Under Suspicion Review

The prospect of seeing two of the finest actors in the world teamed together in a film is enough to give Under Suspicion a head start in the must-see stakes. However, it tanked at the box office in America amid critical complaints that it was all about two people talking in a room. That's true, to some extent, but when the two people in question are Gene Hackman and Morgan Freeman, they could be reciting from the Thompson Local Directory and I'd still be queuing up to watch. Admittedly, the film isn't entirely worthy of them but it's still a lot better than its reception would suggest.

Hackman, 71 this year but not noticably slowing down his work rate, plays Harry Hearst, a prominent lawyer living it up in Puerto Rico who is asked by his one-time friend Police Captain Victor Benezet (Freeman) to go down to the station to answer some questions about his discovery of a body while jogging the previous morning. It's the evening of a benefit dinner to raise money for hurricane defences at which Hearst is the key speaker, so he is naturally eager to get the questions over with as soon as possible. But within ten minutes he discovers that the police don't believe his story and that he is now the prime suspect in the case of two girls who have been raped and killed. As his story changes and he gets lost in his own circumlocution, Harry's genuine past begins to come into focus and Benezet realises that the case is a lot more complicated than he first thought.

Although the meat of the film is found in the face-off between Hackman and Freeman - and some secondary encounters between Hackman and seriously unprofessional knucklehead Detective Owen (Jane) - the director Stephen Hopkins does manage to open it out using some clever narrative tricks. When Hearst tells his story, we are taken through it in flashback with a slight change in the lighting emphasising the analepsis. Many of these are very atmospheric, particularly the ones set in the red light areas of the city and one or two of them play games which break Agatha Christie's cardinal rule about how flashbacks should always tell the truth. However, his other attempt to keep the film moving is not so successful. Rather than allowing the scenes to build through the interplay of character, as James Foley did in his adaptation of Glengarry Glen Ross, Hopkins uses short takes and some overly tricksy cutting. This means that our involvement is sometimes needlessly interrupted when the actors were more than capable of holding attention on their own. To his credit however, he captures the atmosphere of the San Sebastian festival very well.

Luckily, the actors are on superb form. Morgan Freeman underplays the role of the cop to impressive effect and demonstrates a welcome willingness to be unsympathetic. As in his other great performances, every little detail and movement is right. Thomas Jane comes through with a good deal of presence in a difficult role - his detective is a very unpleasant character who has to make several mood changes. Jane manages to be dislikeable without seeming unrealistic. Best of all, we have Hackman back on top form for the first time since Get Shorty. He's a pleasure to watch as his elegant poise turns first to frustration and then to the verge of collapse as he is stripped of credibility and dignity. Hackman is such a good actor that even the most subtle changes of tone and choice of words in telling his story is registered without being hammered home. I could watch him and Freeman go head to head for hours in a much less impressive film than this - as it is, it's nice to see them get their teeth into some quality material for a change.

The plot isn't entirely water-tight and turns on a ridiculously fortuitous last minute bit of information, but it is surprisingly affecting and insightful about relationships and intimacy between men and women. It's a shame that the character of Harry's wife isn't developed in more depth - no criticism of Monica Bellucci who does as well as she can in an underwritten part - and I did feel a certain degree of dissatisfaction at the rather abrupt conclusion, but this film is definitely worth seeing and didn't deserve it's fate at the box office.

The Disc

A rather basic DVD release from Warner Brothers, under the auspices of Redbus Films, which does not contain several of the extra features which were on the R1 disc. Otherwise, it's pretty good.

The film is presented in anamorphic 1.85:1 format. It's a good transfer, crisp and sharp for the most part. A good level of detail throughout and particularly good on the more atmospheric lighting effects. There is a very small amount of artifacting in one or two scenes, but this is the only problem I could see.

The soundtrack is also quite pleasing. Much of the dialogue is plain stereo with some directional effects but the surround field kicks in to good effect during the carnival scenes. The music dominates other scenes, notably the flashbacks, to impressive effect. I found this surprisingly involving, although sometimes the volume of the dialogue seems to be a little bit low in the mix rendering a few of Morgan Freeman's lines difficult to decipher.

The extras are limited to the original theatrical trailer, giving away too much of the plot as usual, and a very short featurette with cast and crew interviews. Nothing special at all and it would have been particularly nice to have the commentary from Hopkins and Freeman that appears on the R1 disc. There are 20 chapter stops.

A very enjoyable and underrated film is presented here on a disc which is technically good but otherwise unimpressive. Well worth a buy, however, for fans of the stars.

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