Under Suspicion (SE)/ C,A-
Columbia/2001/110/ANA 1.85

    There are probably only two reasons to see Under Suspicion. One is to watch two great actors, Gene Hackman and Morgan Freeman, go toe to toe in a verbal sparring match. The second reason is to see the gorgeous Monica Bellucci stuffed into some tight-fitting dresses. Unfortunately,  Hackman and Freeman have to chew through a plot so thick and inedible that they wind up with chunks of plot embedded in their teeth. They may have even lost a tooth or two in the process. So there's really only one reason to see Under Suspicion and that's Monica Bellucci; too bad she didn't get more screen time and a few more dresses to try on.

The interview begins. ©Columbia

    On the eve of a big benefit dinner during the annual San Sebastian Festival in Puerto Rico, police captain Victor Benezet is supposedly tying up some knots in a murder investigation. Prominent lawyer Henry Hearst, a witness, agrees to drop by police headquarters to answer a few questions before crossing the street in his tux to deliver the keynote address at the benefit dinner.  As the sparing begins, impatience and antagonism form a the pattern of dialogue. Sex crimes poor preprandial conversation.
     Some of the plotting is almost comical. Why does police captain Victor Benezet choose to bring in power lawyer Henry Hearst for questioning before the benefit dinner,  setting up a significant conflict with the Police Superintendent?  And why in heaven's name does Chantal Heart wind up being interrogated in the next room. Hearst is a crack lawyer. It's ridiculous for him to submit to the questioning when it goes beyond the "only a few questions" with which Benezet lures him to the police station.
     In an attempt to open up the static script, director Stephen Hopkins and company devise a highly stylized form of storytelling might work with a better plot. It's interesting on its own, but of course, it calls attention to itself. Dialogue strains at being clever leaving an itchy feeling to the movie in a place you can't quite reach. Misplaced emotion rhythms prevent the film from developing a natural flow. The subject of the investigation and layers of details as they are revealed certainly makes you uncomfortable.      Character motivation is patently obtuse. There's a hint of an old relationship between Benezet and Hearst, but it's a scent that isn't worth much screen currency. Is Hearst a guy living on the edge of perversity. But his actions never add up. His relationship with Chantal makes little sense. There are too many dubious elements for Under Suspicion to overcome.
    The performers are pros. It may be a difficult leap to see Gene Hackman's Henry Hearst sporting a toupee, but Hackman can pull it off.  I could listen to Morgan Freeman recite dialogue forever and he's got a mouthful to deliver as Benezet. Thomas Jane as Detective Owens is another matter entirely. He can't rise above the miserably written role. Hell, Hackman and Freeman barely survive.  Monica Bellucci is thoroughly appealing as Chantal Hearst, but watching her I felt a tinge of voyeur, for too close to some already uncomfortable plot elements.
    Wonderfully slick picture with beautiful night skyline of Puerto Rico during the festival. Deep, dark blue sky with outstanding detail and marvelous color. The costumes literally dance off the screen. Hackman's tux maintains a deep black sheen without shorting the wrinkled fabric details. The brightly lit day sequences maintain a hyper-real look with a touch of extra saturation in the color and some additional contrast. Overall, the picture is very sharp with edginess evident. Interior lighting is delivered with plenty of range without compromising the look. The Dolby Digital 5:1 surround sound is powerful with dialogue delivered cleanly and music in good balance.
    The special edition features commentary from director Stephen Hopkins and star Morgan Freeman.

Reviewed on a Sharp 9000VX DLP Projector


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