I just saw this on DVD. It’s definitely a cut above other movies of the genre, but I still didn’t like it. The love-interest plot seemed tacked-on and also really unbelievable. Every time it moved forward, I was like, “Wait, he’s sleeping with her? Wait, she’s taking him to Thanksgiving dinner?”
The gun-switching thing was pretty clever, but the movie suffers from the same problem that many big-con movies suffer from: the con is way too complicated and unpredictable, and there’s no way any reasonable con man would run it. I mean, what if some OTHER hostage negotiator happens to show up at your house? What if the right guy shows up, but refuses to put his gun down? What if he knows your wife’s name, and therefore knows what he’s getting into? Or what if he’s just cool as a cucumber? Or arrests you right off the bat? There are a zillion unpredictable things that have to go exactly right for this to work. Same with the DA – how does Hopkins know he’s going to get someone who will rush through the case and not investigate it? How does he know the cop won’t confess his relationship to the DA? It’s all much too complicated and improbable. If any of a million things goes wrong, you end up a convicted murderer for sure. Hopkins is supposed to be a criminal mastermind, and it’d be a lot surer (although less entertaining) to just set up an “accident” to kill his wife, or simply lure her away, kill her, and dispose of the body such that nobody will find it.
On top of that, I thought the legal stuff didn’t really work. No judge is going to grant a motion of acquittal based on what happened in the movie. The DA still has a decent circumstantial case: somebody shot her at 10:45 PM (or whenever), and the only person in the house with her is Hopkins. And there’s a lot of evidence going to his consciousness of guilt: presumably they recovered the remains of his burned clothes from the fireplace, he isn’t the one who called 911, he didn’t offer any alternative explanation as to what happened, he wasn’t distraught when the police arrived or after he was arrested – all of that is stuff that other officers (not just the tainted lover) could testify to. He’s really the only one with motive, he had the means, and he’s the only one with opportunity to have committed the crime.
I’m not sure the double jeopardy twist works either, although I haven’t done any research on it. I think it’s true that you can try someone for attempted murder and then re-try them for murder if the victim later dies. That would usually happen in the double-conviction scenario: you try Joe Defendant for attempt, get a conviction, the victim dies, you then charge him with murder. I am pretty sure that the defendant can’t claim once-in-jeopardy in that scenario. Although the DA is usually prohibited from bringing two separate prosecutions on the same set of facts (a so-called “multiplicitous prosecution”), I think there’s an exception if the second one legally could not have been brought at the time of the first one.
But there are some other legal problems with it, I think. The first is causation. She didn’t die because he shot her, she died because she was removed from life-support. I’m not sure how that works, legally. Obviously she wouldn’t have been on life-support to begin with if he hadn’t shot her, but there may be a good legal argument that if I shoot you intending to kill, but you are saved and made stable by medical science, at most I can be charged with attempted murder. Imagine, for example, that he shot her and she was conscious but paralyzed. Two months later she commits suicide. Is he guilty of murder? I’m pretty sure the answer is “No,” even though she wouldn’t have committed suicide if not for his shooting her. It would be different, I think, if she had died on her own. But the fact that someone (even though it’s Hopkins) makes a separate, conscious decision to kill her I think screws up a murder prosecution.
I also think there’s another legal problem, which is that once two people litigate some fact in a proceeding, the facts as found in that proceeding are binding on those two people essentially forever. So if the DA and the defendant litigate whether he fired the gun at his wife, and the answer is “No,” the DA can’t later allege, under the same burden of proof, that he fired the gun at his wife. That’s obviously not a problem in the double-conviction scenario, because in that scenario the rulings all went in the DA’s favor, so the only extra allegation is that the victim died on date so-and-so, which hasn’t previously been litigated. But after an initial acquittal, I’m not sure how you get around that. In the murder prosecution, you have to allege that Hopkins shot his wife, and he’s just going to say that a court has already ruled that there’s a reasonable doubt as to that.