Above Suspicion

Emilia Clarke and Jack Huston

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.

Emilia Clarke
Susan’s luck is about to run out

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, 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.

Above Suspicion – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2020

Spike Island

The cast of Spike Island

There is a great film to be made about the whole Madchester/Stone Roses/Acieed moment of the late 1980s but Spike Island isn’t it. Fun but messy might be a fair way to assess it. Fatally flawed might be another.

This is a film clearly going for epic. It wants to be the Apocalypse Now of a particular youthquake, with a basic “journey” structure – four lads in a wannabe band are trying to get to Spike Island, scene of the Stone Roses’ most famous gig, a night that defined/ended an era. Onto this is grafted the story of the band itself, its attempts to record a demo, get it to the Stone Roses, maybe get a record deal. And springing off that we have the story of Tits (Elliott Tittensor), I kid you not, the band’s lead singer/leader, a supposedly charismatic teenager, a gob on a stick. And hanging off that story we have this guy’s coming to terms with the fact that his dad is dying. Plus his attempt to get off with a local hottie, Sally (Emilia Clarke, of Game of Thrones fame). And his strained relations with his flaky brother. And I didn’t mention the rivalry with a bigger local band (whose lead singer, played by Being Human’s Michael Socha, is clearly aping Liam Gallagher and is very funny).

Emilia Clarke and Elliott Tittensor
Emilia Clarke and Elliott Tittensor

A lorra lorra plot then. Flavour is this film’s real strong suit. It’s got loads of it, and whenever the camera wanders away from the underwritten Unfab Four, things really kick into life. Scenes set in pubs, outside the perimeter fence at Spike Island, among peripheral characters, who have names like Dave Famous, Keith Teeth and Uncle Hairy, all crackle with the sort of electricity that only those who were really there, who still walk with feet at ten to two, can provide.

Most notable of these is a great scene where the lads arrive at the gate to the gig and try to get the bouncers to let them in. It’s fast, it’s funny, it’s full of banter and the two guys who play the Scouse bouncers (Jake Abrahams is one, I think, and if anyone can help with the other…) give a glimpse of what this film could and should have been – lively, lairy, mad for it.

Had Hollywood got hold of this, for sure it would have squeezed some of the juice and swagger out of it, and it probably would have added subtitles for key moments of unintelligible Mancunian banter, but it would also have insisted on a rewrite to correct a severe plot problem. The film keeps telling us that this story’s hero is Tits. In fact it’s the other guy, the band’s songsmith Dodge (Nico Mirallegro), a shy musical obsessive with a secret passion for the lovely Sally. It’s Dodge’s story that this film should be telling. And it looks as if writer Chris Coghill realised it halfway through shooting. Hence that strange scene once everyone is on Spike Island with their heroes still out of reach where Dodge’s hitherto blameless character is besmirched and he is effectively banished from the action. Wha?

It’s tasty, but there’s nothing in the centre of this donut of a movie. For people who were there, who are now more cheese and bics than E’s and whizz, Spike Island will ding a few dongs, raise a few smiles, lift hairs on the arm as the Roses soundtrack takes them trippily back in time. As for everyone else, those great one-liners, delivered in that flat Manc deadpan, probably won’t be quite enough.

Spike Island – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

I am an Amazon affiliate

© Steve Morrissey 2012

Spike Island – at Amazon