Mortal Thoughts gives an abuser’s murder the Rashomon treatment
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Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: A Good Day To Die Hard has us thinking about less-heralded Bruce Willis movies.
Mortal Thoughts (1991)
A Robert Altman protégé, director Alan Rudolph is known mainly for offbeat, swooning, beautifully stylized romances like Choose Me, Trouble In Mind, and Love At Large, but he tried his hand at a more conventional studio thriller in Mortal Thoughts, which at first glance (and second) seems well outside his comfort zone. But out of the broad, borderline cartoonish portrait of big-haired New Jersey working-class types develops a subtler mystery about the process of finding the truth beneath a thicket of lies. The film opens with Demi Moore, in an uncharacteristically strong performance, strolling into a police precinct to confess her role in covering up a crime. Her best friend Glenne Headly, a hot-tempered hairdresser, murdered her abusive husband (Bruce Willis) after a dispute at a carnival and enlisted Moore to help hide the body, clean up the scene, and make the whole thing look like a robbery gone wrong.
Mortal Thoughts unfolds via chunks of flashback as Moore tells her story to a skeptical investigator (a superb Harvey Keitel), and though it doesn’t have the competing testimonies of Rashomon, the film has the same jaundiced perspective about the nature of truth and the personal motives of those who tell it. It’s no great surprise to find out what really happened—it’s a shoe the viewer waits for a looooong time to drop—but Moore and Headly’s culpability in the murder isn’t that cut-and-dried, which separates Mortal Thoughts from the less ambiguous conclusion of a Law & Order episode. As a domestic melodrama, the film sometimes plays like The Honeymooners without the laughs, but the push and pull between the flashbacks and the interrogation scenes gain steadily in strength as the case gets harder to pin down. There’s more to these characters—and this movie—than initially meets the eye.
Availability: The current DVD in circulation is a pan-and-scan, non-anamorphic version, but it can be rented or purchased digitally.