Updated: Jan 20, 2019
Thanks to Film Movement for providing me with a screener of the film for the purposes of a review:
When it comes to modern crime drama noirs, they often come across as embarrassing and lazy attempts at recreating brilliant works of film from so long ago. They often never recapture the psychological or rather deceptive aspects of the film, attempting to lend itself more to a popcorn flick rather than a serious noir. This trend has existed for decades, all the way back to some of the first films in full color. However, thanks to Hirokazu Kore-eda, director of impressive works like Our Little Sister, After the Storm, or Like Father, Like Son, and his brilliant new foreign art house film The Third Murder, it seems that the greatness of noir crime dramas has returned. Embellished by a stunning, powerful cast and an impressively tense and thematic screenplay, The Third Murder rivets and compels with every scene, creating an artful masterpiece that is one of the best of the year.
Taking cues from revolutionary noir-like films like the original Blade Runner for instance, the screenplay of The Third Murder is riveting and compelling from the very start. The dialogue Kore-eda is able to display on the screen is nothing short of scarily tense, a feat made all the more impressive thanks to how complex and enigmatically different the screenplay is in relation to other recent foreign blockbuster fare. Instead of relying heavily on exciting sequences, Kore-eda sheds light on dialogue-heavy sequences and weakens the pacing as a result. It is certainly a unique approach to storytelling, particularly for a crime drama, and it works most of the time. The lack of the blatant attempt to continuously excite the audience is both refreshing and effective. Gone are the needlessly complicated moments in recent crime films that both created plot holes and drastically changed the focus of the film. In addition, even with the heavy amount of dialogue, the film always sustains a quiet approach. It never is soft with its emotions or riveting themes, but it portrays all of its elements with a somber tone that is both delicate and intriguing. However, even with the advantages that this unique form of storytelling proposes, there are some noticeable issues. For instance, having such a drastic and bold focus on dialogue-heavy sequences led to a pacing that never felt quite ideal, particularly during the second act. I may have been intrigued the entire way through, but I wasn’t always on the edge of my seat during every scene. But as the film progresses, the issue never becomes too abundant or difficult to cope with, but instead is more of a slight blemish on the unique and masterful form of storytelling.
In addition to the storytelling, another boastful aspect of the film would be its thematic elements. There simply isn’t a film playing that has such a deep respect for both the audience and their intelligence. Most of the themes are hidden in plain sight, while others are more lenient for audiences to discover. It creates a fascinating puzzle that masterfully replicates the actual events of the film, making the experience much more interactive than before. The themes themselves are also satisfying to discover. They deal with complex messages such as family and how the consequences of death can shake the people around you. However, these messages aren’t as embellished as I would have hoped. It seems as if Kore-eda may have limited himself in this area in order to appear to a broader audience, but it’s still a disappointing feature of the film. Nonetheless, it is simply undeniable just how stunning an enigma the screenplay of The Third Murder is. From its intricate themes to revolutionary and innovative methods of storytelling, it refreshes the stink of recent screenplays and is a major leap in the cause of experimental filmmaking.
When it comes to the characters and their characterization within the screenplay, the rather small roster retains the quiet sense that Kore-eda built up so well with the elements of the screenplay. Masaharu Fukuyama as Shigemori is brilliant, delivering sequences that show more emotions than words ever could. It’s a powerful force for the support of less exposition in films as Fukuyama is able to deliver hardened emotions even with such a limited amount of exposition. His supporting characters prove to be just as impressive as well. Koji Yakusho as Misumi is by far the stand-out. Playing a convicted murderer about to face a practically guaranteed death sentence, Yakusho’s performance is both bold and revolutionary. It never feels over-the-top and once again retains the quiet sense of the film. Ultimately, the performances contribute to just how terrifyingly realistic the film actually is. The exacting roster from Fukuyama to Yakusho all deliver performances that are career-defining. They illustrate deep emotions that I haven’t experienced at the cinema the entire summer, even with the film being in a completely different language.
As a whole, The Third Murder is an excellent experience that every cinephile should experience at least one this year, especially with the disappointing drought of quality content recently. The Third Murder is bold with its innovative designs, taking leaps that most screenwriters and directors wouldn’t even dare trying, however it remains quiet and modest in its execution, opting for a subtler approach rather than the modernly fashioned exciting approach just for the sake of entertaining an audience. It is a defining work of Kore-eda’s career and takes a spot in his growing list of filmmaking masterpieces.
Score: 9.2 out of 10