The Rich Man's Wife (1996)

Genres - Thriller  |   Sub-Genres - Crime Thriller  |   Release Date - Sep 13, 1996 (USA)  |   Run Time - 94 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - R
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Told as one extended flashback, The Rich Man's Wife concerns Josie Potenza (Halle Berry), a gorgeous young woman unhappily wed to an alcoholic multimillionaire named Tony (Christopher McDonald). Fleeing from a depressing romantic getaway with her spouse, Josie crosses paths with a drifter named Cole Wilson (Peter Greene), who presents himself as an ally and emotional support to the confused wife. In truth, however, Cole is a psychotic male predator. He swiftly does away with Tony and then brutalizes the young widow and blackmails her extramarital lover (Clive Owen); soon, it looks as though Josie may be indicted for her husband's homicide. To reveal more would be unfair, but this film's pedigree is significant: it was written and directed by Amy Holden Jones, a feminist also responsible for The Slumber Party Massacre in 1982. As in that earlier picture (albeit on a far more subtle level), Jones uses Wife to deliver a wry commentary on the chauvinistic conventions of traditional movie thrillers and how readily we accept them. At one point, when Cole is terrorizing Josie, Jones even places pseudo-slasher music on the soundtrack. Only in the final scene does the movie's overarching message become clear; Jones turns the tables and we realize that the joke is on us for the distorted gender bias that we've instinctively swallowed. For that reason, the widespread attacks on this movie as empty-headed and exploitative seem way off-target. The movie as a whole doesn't quite come together - the twist ending introduces more questions than answers - but it's still an admirable and genuinely interesting picture for what it at least attempts.