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Why Forgotten Thriller MALICE is an Underrated Mystery

Blake discusses one of Alec Baldwin's most underrated performances.

At the recent Alec Baldwin roast on Comedy Central, a montage was featured showcasing some of the actors’ greatest moments. One of the scenes was a quick clip featuring a second of his speech from the 90s mystery film Malice. The 1993 feature is one of the best thrillers out there, although it has been largely forgotten.

Malice, which was released on October 1, 1993 and celebrated its twenty-sixth anniversary this year, stars Baldwin alongside Nicole Kidman and Bill Pullman. It’s a mix between a sexy drama and a thriller that includes one of the greatest speeches in film history. One that may not be recited often, or with the gusto of Braveheart or Gladiator, but is dynamic, charismatic, and confident. A brilliant piece of dialogue (the screenplay is notably written by Aaron Sorkin), delivered impeccably by a timeless actor in one of his best roles. Yet Malice remains rarely discussed and generally overlooked.

Baldwin and Kidman in Malice (1993) – source: Columbia Pictures

Twenty-six years later, though, it’s still one of the best thrillers of its timeBill Pullman and Nicole Kidman are Andy and Tracy Safian, a perfect looking couple in a quaint Massachusetts college town, where Andy is also an Associate Dean at a local college. They’re restoring their old Victorian house, planning for children and living a normal looking life, but nothing here is as simple as it seems. Soon, overly confident doctor Jed Hill (Baldwin) arrives in town to work at the local hospital. Through a random series of events, Andy invites him to rent out their third floor in a desperate attempt to make some extra money.

Shortly after this arrival, Tracy’s admitted to the emergency room with abdominal pains and operated on by Jed. He informs Andy that while Tracy was newly pregnant, she lost the child, and in a quick judgement, makes a decision to remove her ovaries. Except, oops, turns out, Tracy’s ovaries weren’t damaged after all. With a malpractice case looming, Tracy, Andy, and Jed’s lives are transformed in more ways than one.

Pullman and Kidman in Malice (1993) – source: Columbia Pictures

It’s near impossible to really explain the entirety of Malice without giving away vital plot points and twists. Essentially, this is a mystery where things that look obvious aren’t and plot twists loom around every corner—that’s also what adds to its charm and still makes the film appealing all these years later. If all that wasn’t enough, there’s also a serial killer stalking and raping young co-eds in the picturesque town. Even this layered sub plot is not to be taken at face value, though its inclusion in the story is vital.

Malice flows brilliantly—not necessarily because of the plot, but because of the actors moving the story along. This under the radar film has some seriously great performances; including not one, but two of the best one-scene actors in cinema. George C. Scott appears only once, as Jed’s prior boss, but his presence is powerful, even while following that memorable “God complex” speech. Anne Bancroft as Tracy’s booze guzzling, shut-in mother is also featured just once. Her interaction with Andy is filled with clichés and tidbits that don’t completely make sense. Plus, a lonely mother providing vital information to a protagonist is a common trope in so many thrillers (A Kiss Before Dying, Deceived, and What Lies Beneath just to name a few). But it’s easy to put that aside, because her role is so interesting to watch, that it may just be the best part of the movie.

Malice (1993) – source: Columbia Pictures

Other supporting roles also bring Malice its strength. In fact, it has so much star power, it’s almost hard to believe. Bebe Neuwirth is the detective working the serial killer case, and her lines leave much to be desired. However, her banter and chemistry with Pullman works and makes for another interesting side story. Then there’s Tobin Bell, pre-Saw franchise, as a super creepy custodian. Even Gwyneth Paltrow, pre-fame, plays an ill fated college student.

Director Harold Becker (who also did Sea of Love) uses various story telling techniques that add to the film’s feel. His use of dark shadows helped create the brooding and mysterious vibe. An image of a house on a cliff, literally overlooking breaking waves below has clearly ominous undertones—the stage can’t get more set than this, and adding to that is also Jerry Goldsmith’s melodic, yet haunting score. Plus, there’s Andy himself, and the under appreciated Bill Pullman. The movie is focused on a mystery but it also depicts the journey of Andy. The audience watches his evolution from a naive, sweet, average guy to a vengeful, methodical badass who gets to grow a pair.

Malice doesn’t tie up every loose end, and definitely leaves viewers with some questions. But it doesn’t necessarily matter, because it’s just so damn fun to watch and unravel.

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