By Marc S. Sanders

I’ve noted before how sometimes you can’t decide if you like a movie until it reaches the final, climatic five minutes that remains.  That’s the experience I had with a below the radar picture called Under Suspicion, which features two of the best headlining actors ever – Morgan Freeman and Gene Hackman.  Well, I didn’t care for the last five minutes of the film.  So, I didn’t care for Under Suspicion.

Gene Hackman plays Henry Hearst, a wealthy, hot shot tax attorney who resides and practices on the island of Puerto Rico.  When the film opens, he’s already dressed in his tuxedo and his gorgeous, much younger wife, Chantal, played by Monica Bellucci, is zipping up her black evening gown.  They are on their way to a benefit dinner to honor him for his charitable fundraising for underprivileged children.  Henry has to take a quick detour to the police station however to answer a few questions that Captain Victor Benezet (Freeman) has regarding the recent strangulations of two young girls. Victor plays good cop, while his underling, Felix Owens (Thomas Jane), does the bad cop routine on Henry. 

Since this is Gene Hackman playing a likely suspect, it’s no surprise that he’s cool as can be with Victor’s inquiries into some inconsistencies that have been uncovered.  Flashbacks to recent moments of where Henry has been jogging or visiting his sister-in-law cut in, and director Stephen Hopkins puts a present-day Victor within the scene of Henry’s recollections.

The theme of Under Suspicion is all about the gradual breakdown of a powerful guy.  Victor and Felix chip away at Henry’s alibis.  While Henry starts out virtually bulletproof to the cops’ questions, soon he’s reduced to being stuck without explanations, and even physically humiliated.  Let’s just say that more than just his tuxedo gets torn.  Eventually, the officers bring Chantal into the fold and the story diverts into a checkered relationship that Henry has with Chantal’s sister and her family, but what does that really have to do with the murders of two girls?  I hoped I’d see some relevance by the time the conclusion arrived.  I didn’t, and that’s the problem with this picture. 

What did I gain from the prior two hours that I was watching?  The main question at hand is did Henry murder these two girls?  Only if he did commit the acts is what the picture will have you believe is pertinent.  The script from John Wainwright (based on his book Brainwash), and Claude Miller & Jean Herman (based on their 1981 screenplay Garde à vue) never really scratches the surface for a motive.  Implications that Henry could be a child sex pervert come up, but I didn’t think it was explored deep enough to then bridge it to murder.  All that Victor and Felix seem concerned with is whether Henry killed the girls.  That’s too simple.  The movie isn’t thinking hard enough for us.  What makes this self-assured guy, with the familiar cockiness of Gene Hackman’s many other film personas, tick?

When the veil is finally lifted on who committed the murders, I felt emptyhanded like I’d been dealt a bait and switch.  The reveal comes out of nowhere and then the credits roll.  Under Suspicion practically promises a plot twist that never materializes.  A shame really, because there are winning moments between these two acting giants on screen.  Not an ounce of dialogue is memorable, however.  Yet, to see the pair together longer than the screen time they shared in Clint Eastwood’s award-winning film Unforgiven, bears my attention and curiosity.  Ultimately, Hopkins’ film is further proof that a script must come first before the talent is recruited.  It doesn’t matter if you have contracted the likes of Hackman and Freeman for your film.  If you don’t give them anything interesting to say, then there’s nothing interesting to see them do.

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