It's unclear what the facts are, or if they even matter, in this shifty legal drama from Hirokazu Koreeda

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A talky legal drama that is at various times riveting, perplexing and frustrating, "The Third Murder" features a handful of compelling performances, but winds up tied in knots. 

Writer-director Hirokazu Koreeda tells the story of a factory worker, Misumi (Kôji Yakusho), who killed his boss and set his body on fire. 

Or did he? Although he confessed to the crime, every time he's asked about it he has a slightly different variation on the details of the event and what lead up to it. 

He has motive — he was fired for stealing money, which he needed to repay gambling debts — but why aren't all the pieces of the puzzle fitting together? Is there more to the story? Is Misumi shouldering the blame to protect someone else?

The truth of the matter is immaterial to Shigemori (Masaharu Fukuyama), the veteran attorney hired to mount Misumi's defense. To him, the facts take a backseat to whatever he can use to benefit his client. 

"The Third Murder" is almost entirely dialogue driven; we see the crime in question at the opening of the film, though it's revisited several times, with different players, as the telling of the story shifts.

It's mostly a dance between Misumi and Shigemori, and both actors give ace performances. Koreeda loves shooting them on opposite sides of the glass that separates them in the interview room of Misumi's detention center, at one point nearly melding their two faces in the reflection. 

Shigemori's professional guard and cynicism is lowered as he becomes truly vested in the facts of the case, but Koreeda isn't interested in offering up a satisfying resolution. He just keeps spinning the web, changing details here and there as he goes, eventually working himself into a corner. 

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama

'The Third Murder'

GRADE: C+

Not rated: Violence

Running time: 124 minutes

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