Alternative Guide to Great Movies: Under Suspicion (2000)

Morgan Freeman and Gene Hackmani in the tense thriller Under Suspicion. Picture: CONTRIBUTED

Morgan Freeman and Gene Hackmani in the tense thriller Under Suspicion. Picture: CONTRIBUTED - Credit: Archant

With blockbusters clammering for our attention at every turn it’s easy for some of the smaller, more thoughtful films to slip passed, unnoticed. Arts editor Andrew Clarke presents a series of idiosyncratic suggestions for movies, both old and new, that may entertain if you are in the mood for something different.

Gene Hackman and Monica Bellucci in the tense thriller Under Suspicion. Picture: CONTRIBUTED

Gene Hackman and Monica Bellucci in the tense thriller Under Suspicion. Picture: CONTRIBUTED - Credit: Archant

Under Suspicion, Dir: Stephen Hopkins; Starring: Morgan Freeman, Gene Hackman, Monica Bellucci; Cert 15

There’s an old theatrical adage if you want drama, then, all you have to do is make sure the action plays out in a confined space – a space from which there’s no immediate exit.

This is certainly the case with Under Suspicion, set in a police interview room. Based on a French film Garde a Vue, the action has been transported to San Juan, Puerto Rico, on San Sebastian Day. The town is ready to party but detective Benezet, played with deceptive calm by Morgan Freeman, wants to get the murder of two young girls cleared up before he can relax.

We see nothing at first. The evidence of the crime is supplied throughout the film in a series of flashbacks. Rising politician and local lawyer Henry Hearst (Gene Hackman) reported finding the bodies and just before he needs to attend a fundraising gala, Benezet casually asks him to pop in to clarify a couple of things in his statement.


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It should only take a couple of minutes but those minutes soon stretch out as the two men face each other in the interview room and we learn what happened when he discovered the bodies – or various versions of what happened as Hearst subtly alters the sequence of events with each re-telling.

Freeman’s wily old cop knows that Hearst is not telling the truth – at least not the whole truth – and so calls in Hearst’s young wife, played with hollow-eyed distance by Italian star Monica Bellucci, to get her version of events.

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As Hackman’s self-important politician resorts to bluster and pulling rank we start to realise that Freeman’s Rottweiler tenacity is starting to pay off. Hackman’s tetchy lawyer is hiding something but what? Is he protecting himself or someone else?

The bulk of the film is just two acting grand masters facing each other across a table, playing a high stakes game of chess with the facts surrounding a double murder and it’s fascinating to watch. As the film movies towards its conclusion you can cut the tension with a knife.

It’s a wonderful showcase for two great actors at the height of their skills. I have seen it several times and I always half-expect the ending to change because the balance of argument and probabilities are so finely balanced.

Like all great dramas, Stephen Hopkins film is all about relationships. It’s about these two men’s relationship with each other, about their relationship with the community and most intriguingly Hearst’s relationship with his young wife.

People provide films with their power and drama, not stunt-filled action sequences, but for those who want a bit of explosive action Under Suspicion supplies that too – in the form of a bruising verbal boxing match as the two acting titans spar with one another in that cramped police interview room.

The film has a satisfyingly claustrophobic feel. We see virtually nothing of the outside world and when we do, it’s invariably a dramatic reconstruction of evidence being revisited. We learn very quickly not to always trust what we are told.

Hackman’s Henry Hearst is not a nice man but Freeman’s detective Benezet knows that not being a nice man doesn’t make him guilty. However, there is something about him and his shifting story that allows him to keep Hearst in that interview room long enough to keep asking one more question.

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