it's a very watchable film for lovers of whodunits.
I think they did an excellent job with a modest budget.
This film lets you solve the case along with the screen characters.
Do you remember the solution in Brian de Palma's Body Double? You knew the killer had to be the husband in disguise, because he was welcomed into the house by the family dog. The identity of the killer was all right out there in front of you if you were paying attention. Of course, I missed it, and I don't know anyone who saw the dog's reaction and figured out its meaning, but everything was all right there for you mystery buffs to solve.
This film is no Body Double, but it has an element like that. It will not specifically tell you the identity of the killer, but it will show you somebody who must have been involved in some way, and that in turn will lead you in the right direction. If you don't want the clue, stop reading now.
If you do want the clue, here it is:
There will be a dispute between the husband and the cops about a message which they insist he got, and he insists he didn't get. The police will accuse the husband of framing the parolee for the wife's murder, because he was informed telephonically that the guy had just been released. He, on the other hand, insists that he did not get that message, and had no idea that the criminal had been paroled until after his wife's death. The script shows us in many ways that the lawyer is a scrupulously honest man. The script also shows us that the cop is similarly straight-laced, because he once turned in his own partner for planting some evidence. Since the script goes to great pains to establish the honesty of both men, we must assume that they are both telling the truth about the phone call.
How can that be? That answer and another clue regarding phone calls are hidden in the seemingly idle banter in the movie.
As I said, this script is quite thoughtful about those kinds of details. (The head writer is a woman in her fifties or sixties who has never written a previous screenplay! I gather that she is a lawyer by trade.)
Return to the Movie House home page