Reviewed by
Colin Jacobson

Title: Under Suspicion: Special Edition (2000)
Studio Line: Columbia TriStar - In A World Of Secrets, The Truth Is Never What It Seems

Two men. One night. The police captain on the island of Puerto Rico interviews a prominent tax attorney and old friend -- the witness to one of a shocking series of brutal crimes. But what begins as a cooperative conversation between peers descends into a night of intense interrogation between fierce adversaries. A hidden past. A secret life. Witness or suspect? Guilty or innocent?

Director: Anne Marie Gillen, Stephen Hopkins
Cast: Morgan Freeman, Gene Hackman, Thomas Jane, Monica Bellucci, Nydia Caro
Box Office: Budget: $25 million. Opening Weekend: $109,863 thousand (19 screens). Gross: $258,691 thousand.
DVD: Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9; audio English Dolby Digital 5.1 & Dolby Surround 2.0; subtitles English, Spanish, Chinese; closed-captioned; single sided - dual layered; 28 chapters; Rated R; 110 min.; $24.95; street date 1/02/01.
Supplements: Audio Commentary From Director Stephen Hopkins and Actor Morgan Freeman; Featurette; Theatrical Trailer; Talent Files.
Purchase: DVD | Music soundtrack - Various Artists

Picture/Sound/Extras: B/B+/C+

When I saw Under Suspicion on the list of upcoming releases, I knew nothing about it so I did a little investigation to discover if it might interest me. It didnít take long for me to decide to pursue the DVD; when I noticed that both Morgan Freeman and Gene Hackman starred in the film, it immediately leapt onto my ďsounds intriguingĒ roster. The touted inclusion of an audio commentary that featured Freeman - probably my favorite actor - sealed the deal.

In retrospect, I wish I passed up this one. While Under Suspicion isnít a bad movie, itís an extremely mediocre flick that never even remotely lives up to the caliber of the talent involved.

In many ways, US follows the model offered in another movie with the same initials: 1995ís infinitely-better Usual Suspects. Actually, US is a semi-remake of 1981ís French offering, Garde ŗ vue. All of the filmís true action takes place during a couple of hours one night. In Puerto Rico, some young girls have been raped and murdered, and prominent attorney Henry Hearst (Hackman) was the man who reported one of the attacks. At the start of the film, police Captain Benezet (Freeman) has Hearst stop in during a fund-raising party just to get a little more information about the events. Gradually the plot thickens as Hearstís story becomes more and more fishy. Tempers flare and secrets are revealed as the dark underside of Hearstís life and his marriage to sexy young Chantal (Monica Belluci) appears through questioning from Benezet and Detective Owens (Thomas Jane).

Sounds good, doesnít it? Unfortunately, I felt the story moved at a glacial pace and it suffered from a high level of obviousness. I donít want to give away any plot points, but the film tries so hard to make us believe one side of the story that itís clear that angle is false. Itís a mystery that wants to be deep and intellectual but never succeeds; at most itís tawdry and cloying.

Most frustratingly, itís a mystery that the viewer canít solve. Whatís the point in setting up all of these points to which we need to attend if the pay-off is irrelevant? Thatís the case here, as US offers one of the least satisfying endings on record. While Iím a fan of movies that are subtle and require close attention, thatís not the case here. If anything, youíre punished for thinking hard about the action since the results have so little to do with what we see depicted.

Director Stephen Hopkins has always favored style over substance in films like Lost In Space and Predator 2. Frankly, although the guy takes a lot of knocks, I think most of his films are fairly watchable if brainless; the second half of Predator 2 was terrific, and even his Freddy Krueger adventure (A Nightmare On Elm Street 5) was moody and creepy.

However, he seems out of his element during Under Suspicion. Tense psychological dramas donít appear to be his forte. The guy needs monsters and overt villains to create an over-the-top, viscerally thrilling world. Despite his best intentions and the presence of some world-class acting talent, Under Suspicion never took flight. Itís a drab and uncompelling thriller that largely left me cold.

The DVD:

Under Suspicion appears in both its original theatrical aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 and in a fullscreen edition on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the letterboxed image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Only the widescreen side was rated for this review. The film generally presented a very positive picture, but a few problems made it less than stellar.

Sharpness appeared consistently fine. Some mild softness cropped up during a few wider shots; the film displayed good depth of field but some background elements were slightly out of focus at times. However, most of the movie seemed nicely crisp and well-defined. Moirť effects and jagged edges presented no concerns, and artifacts from the anamorphic downconversion on my 4X3 TV were minor.

Colors looked nicely natural and accurate. Scenes that involved the party in the streets provided some absolutely wonderful costumes which used a wide variety of bright and vivid hues; these segments stood out the most strongly. In the remainder of the film, colors appeared more subdued but they stayed clear and solid. Black levels looked nicely deep and rich, and shadow detail was appropriately heavy but never excessively dense or thick.

To my surprise, a bigger problem stemmed from print flaws. While the defects observed during US were fairly insubstantial, they seemed decidedly excessive for such a recent film. Light grain appeared at times, and I also saw small but frequent examples of grit and speckles. No more significant flaws appeared. Despite the mild nature of the defects, I thought they appeared much too heavy for this sort of release. I watched 45-year-old Rebel Without a Cause the same evening I screened US and found that the older film contained many fewer defects. Ultimately, Under Suspicion still looked quite good, but a few concerns kept it from greatness.

Somewhat more consistently satisfying was the filmís Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. The soundfield offered a generally-gentle but still engaging presence. Because US doesnít feature any slam-bang action scenes, there was nothing here to really get the adrenaline pumping, but the overall atmosphere seemed very good. All five channels provided solid discrete audio that meshed together in a neat and realistic manner. Street scenes of the celebration featured the best ambiance, as the crowds popped up all around me. Nothing in the soundfield stood out as a ďdemoĒ segment, but the entire package nicely complemented the action on-screen.

Audio quality seemed similarly positive for the most part. Dialogue was natural and distinct with no signs of edginess. However, I thought the speech seemed mixed at a volume level that was too low; although the rest of the soundtrack rarely provided consistently loud audio, dialogue often was slightly drowned out by the ambient action. Effects always appeared realistic and crisp with no signs of distortion, while the score sounded rich and accurate; both elements provided some terrifically deep and tight bass at times. Ultimately, the mix for Under Suspicion worked fairly well for the film.

Under Suspicion doesnít provide a slew of extras, but we find a few. The biggest attraction is a running audio commentary from director Stephen Hopkins and actor Morgan Freeman. Although it improves as it progresses, I found this track to be somewhat disappointing. Most of the first half goes by slowly; Hopkins mainly relates technical details about locations, and Freeman says little at all. The situation gets better during the second half as the men become more engaged by the story; Hopkins still dominates, but Freeman adds some information, and both talk about the story itself and interesting issues from the production. As a whole, I still regard the commentary as disappointing, but its second hour displays enough compelling material to make it worth a listen.

Some additional supplements complete the DVD. We find a featurette about the making of the movie that runs about 10 minutes and 55 seconds. This piece combines interview segments with all of the principals plus many shots from the finished film. Itís pretty standard promotional fare that adds a little background to US but which lacks any form of depth. Itís nice to hear from Freeman and Hackman, but their remarks tend to fall into the ďheís great/sheís greatĒ category. As a whole, the program is worth a look, but it fails to provide much compelling information.

Lastly, we get the filmís theatrical trailer plus the usual bland ďTalent FilesĒ. We find listings for director Hopkins, writer W. Peter Iliff, and actors Freeman, Hackman and Jane. These are little more than filmographies, which is why is so frequently complain about the entries found on CTS DVDs. However, I will note that I learned something from my perusal of the Talent Files; I hadnít realized that Thomas Jane appeared in both Boogie Nights and Face/Off. With thought, I remembered who he played in the former, but I needed prompting from IMDB to spark my memory of his character in the latter and I still couldnít place him. (FYI, he was Reedís scuzzy friend Todd in BN and he played ďBurke HicksĒ in F/O. HmmÖ is that name some sort of Aliens reference?)

I really hoped Iíd like Under Suspicion, as the combination of Morgan Freeman and Gene Hackman seemed unbeatable. Unfortunately, the film lacked any spark and their talents appeared wasted in this fairly bland and unexciting thriller. The DVD presented good but not great picture and sound plus some average extras. If you remain curious to see these theatrical heavyweights go against each other, Under Suspicion may merit a rental, but donít blame me if youíre disappointed.

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