British made-for-TV movies are happily free of the negative associations that (often all to justly) plague their U.S. counterparts, and the 2003 film Alibi shows why: it's an intelligently written, dramatic and often darkly funny mystery thriller that's well worth the price of admission.
Michael Kitchen stars as the hapless Greg Brentwood, who has the misfortune to (accidentally?) kill one of the guests at his wife's surprise birthday party. When sharp-witted Marcie (Sophie Okonedo), one of the caterers for the party, stumbles on his attempt to dispose of the body, the two become unlikely allies in an attempt to keep Greg out of trouble. The only problem is that the more they try to straighten things out, the more threads start unraveling as Greg's life starts to come to pieces.
Though it has a rather inauspicious opening scene – a crowded party scene in which we're not sure which characters are important – Alibi swiftly tightens up into a very well-crafted thriller. It could be described as an anti-murder-mystery: instead of following the detectives as they piece together what really happened, we follow Greg and Marcie as they desperately try to anticipate what the police will look into, and weave elaborate plans to allay suspicion. Throughout the film, the story remains firmly grounded in the "real": while there are some elements of the absurd leading to a certain black comedy in some scenes, the characters always behave as they would in real life. The result is a story that develops in an interesting and all-too-believable way: as viewers, we can see that the characters are doing everything "right," but that's not enough to keep things from snowballing.
My opinion of Michael Kitchen, which was already positive from his outstanding performance in Foyle's War, gets another boost from his solid performance in Alibi. Kitchen is completely believable as a man who sees his whole life unraveling before his eyes, and isn't handling it very well at all... in fact, he spends most of the film on the verge of a nervous breakdown, helping bring out the film's low-key but effective touches of humor.
In the end, Alibi is a very good film, but not a great one, mainly because it's missing that certain something that would bring it up a notch. That's most noticeable in the ending: it ties things up in a reasonably satisfying (and unpredictable) way, but I was hoping for something a little more intriguing, maybe bringing another plot twist out of the woodwork. In any case, though, it's an entertaining film and well worth an evening's viewing time.
The image quality for Alibi is disappointing: it looks more like a TV-movie from the 1980s, not 2003. While it remains watchable, the image suffers from a lot of noise and grain, and colors are off as well, looking muted and grayish. The film appears in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1.
The Dolby 2.0 soundtrack is adequate, providing a flat and sometimes slightly muffled audio presentation. At times, the dialogue is a little hard to follow, due to the unfortunate coincidence of strong British accents and a less than crisp soundtrack, but overall there are few problems.
The only special feature on the DVD is a trailer.
How about a mystery thriller in which you're rooting for the perpetrator to get away with it? Alibi isn't your typical thriller, which makes it all the more interesting. Michael Kitchen's solid performance in the lead, combined with a cleverly plotted story, makes Alibi well worth picking up for an evening's entertainment. The transfer quality may be lackluster, but Alibi still gets a "recommended."