Friday, July 15, 2011

Under Suspicion (1991)

Good performances - bad story and execution


- Released during the age of sexual mystery thrillers like Fatal Attraction (1987) and Basic Instinct (1992), Under Suspicion (1991), written and directed by Simon Moore, is a frustrating movie.

Set in late 1950s Britain, Tony Aaron (Liam Neeson) is a private detective with a scarred past who is in debt up to his eyeballs. To make a living, he helps people evade Britain's strict divorce laws by faking affairs, often using his wife for such a job. One such job ends with both his wife and his client dead. The client was the artist Stasio, whose many paintings quickly rising in value because of his death. Tony's faithful cop friend Frank (Kenneth Cranham) is the leading investigator in the case and is looking out for Tony's best interest but that is becoming harder and harder for Frank to do. Many paths of blame lay on Angeline (Laura San Giacomo), Stasio's mistress, who stood to gain a lot from his death; but Tony is also under suspicion for the murder.

On paper, the general story is not too bad - but the way it is transferred onto film is poorly done. In the end, Tony Aaron is convicted of the crime with nothing directly connecting him to it. No one proved that the bullets that killed Tony's wife and Stasio were from his gun - all anyone knew was that his gun was found in the furnace. No motive could even be established - like the film states, if Tony did not love his wife he could have divorced her instead of going to all the trouble of killing her. Also, they never even looked for Stasio's thumb that was missing from his corpse! The only useful thing that the thumb could be used for is forging paintings; so if Tony killed Stasio, he would not have thrown it in the ocean, it would be in his house or office somewhere.

But alas, poor Tony Aaron is sentenced to be hung - which will be done, surprisingly enough, the next morning! Wow, those Brits, I tell ya.... When they convict a guy of murder, they do not beat around the bush - they go ahead and hang him before the rooster has a chance to crow! This is so ridiculous; nobody gets hung the morning after their trial! I am sure that, at the very least, there were people ahead of Tony in line to be hung. But Tony turns out alright, with Frank coming in at the nick of time to save his life (literally) finding the dude's thumb in Angeline's things. Angeline is caught and convicted - *whew* that was close - she almost got away with it!

If only things ended where they did, but no, they had to keep beating a horse that had died many scenes ago. Tony Aaron is revealed to be his wife's and Stasio's killer and planting the thumb in Angeline's house. Apparently, Tony was in cahoots with Stasio's wife to get some of the money from Stasio's paintings. Whoa - wait a tick - say what?

Sorry, but I would like to return your twist, Simon Moore.... It is a cheap trick used to try and thrill the audience when you were actually just lying the whole time! Throughout the film, the audience is lead to believe that Tony is on the case to find out who killed his wife. We know what Tony has been doing the entire film: he does not just seem to be disturbed by the sight of his dead wife and client or shocked that the dead lawyer fingered him as the killer - he *IS* all those things. The film portrays him as a man who has been wronged - even playing sad music and slow motion picture as Tony screams "I didn't do it!" when he is convicted. Tony Aaron is not portrayed as a mysterious character at any point in the film, Angeline is portrayed as the mysterious character. Tony Aaron did not fool anyone; the film did.

While the story completely erases any chance that Under Suspicion had of actually being a good film, there are some good performances. Liam Neeson stars as Tony Aaron and does a very good job in the role. Here he is, early in his career and pre-Schindler's List (1993), giving a good performance and exhibiting a veteran-like screen presence. Neeson is very believable in his role - until the stupid twist, and then his character just does not work. But before that, Neeson is great: trying to figure everything out and putting tons of feeling into the plight of his character. However, as much as I like Neeson as an actor, I could have gone my whole life without seeing him naked. Yup.... Could have gone without that. Laura San Giacomo costars as Angeline, not doing too bad overall, and Kenneth Cranham also costars as Frank and does a solid job in the film.

Under Suspicion is certainly mapped out to be a neo noir film with its crime, mystery, and femme fatale - but its look does not match. The film's cinematography is like a coin toss: sometimes you will get a scene with good picture quality and cool camera views and then some scenes you will get a made for TV movie feel. While failing in the area of writing, Simon Moore's direction looks pretty good if you forget that he is completely manipulating the audience. Under Moore's direction, Under Suspicion flows well and there are some good suspenseful scenes - especially the scene dealing with Frank's rescuing Tony. Still, one cannot forget that Moore manipulates the audience by the film's depiction of Tony Aaron and Under Suspicion ends up being an average film at best as a result.

CBC Rating: 5/10

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