This is one of the best murder mysteries to come out of the Nineties, and probably for some time before or since. It's Hitchcockian without being an homage. Mike Church, a private detective in Los Angeles, is called on to try to identify a young woman (Emma Thompson), given the name Grace by the Catholic order which took her in, who at first is mute. Gradually, and with the help of an antiques dealer who is a talented hypnotist (Derek Jacobi), she begins to speak and identify herself with a woman, Margaret Straus, who was murdered shortly after WWII in Los Angeles by her husband, Roman. Roman Straus was a famous composer/conducter, an imigre from Germany whose life was saved by his now housekeeper (Hanna Schygulla), who has a young son.
Roman and Margaret Straus are played in black and white flashback by Branagh and Thompson. And while Roman was executed for stabbing his wife to death with a pair of scissors, he maintained his innocence. The motive was said to be jealousy, driven by the obvious love a reporter, Gray Baker (Andy Garcia), had for Margaret.
In trying to find the sources of Grace's distress, Mike finds some issues of his own. And he finally identifies the real murderer who is still alive and dangerous.
Yes, the story is complicated, but Branagh tells it in a clear, straight-forward manner which also requires the viewer to stay alert. He uses big film-making gestures, including great camera angles and lighting. And just as effectively, he uses some wit and humor as the story unfolds.
The cast is uniformly first-rate, including a best-friend part by Wayne Knight and a small but effective cameo by Robin Williams. One scene cleverly acted between Church and an aged, sick Gray Baker should put you off cigarette smoking.
I think this is one fine movie, and I hope it doesn't become forgotten.