Friday September 22, 2000
"Under Suspicion," the latest in a long line of cat-and-mouse police interrogation movies, pits Morgan Freeman's veteran cop against Gene Hackman's rich tax attorney and affords its stars terrific roles. It's no wonder they were so eager to remake Claude Miller's superb 1981 "Garde a vue" that they signed on as executive producers.
While you could wish W. Peter's Iliff and Tom Provost's adaptation and Stephen Hopkins' direction were as tight and dynamic as Miller's, "Under Suspicion" is absorbing, keeps you guessing right up to a wallop of a finish and offers the pleasures of a chamber drama's bravura performances from a pair of supremely accomplished pros. What's more, with admirable rigor it makes the important distinction between experiencing desire and acting upon it.
The story has been transplanted from a small seaside French town to Puerto Rico. San Juan is in the throes of a carnival, and Henry Hearst (Hackman) and his gorgeous, much-younger wife, Chantal (Monica Bellucci), are arriving at a black-tie affair at a posh hotel where Hearst is to deliver a speech to help raise funds to cope with the ravages of a recent hurricane. He's immediately asked by Capt. Victor Benezet (Freeman) to come across the street to police headquarters to answer a few questions. Hearst has reported the discovery of the corpse of a 13-year-old girl who had been raped and murdered and left in a thicket he passed by while on a hike. He's not at all happy but is urged rather forcefully to comply.
We quickly discover that the two men know each other well, which is perhaps why Hearst doesn't swiftly ask to contact his lawyer. As it turns out, the disarming Benezet and his thoroughly nasty detective (Thomas Jane) are amassing considerable circumstantial evidence that convinces them that Hearst not only killed this girl but another of about the same age in a slum district where he freely admits he had gone to seek out a prostitute. Hearst is a well-connected public figure, tough-minded, capable of arrogance but also honesty. He admits he's attracted to girls in their early teens--and believes many men are--but that doesn't mean he or most other men actually act upon such feelings.
Yet we learn that Hearst's marriage has become a sham and that he is concerned enough about aging to wear a too-obvious toupee. For his part, Benezet has two failed marriages behind him; these two men are strong, shrewd personalities who are nonetheless not without vulnerabilities.
In the escalating psychological tug of war you start considering who will prove to be the stronger of the two as you keep wondering if Hearst, as embodied by so forceful and direct a presence as Hackman, could really be guilty of such deplorable killings.
The filmmakers take advantage of vivid Puerto Rico settings whenever the script moves outside Benezet's spacious office. Jane is convincingly hateful and ominous, and Bellucci gets more chances than you might expect to demonstrate that she is not just another pretty face. Made with more solidity than inspiration, "Under Suspicion" is nevertheless worthwhile and thought-provoking.
Under Suspicion, 2000. R, for sexual content and language. A Lions Gate Films release. Director Stephen Hopkins. Producers Lori McCreary, Anne Marie Gillen, Hopkins. Executive producers Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman. Screenplay W. Peter Iliff, Tom Provost; based on the film "Garde a vue" directed by Claude Miller and written by Miller, Jean Herman, Michel Audiard; from the book "Brainwash" by John Wainwright. Cinematographer Peter Levy. Editor John Smith. Music supervisor George Acogny. Costumes Francine Jamison-Tanchuck. Production designer Cecilia Montiel. Art director Michael Atwell. Set decorator Brian Kasch. Running time: 1 hour, 51 minutes. Gene Hackman as Henry Hearst. Morgan Freeman as Capt. Victor Benezet. Thomas Jane as Det. Felix Owens. Monica Bellucci as Chantal Hearst.