The Rich Man’s Wife (1996)
“The price of wealth just went up.”
Director: Amy Holden Jones
Cast: Halle Berry, Christopher McDonald, Peter Greene
Synopsis: A rich man’s wife finds she has a bad prenuptial agreement with an even worse husband. Over drinks with a stranger, she fantasizes about doing her husband in to void the prenupt.
Josie Potenza (Halle Berry) is trapped in a marriage to Tony (Christopher McDonald) a much older man who devotes more time to his high-powered executive job than to his wife. Tony’s drinking is also becoming a problem, and he’s prone to seeing other women on the side. All this she relates to Cole Wilson (Peter Greene) in a bar near the log cabin she and her husband were holidaying at in an attempt to salve a few wounds until he had to leave on business. To be honest, Cole isn’t exactly the type of guy to whom most people would relate their marital problems. He has hooded eyes, and a way of observing Josie in a way that suggests he’s trying to figure out what he’s going to do to her first when he gets her on her own. Greene is the actor who played Zed (‘Zed’s dead, baby. Zed’s dead’) in Pulp Fiction, so you just know things are going to turn out bad.
Like many movie heroines, however, Josie is slow to pick up on the tell-tale signs. It’s not until he has her pinned down on the picnic table outside her cabin that she suspects he might be a little dangerous. Somehow she manages to wriggle free and make it into the cabin, where she earlier conveniently noticed a small revolver in a kitchen drawer. Cole wisely retreats, but not before issuing a promise that she’ll regret what she’s done.
Shortly after, Tony, who appears to have got his act together and is at last making an effort to revive their marriage, is murdered by Cole in a grisly and protracted scene. He’s shot first in the eye, but the weapon Cole uses is that little pop gun from the cabin kitchen, and it just seems to give Tony a headache. He runs off in the direction of a baseball pitch and kid’s playground, and for a while the murder scene almost serves as a metaphor for the picture itself as Tony runs around in disorganised circles in a futile attempt to avoid Cole’s shots. Although the clumsiness of the murder lends it an unexpected authenticity that one wouldn’t expect from this type of glossy Hollywood movie — it is, in fact, largely at odds with the tone of the rest of the movie despite its preoccupation with murder and deceit — Tony’s stumbling avoidance of Cole’s bullets lends it an incongruous element of farce.
Cole finally gets the job done, and pays a visit to Josie to give her the good news and celebrate their new-found partnership. Needless to say, Josie isn’t as happy with this new arrangement as he is. I forgot to mention that, like her husband, Josie hasn’t exactly been observing her wedding vows as closely as she should. She’s been carrying on an affair with Jake Golden (Clive Owen), her husband’s partner in a struggling restaurant, and it’s to him that she turns when Cole demands $30,000 from her, threatening to go to the police if she doesn’t pay up.
There follows a whole series of twists and turns that at least ensure that The Rich Man’s Wife is never dull. Halle Berry looks beautiful — if a little skinny — and she makes a convincing damsel in distress. She looks so vulnerable at times that you feel like gathering her up and putting her in your pocket. Greene also does a good job as the creepy Cole. The script pretty much gives him free rein to play as wacko as he likes, but he shows admirable restraint most of the time, preventing his character from becoming a cartoonish villain.
The biggest problem with The Rich Man’s Wife comes with the very last scene, one of cinema’s most improbable twists that has a tacked on feeling about it. The Usual Suspects was a big hit the year before this movie was released, and you get the feeling that Amy Holden Jones, the writer and director of this movie, saw Suspects and was blown away by the twist in that movie so decided to incorporate it into hers. The difference between the two films was that the twist in The Usual Suspects made sense. Looking back on that film after the reveal, you could see how Verbal Kint contrived his fake story. In The Rich Man’s Wife, the big twist simply makes a lie of everything we have watched up to that point. It raises countless questions and yet answers none, and leaves the audience feeling cheated.
(Reviewed 26th January 2013)