Movie Review : Low-Budget ‘Suture’ a Schizophrenic Thriller


The black-and-white low-budget “Suture” is the first feature from San Francisco filmmakers Scott McGehee and David Siegel, who have won numerous prizes for several of their short films. It’s a strange debut: technically assured and arty. The assurance is rare for a first feature, the artiness isn’t.

It’s a psychological thriller without psychological depth. Clay Arlington (Dennis Haysbert) meets with his half-brother Vincent (Arthur Towers) at the funeral of their wealthy father in Phoenix. The brothers are supposed to share an amazing resemblance although--and here’s where the artiness comes in--Haysbert is black and Towers is white.

For the record:

12:00 a.m. March 26, 1994 For the Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday March 26, 1994 Home Edition Calendar Part F Page 7 Column 1 Entertainment Desk 1 inches; 18 words Type of Material: Correction
Film actor-- Michael Harris portrays the character of Vincent in “Suture.” He was misidentified in a review in Friday’s Calendar.

The “resemblance” is a joke played straight; it’s also meant to clue us to the nature of identity, the mysteries of blood ties and all that jazz. When Vincent cooks up a scheme to frame his brother for a murder he himself is suspected of, the result is something right out of Hitchcock by way of Wim Wenders: Clay, who survives an explosion and suffers amnesia, is mistaken for Vincent and surgically reconstructed to his brother’s likeness. (His post-surgical look is the same as his pre-surgical look. Go figure.) Clay, with the help of a psychiatrist (Sab Shimono), re-creates a new past for himself--his brother’s.

McGehee and Siegel draw on many visual and thematic sources besides Hitchcock and Wenders--particularly the John Frankenheimer film “Seconds,” which was also about a man with post-surgical identity crisis. And yet their style is distinctive. They bring a saving humor to this deadpan art piece; they seem tickled by the idea of casting a black actor and a white actor as near-identical siblings.


Yet they don’t really explore the emotional suggestiveness in that casting, and so it ends up as a kind of fancy in-joke for aesthetes. McGehee and Siegel are filmmakers from the eyes out; they are drawn to the doubling imagery because of its emblematic rather than its psychological possibilities. (In a film like Ingmar Bergman’s “Persona,” we got both.)

They have such a strong and unsettling graphic sense that, without any psychological force, the film turns into a kind of abstraction. It could stand to be a bit pulpier. Perhaps they were afraid that pulp would turn the movie into an extended “Outer Limits” episode?

The acting is mostly overemphatic and stiff, in the manner of grade D ‘50s sci-fi films, but with an ironic overlay. Example: The plastic surgeon who falls in love with Clay, played by “thirty-something’s” Mel Harris, is named Renee Descartes. That’s the kind of joke that plays, maybe, once. Not five times.

Still, McGehee and Siegel have the flair to bring something distinctively new to black comedy once they shake out their art-film kinks. “Suture” is the archetypal “promising” first feature.

* MPAA rating: Unrated. Times guidelines: It includes a fairly graphic surgical face reconstruction scene, harsh language and a menacing situation with a gun. ‘Suture’

Dennis Haysbert: Clay Arlington

Mel Harris: Dr. Renee Descartes

Sab Shimono: Dr. Max Shinoda

Dina Merrill: Alice Jameson

A Samuel Goldwyn presentation. Written, produced and directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel. Cinematographer Greg Gardiner. Editor Lauren Zuckerman. Costumes Mette Hansen. Music Cary Berger. Production design Kelly McGehee. Art director Steven James Rice. Running time: 1 hour, 42 minutes.

* In limited release at the Sunset 5, Sunset Boulevard at Crescent Heights, West Hollywood, (213) 848-3500.