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Under Suspicion (April 10/01)

I'm not sure exactly how difficult it would be to make a mediocre movie with actors like Gene Hackman and Morgan Freeman in the cast, but I would have to assume it would be harder than a frozen cockroach. Under Suspicion, while not exactly a bad movie, is certainly lousy.

Set in Puerto Rica for no discernable reason, Freeman stars as a police captain intent on catching the killer of two little girls. Hackman, a wealthy local with a beautiful young wife, is the prime suspect, since he just happened to find the second body. Most of the film features Freeman and Hackman (and sometimes fellow cop Thomas Jane) verbally sparring with one another. And that's about it. This 110 minute film mostly takes place in one room, with the occasional trip outside to keep the audience from going completely mental.

I have no doubt that Under Suspicion is based on a play, and I'm sure it was quite riveting on the stage. But on screen, it just doesn't work. I suppose if the film had been something like 70 minutes, it may have been more enjoyable. But at nearly two hours, it's just too much of a good thing.

Obviously, I can't fault the actors. Hackman and Freeman are, no surprise, great. Hackman, in particular, has a tough role; he has to seem both innocent and guilty at the same time, to keep us on our toes. Freeman's good, too, playing a worldly, hardened cop that knows the best way to approach every situation. Where his cop buddy Jane wants to solve problems with brute force, Freeman realizes that sometimes politeness is just as effective.

The long interrogation scenes are occasionally interrupted by flashbacks to various events that are mentioned. And a technique is used during these flashbacks that I've never liked and this movie doesn't change my opinion. We see Hackman describing the flashback in the flashback with Freeman usually standing right there watching. This technique needs to be retired, and fast. The only time I didn't mind it was in Reservoir Dogs and even there, it was really short. Here, pretty much every flashback has been inflicted with that stylistic choice.

I find it hard to believe that this stodgy drama was directed by the same guy that did the kinetic Blown Away, but there you have it. And what's with the ending? It's a good thing I rented this on DVD, because I needed to go back and listen to the commentary to figure out what the heck happened.

Under Suspicion isn't really a bad movie, but with Hackman and Freeman starring, I expected so much more.

** out of ****

David Nusair 2001