A Perfect Murder (Movie) Ending Explained

This post includes a brief plot summary and an explanation about the ending of the film “A Perfect Murder” (1998). Beware of spoilers.

Directed by Andrew Davis, the 1998 thriller stars Michael Douglas as Steven Taylor, Gwyneth Paltrow as Emily Taylor and Viggo Mortensen as David Shaw.

The film “A Perfect Murder” is about a man (Steven Taylor) who makes his wife’s lover (David Shaw) a sinister offer: a large amount of money in exchange for killing his wife (Emily). To his surprise, David agrees to do it.

What Happens in “A Perfect Murder”? (Plot Explained)

It turns out that David Shaw has a secret past. The painter is actually a con artist. David has an extensive criminal record for scamming women and taking their money. Steven uses this information as leverage to get David to do what he wants.

On the day of the deed, David sends someone else to do the job for him. However, the substitute fails to kill Emily, who fatally stabs him in the neck with a meat thermometer. When Steven arrives home, not only is Emily still alive, but there is also a stranger lying dead on the floor.

Steven covers his tracks by tempering with the evidence and switching Emily’s keys. Later on, David blackmails Steve: the con artist has recorded their conversations. In exchange for his silence, Steven gathers the money to pay David, but then he goes after him to get it back.

After ambushing David on his train to Montreal, Steven murders the painter in cold blood. Before dying, David tells him that he sent the incriminating tapes to Emily. In sheer panic, Steven rushes back to the apartment.

At this point, Emily hasn’t opened her mail yet. Therefore, Steven takes the money, the recordings and David’s gun and hides them all in a safe. While Steven takes a shower, Emily notices a creased shoe bag, the same one she saw earlier in Steven’s office, but there is nothing inside of it.

The Ending of “A Perfect Murder” Explained

The ending of “A Perfect Murder” suggests that Emily put the pieces together and found out that Steven plotted to kill her. After Emily confronts Steven about the recordings, a physical fight ensues between the two, in which Emily ends up shooting Steven dead with David’s gun. When the police arrive, Emily alleges self-defence.

What is the motive behind the murder in “A Perfect Murder”?

Steven was experiencing some financial troubles. He is about to lose a fortune from his failed investing decisions. After finding out about his wife’s affair, he thought it would be appropriate to kill her in order to inherit her money. That way, Steven would be able to make up for his losses and get back at his wife for cheating on him.

Why did Steven try to tamper with the evidence?

When Steven saw the dead man’s body lying in his kitchen, he tried to tamper with the evidence in order to steer the police’s suspicions away from him. First, he puts the key on the assailant’s body back onto Emily’s key chain. However, that’s not her key, the attacker put it back after he opened the apartment’s service door.

How did Steven know which train David was on?

During the day of their meeting, David switched their location at the very last minute. Shortly after Steven arrived at David’s place, he received a call. It was presumably from a travel agent who was trying to confirm the details of his train ticket to Montreal.

The Plot Twist in “A Perfect Murder” Explained

“A Perfect Murder” has many twists and turns in its story. One of the major plot twists happens at the end of the film. Just when Steven thought he could get away with David’s murder, Emily confronts him about the truth. Someone dies at the end, and it’s not Emily. She shoots Steven dead with David’s gun.

David’s recordings play an important role in the ending of “A Perfect Murder”. They allow Emily to learn the truth behind the events: Steven blackmailed David into killing her. For a brief moment, Steven managed to gaslight Emily with David’s shady past.

Nonetheless, the new evidence (the recordings, the gun and the money) against David is the confirmation that Emily needed for her earlier suspicions. That, together with the knowledge of Steven’s recent financial troubles and the assailant’s key, enabled Emily to uncover the dark truth behind her husband’s hidden agenda.

Final Thoughts

Is “A Perfect Murder” a perfect film? No, but it’s a solid thriller. Nevertheless, I can also see how some might feel alienated from the story given that all the characters are so unlikeable. Although Emily is a victim of the two men, it’s still hard to feel sorry for her.

The two main male characters in “A Perfect Murder” are equally despicable. Steven was trying to kill his wife for her money. Meanwhile, David had very little regard for Emily’s safety. After all, the con artist took the money and sent someone else to do the dirty job.

Emily is a perfect example of the rich and clueless archetype. This lady thinks that just because she doesn’t mention her family background, people will just fall for who she is. Bitch, said who? David did a thorough investigation before he met her. Actually, the affair was not accidental. David wanted to meet Emily so he could take advantage of her. In very simple terms, David was not in love with Emily, she was the target.

Then there is Steven Taylor, the “bad guy”. There is no doubt that he is despicable, but part of me is not too upset at him for trying to kill his cheating wife. I’m not saying that plotting murder is right, but I can understand why he would want to kill Emily. It was a killing two birds with one stone type of situation for him: get money and payback for his cheating wife. His plan was almost perfect, but then the man got sloppy and started to make mistakes, which eventually led to his demise.

Last but not least, there is David Shawn. This man is an opportunist, and his greed was what killed him. Technically speaking, Steven stabbed him to death, but had he walked away when he had the chance, maybe he would still be alive. Why blackmail the man who hired you to kill his wife? It’s not the smartest decision to play with fire, especially with crazy people. Although Steven looks like a put together individual, he is clearly unhinged for even making such a twisted offer to his wife’s lover.

The film showcases strong performances from its three main characters. Gwyneth Paltrow delivers a solid performance as the unfaithful wife. Meanwhile, Michael Douglas and Viggo Mortensen also offer believable performances as the controlling husband and con artist lover, respectively.

Overall, “A Perfect Murder” is a thriller that entertains. The film is almost two hours long, but the pacing is just right. “A Perfect Murder” manages to keep the audience on its toes, wondering what’s going to happen next. Nonetheless, the film could have been more iconic had someone actually gotten away with murder, then it would have done justice to its enticing title. Emily killed Steven in self-defence, she did not murder him.