Here's the opening scene. The camera moves slowly, at a stroller's pace, along a Los Angeles sidewalk. It encounters a gate with a "Room For Rent" sign. The camera glides onto the pathway between the untended gardens of weeds towards what passes in Los Angeles for an ominous house. Then it drops to a close up of a newspaper near the doorstep.
Is this a point-of-view shot, with the camera showing us what the person is seeing? No. A hand reaches down, picks up the newspaper, and a blond housewife (Davis) strolls back through the door.
What it is, boys and girls, is an imitation of one of Hitchcock's swooping introductions, ripped off shamelessly from "Psycho" and "Frenzy", and that newspaper on which so much attention is lavished and which was of significance in "Psycho" plays no further part in the plot.
Other Hitchcock ripoffs, just from the opening few minutes: (1) The shots inside the house show the blond's mean-looking, greasy-haired, scowling husband (Logue) eating his breakfast. The camera clearly shows us the slice of ham, the scrambled eggs, the two slices of toast, which the ugly husband is buttering wordlessly. Meanwhile the TV in the background is telling us about the murder of a prostitute. It all mixes food, sex, and murder, as so many Hitchcock movies did, only this is without taste or humor. (2) The rather drably groomed blond wife is watching her husband slice away at his food. She holds an abnormally large glass of orange juice. Why? So she can lift it and drink out of it and we can see the distorted image of hubby through the bottom of the glass, just as in Hitchcock's "Spellbound." (3) The TV in the background carries on about the murder. The sound is blurred except for one word, repeated several times, which leaps out loudly at the view -- "knife." Lifted in its entirety from Hitchcock's first talkie, "Blackmail." There isn't space enough to go on with this, nor any impulse to do so. I'd rather examine the contents of a spitoon. But let me get a few other annoyances out of the way. Periodically, for no discernible reason, the director shoots scenes in fast motion. Accelerated motion has its place. It was used to good symbolic effect in movies like "Koyaanisqatsi" and even the otherwise dreary "The Bonfire of the Vanities." Here it's used pointlessly. Every shot of freeway traffic shows us vehicles speedily zipping by instead of crawling along in a state of fury. There are two scenes of Hope Davis doing housework -- speeded up. (A woman doing HOUSEWORK is speeded up! And this is not a comedy!) Another scene has the camera strapped to Davis's chest, a device which tends to keep the subject at the same distance from the camera and relatively stable in image, while her environment revolves in a jarring manner around her. Why? Well, it's one of those mysteries that must remain unsolved, like the Jack the Ripper murders.
Some of those techniques are newly established clichés but many of the old ones appear here as well, coated with verdigris. A man sits at his desk in silence. A hand reaches in from out of frame and grabs his shoulder, accompanied by a loud sting on the sound track -- but it's just a friend, who chuckles at having scared his buddy. A pimp is called in for questioning and he wears the feathers and furs common to pimps in 1970s movies. But why go on? Alfred Molina has a great face, flabby and imposing. Even his name is impressive; in Spanish it means "great big mill." He's the overzealous policeman on whom suspicion falls. That face belongs on a baritone in an Italian opera. Rachael Leigh Cook's name is listed way up there in the credits but she has little screen time. The chief female figure is that blond housewife played by Hope Davis and she doesn't do badly by the part, as long as it call for a quiet intensity, whether the intensity stems from dissatisfaction with her family or horniness.
Did I mention that this is adapted from a book and is the fourth or fifth remake of the story? All the preceding attempts are better than this one, although this one at least spares us two irritations -- the wobbling camera and the close ups of the screaming victims as the knife renders their flesh.
The ending tries to link the Ripper murders to the Sunset murders of whores but makes no sense whatever. The dark, pretty, talented, intelligent Rebecca Pidgeon is wasted as an FBI agent forced to spout psychobabble that turns out to be one hundred percent wrong. (I speak to you as your psychologist. That will be ten cents.) Boy, is this tiresome.