Cast: Henry Hearst (Gene Hackman), Capt. Victor Benezet (Morgan Freeman), Det. Felix Owens (Thomas Jane), Chantal Hearst (Monica Bellucci)
Director: Stephen Hopkins
Theatrical release: 09/22/2000
DVD Date: 01/02/2001
Running Time: 110 minutes
Note(s): Screenplay adapted from the novel Brainwash by John Wainwright.
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Review: I'm always eager to see movies adapted from mystery books, but Under Suspicion, despite its two stellar lead actors, flew well under the radar when it was released in 2000. It essentially went direct to DVD in the US after a limited run in theaters.
Under Suspicion is basically a two actor, one scene movie. The setting is a police station in San Juan Puerto Rico. Captain Victor Benezet is investigating the rape and murder of two pre-teenage girls, their dead bodies posed as if sleeping by the killer. Local tax attorney Henry Hearst found the second girl, reporting it to the police. But his story has flaws and is inconsistent with testimony of others interviewed about the crime. Benezet is convinced Hearst is the killer and sets out to extract a confession from him.
The two other principal characters in the film are Hearst's wife Chantal and Detective Felix Owens, a hot-headed police officer also on the team investigating the murders. Neither character, however, adds significant value to the story, window dressing at best, and the movie could easily have been filmed with them.
Under Suspicion is based on the book Brainwash by John Wainwright (which I haven't read) and is a remake of the 1981 French film Garde à vue (which I haven't seen).
What works in the film are the outstanding performances by Hackman and Freeman. When they are on screen, which admittedly is most of the time, the scenes are riveting. They are old friends, something which doesn't really come across all that well, and you're led to believe that Benezet, twice divorced, is envious of Hearst's wealth, influence, and beautiful young wife. Hearst, however, clearly has secrets of his own and is disturbed that Benezet is cleverly leading him down a path that makes his guilt impossible to hide.
What doesn't work is the setting. Why Puerto Rico? Neither man seems to speak Spanish with any confidence and the locale adds nothing to the story. The background celebration of the Feast of St. Sebastian serves as constrast to the grim murder investigation but again adds nothing relevant to the story. Since the movie largely takes place in the captain's office, I suppose it really doesn't matter where or when it takes place. Still, it seems an odd choice.
The director's choice to insert present time characters into flashback scenes also doesn't work. It's probably intended to heighten the suspense, or maybe to illustrate that one's memory isn't always as clear as one thinks, or possibly to give the film an edge, but it's jarring. Like seeing a modern abstract painting in the midst of Renaissance art.
Finally, what doesn't work for me is the ending. Not so much the final twist, which is not really unexpected, but how the characters react. It seems artificial and reduces what was largely a masterful match between two men to something trivial, not all that important. It may make for interesting post-film conversation, but not much more.
Under Suspicion is for the most part a terrific film featuring superior performances that ultimately disappoints, cheating the viewer out of what should have been a meaningful resolution. Would I recommend it? Yes, but with some reservations.
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