Above Suspicion is the story of one person – an FBI cop who became a killer when his snitch got too powerful – told as the story of another, the snitch herself.
It makes for a messy drama that never quite gets its legs under the table and seems to shortchange everyone involved – the real people whose story this is, the actors playing them, even director Philip Noyce, who, having done thrillers like Patriot Games and The Quiet American, and procedural human dramas like Rabbit-Proof Fence, would, you’d think, breeze through something like this.
But he’s hampered by Chris Gerolmo and Joe Sharkey’s screenplay, which itself is hampered, I’m guessing, by a command from upstairs – we’ve got Emilia Clarke: make it about her so we can hook in the Game of Thrones fans.
As for plot, Clarke plays Susan Smith, a skank smalltime drug dealer in a no-horse town, who divorced her husband (Johnny Knoxville) but still lives with him (more welfare that way), with a deadbeat criminal for a brother, and a lodger whose boyfriend Joe-Bea (Karl Glusman) might be a wanted local criminal.
Into this familiar world of everyday trailertrashery enters new FBI cop in town Mark Putnam (Jack Huston), a man in a hurry, with a beautiful young wife, Kathy (Sophie Lowe). Together Mark and Kathy have a five year plan to make a splash, get him a bigger better job in a bigger better town so they can afford baby number two and a nice place to live.
Without giving too much of the plot away, things don’t quite go as planned once the increasingly implausible Susan becomes key witness to a crime, and Mark starts to pay her money to keep her coming up with the goods.
On top of that he fancies her, and she him. Mark clearly missed the memo on not mixing business with pleasure plus the one about not having a burger while you’re out because you’ve got steak at home.
The story of a scumbag (Susan) just being a scumbag isn’t much of a story; the story of a paragon of virtue being brought down to loin level is a much better one – yet this film wants to tell her story, not his.
On top of that category error is that old devil called chemistry. There is none between Huston and Clarke, not even the merest hint of heat, which does make the various scenes of Mark and Susan trying to stay out of each other’s pants and then failing just more scenes you’ve got to sit through till the good bit comes along.
Mark’s wife Kathy is one of the good bits, thanks to Gerolmo and Sharkey’s smart writing of her, and of Sophie Lowe’s playing, as a prim wifey who is like that totemic feminist teabag, only revealing how strong she is when in hot water.
The other actors – Knoxville, Karl Glusman, Brian Lee Franklin as a local marijuana bigshot, Austin Hébert as Mark’s on-off sidekick, Thora Birch as her gone-straight hairdresser sister, they’re all underused but credible as thumbnails of lives blighted by the collapse of the bottom end of the US economy. Trump voters.
There’s quality all the way through this, in other words. Makes no difference if the whole thing just doesn’t work, which Above Suspicion just doesn’t.
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© Steve Morrissey 2020