Released twenty years ago, Under Suspicion saw big names like Morgan Freeman, Gene Hackman and Monica Bellucci take to the big screen in this gripping American-French thriller. Set in the town of San Juan in Puerto Rico and directed by Stephen Hopkins, the film is based on the 1981 French production Garde à Vue and the 1970s British novel Brainwash by John Wainwright.
Hackman plays Henry Hearst, a tax lawyer who seems to have it all – the perfect young wife, the big house on the corner, the success of his career as a lawyer and the respect and admiration from members of the public. Freeman is Victor Benezet, a police captain who isn’t quite as fortuitous as Henry. His wife has custody of his two daughters who live back in the US whilst he lives alone in a cheap back-alley apartment.
At the start of the film we see Victor investigating the murders of two 12 year old girls, for which Henry is the “principal witness to a crime scene”. Henry and Victor seem like friends who go way back, but during a phone call when Victor asks his old friend to “pop by” the station to go over his statement, (he claimed to have found one of the bodies the day before), things start to turn sour as accusations and suspicions form. As the night goes on, Henry gets more and more frustrated as he’s supposed to be giving a very important speech across the road at a fundraiser for a hurricane relief charity. But instead he is kept at the police station by Victor and Detective Felix Owens, (played by Thomas Jane), and is bombarded with question after question. Victor, who is under pressure from his boss as he wants Henry to give the speech, escorts Henry to the fundraiser. Once he’s finished, Henry soon enough finds himself back at the station and once again under the firing line.
During the multiple scenes where Henry is getting interrogated, it feels intimate, as if you’re part of the case, in the courtroom, becoming a jury member and you’ve been told to watch and listen. As a ‘jury member’, you get that feeling almost automatically that this man is guilty. All he seems to be doing is telling lie after lie after lie. He doesn’t appear to be telling a single truth, changing his story constantly. But that’s what the writers want you to think…. Is it that obvious that he committed these crimes? Or is there another story to it all?
For someone who hadn’t seen this film until now, it was intriguing to see the great names of Freeman, Hackman and Bellucci at a younger age. Bellucci of course plays Chantal Hearst, the elegant and beautiful younger wife to Henry. She’s quiet but alluring, especially for someone who doesn’t say much until an hour into the film. At first it seems she is just there to look pretty, a sort of prize for Henry to show off. She is after all a beautiful woman married to a man 25 years her senior. However, it’s quite clear that her marriage with Henry isn’t as perfect as some people might think it to be, when there’s a confession later on at the police station that they no longer sleep in the same bed.
The direction and cinematography are brilliant and creative, especially the way the camera is always focused so closely on the actors, enforcing that feeling of intimacy. It’s clever also how the narration follows not only the present day in the police station, but as the story of the past gets told (and when Henry goes through his alibi), we are transported back with the present day characters. This is achieved through various scenes and settings, whether that be on a bench overlooking the ocean, jogging through a park or checking out prostitutes on a dark corner of an alleyway. We too are walking alongside them as the story of the past unfolds and the mystery of Henry’s whereabouts are revealed. Shocking revelations unravel throughout the film, leaving you wanting more as each stone is unturned and each secret is spilled. The anticipation is intense as you watch this game of cat and mouse between Henry and Victor.
Watching Hackman, Freeman and Bellucci is enjoyable as these stars are considered some of the greats in Hollywood. Yet they’re not the only ones who shine, as Thomas Jane thrives in the role of Detective Felix Owens. Not only does he (every now and then) throw comedy into the mix when all you feel is the intensity of it all, but you see his wit and passion for the case coming across brilliantly as he outshines the others from time to time. Some feat when you consider who he’s up against. The contrast between the blaring loud music and the bold dance moves of the celebrations for the San Sebastián Festival outside the police station contrasts successfully with the dramatic investigation of the rape and murder of the two young girls. It juxtaposes the storylines – the festival, the charity fundraiser and the murder investigations.
The film is 110 minutes long but perhaps there’s a few weaker scenes which could’ve been cut to make the film flow even better. The script for the most part is clever but feels a bit lacklustre at times. You feel as though you just want them to hurry it up a little so you can get to the conclusion, not out of boredom but out of intrigue and anticipation – wanting to know ‘who dunnit’. Overall the film is thrilling, exciting and makes the audience question their own assumptions of the characters. But the ending is a disappointment and a bit of an anti-climax. Just as we were about to get justice, the rug gets pulled out from under us, evoking a sense of dissatisfaction, and ultimately thinking ‘what the f***!’
Twenty years on, Under Suspicion strangely still holds up and doesn’t feel dated at all. Those seeing it for the first time should expect mystery, suspense and tension throughout, which is exactly what you’d expect from a classic thriller, if nothing else.
Under Suspicion is available on Digital HD July 31 and on Amazon Prime August 3rd