Starring-Alec Baldwin, Nicole Kidman, Bill Pullman
Scott’s Review #765
Reviewed May 29, 2018
Malice (1993) is only one of a slew of husband and wife themed thrillers to emerge from the early 1990’s- Unlawful Entry (1992), Sleeping with the Enemy (1991) and Deceived (1991) are other similar films that made lots of money during this time period. This genre of slick film making was popular as the new decade emerged and more complex story-telling graced the screens.
The myriad of twists and turns are both a positive and a negative to this film. Certainly keeping the audience guessing and on pins and needles is a key success, eliciting a fun sort of tone, as well as the tremendous star power of the casting (George C. Scott and Anne Bancroft are big time heavies). Then again a few of the plot points become red herrings and thereby meaningless and the overall plots, and endless subplots, become way too complex than they need to be.
In a plot that is dizzying to explain, Associate Dean Andy Safian (Bill Pullman) and wife Tracy (Nicole Kidman) are embarking on a life together in Massachusetts as they purchase a grand Victorian house and plan to begin a family. As a serial killer stalks the campus where Andy works and implausibly resulting in him being the prime suspect, Tracy experiences health turmoil and is operated on by cocky yet brilliant Dr. Jed Hill (Alec Baldwin). When dire events occur the plot escalates and the motivations of the main characters are questioned as truths and deceptions unravel.
When I first saw Malice in 1993 (in fact I saw it twice the same year), I adored the multitude of plot points and devices. The film had the same effect as a speeding roller coaster ride- with endless twists and story revelations. And to be fair the film holds up pretty well, never seeming dated or of its time like many mainstream films. The two startling reveals- Tracy and Jed being in cahoots and the mysterious eye witness living next door really being blind, are clever bits of writing that immerse the audience on many levels.
The acting is top notch- Kidman plays good and evil oh so well and Bancroft’s cameo as Tracy’s mother is Oscar worthy. The chemistry between Pullman, Kidman, and Baldwin, and Pullman’s “nice guy” to Baldwin’s “jerk” work quite well as the overlapping relationships play out. Small yet meaningful roles by Bebe Nuewirth, Peter Gallagher, and Gwyneth Paltrow add layers to the wonderful casting.
And who can forget the often parodied scene where arrogant Dr. Jed launches into a monologue where he claims to be infallible and that he literally is god. This scene received tons of publicity and is arguably the defining moment of the film.
However, Malice’s strengths also sometimes become its weaknesses. As events go along the plot becomes too confusing. The school serial killer plot soon becomes a red herring as we realize it has little to do with the central plot- the Tracy/Jed alliance- except only to raise parenting questions. Therefore the big reveal of who the killer is becomes for naught. It’s the creepy janitor named Earl (Tobin Bell) hardly a surprise. Furthermore, after the film ends and the viewer plays events back to make them add up, he or she will likely give up in frustration.
All in all Malice (1993) is an above average entry in a popular genre- who doesn’t like a good, solid thriller? With a talented cast and enough good medical thrills to balance with a college campus whodunit, there is plenty to please everyone who views this film. Yes, some of the writing is preposterous and tough to believe, but Malice is a movie meant to escape with, sit back and enjoy.