Monday, June 7, 2021

The Third Murder Review: A Gripping Legal Drama With Oscar-Worthy Performances

Masaharu Fukuyama	Masaharu Fukuyama	...	Shigemori Kôji Yakusho	Kôji Yakusho	...	Misumi Shinnosuke Mitsushima	Shinnosuke Mitsushima	...	Kawashima Akira Mikako Ichikawa	Mikako Ichikawa	...	Sasabara Itsuki Izumi Matsuoka	Izumi Matsuoka	...	Hattori Akiko Rest of cast listed alphabetically: Isao Hashizume	Isao Hashizume	...	Shigemori Akihisa Suzu Hirose	Suzu Hirose	...	Sakie Hajime Inoue	Hajime Inoue	...	Ono Minoru Aju Makita	Aju Makita	...	Shigemori Yuka Ichirô Ogura	Ichirô Ogura		 Yuki Saitô	Yuki Saitô	...	Yamanaka Mitsue Tôru Shinagawa	Tôru Shinagawa	...	Watanabe Kôtarô Yoshida	Kôtarô Yoshida	...	Settsu Daisuke

Release date: June 4, 2021 (Streaming Premiere)
Running time: 124 minutes
Written and Directed by: Hirokazu Koreeda
Starring:  Masaharu Fukuyama, Kôji Yakusho, Shinnosuke Mitsushima

The Third Murder is a gripping, morally complex crime procedural, an intricate and surprising change of pace for the director.  The film follows one man’s struggles to find the truth while questioning his own faith in the law. An elite, though jaded, defense attorney Shigemori (Masaharu Fukuyama) takes on the defense of murder-robbery suspect Misumi (Koji Yakusho) who served jail time for another murder 30 years ago. Shigemori’s chances of winning the case seem low -- his client freely admits his guilt, despite facing the death penalty if he is convicted. But as he digs deeper into the case, and he hears the testimonies of the victim’s family and Misumi himself, the once confident Shigemori begins to doubt whether his client is the murderer after all in a taut drama.

The Third Murder is a surprisingly fresh change of pace from other legal dramas.  The film has a gravity and seriousness to it without the manufactured drama that you see in a lot of crime procedurals.  The film gets this from a number of attributes, but most notably the acting.  Both Fukuyama and Yakusho do an amazing job as the lawyer and client, with nuanced performances that portray the seriousness of the situation but also introduce plenty of doubt.  Their characters play a kind of cat and mouse game as Fukuyama tries to find the truth and Yakusho keeps moving the needle.  But they both do it so effortlessly that it almost doesn't appear like they are acting.  Some of the conversations are very natural and some of the more dramatic episodes have a natural weight to them.

But the film explores more than a criminal case.  It looks at the effect of perception and justice on our society.  There are aspects of judicial economy that are looked at, as well as the consequences of split second decisions to a legal battle.  And it does so with some superb camera work, with smart cuts during the legal discussions to help you see exactly what is going on.  It has some amazing scenes with the pair face to face despite the protective glass, which only amplifies the drama in the case.  And the film is constantly playing with your perspective, sometimes reenacting the events in question but subtly tweaking it for the new information that was just learned.  And although the film has some very good dramatic moments, these are heightened by a wonderful soundtrack that helps to add to the gravity of the courtroom drama.  

And The Third Murder also does a good job portraying the drama of a court case.  It looks at some of the issues that can arise in a courtroom as well as the inherent uncertainty involved in a profession seeking the truth. You have to trust your client, but can you always believe what the client is telling you?  And how much does the lawyer interject their own views into what the client says and does.  Are there other motives and influences involved in the case?    

The Third Murder is a gripping legal drama with Oscar-worthy acting, a complex, realistic story, and a beautiful soundtrack. 

Watch it.

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The Third Murder is available on June 4, 2021 via Film Movement Plus

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