Synopsis – The story that lead to the first conviction for murder of an FBI agent.
My Take – Though it has been about nine months since Emilia Clarke last donned her ice blonde wig to play Daenerys Targaryen, the alluring mother of dragons with a penchant for violence, in the disappointing final season of HBO‘s Game Of Thrones, she still remains a source of zeal for anyone (like myself) interested in seeing everything she decides to star in.
While she has been experimenting with a variety of genres across the board, from franchise non-starting action flicks like Terminator Genisys and Solo: A Star Wars Story, to horror in the form of Voice from the Stone, to likable rom-coms like Me Before You and Last Christmas, this gloomy thriller may probably be her most daring outing to date as it is based on a true crime story, and requires Clarke to shed every ounce of her thick British accent.
Helmed by director Phillip Noyce, the 70-year-old Aussie filmmaker, known for directing good-to-decent studio fare (Salt, The Bone Collector, Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger), and none-too-impressive as well (The Giver, The Saint, Sliver), who here adapts author Joe Sharkey’s 1993 non-fiction book and gives it a steamed-up, sweat-soaked twist to its already intriguing material.
Unfortunately, despite the supposed realism the whole story ends up feeling like a down-and-dirty B-film, that borderlines on something like bad remake of Fatal Attraction.
While it’s delayed release since it’s completion in 2017, at the height of GOT‘s popularity, can be sourced as a blame, the real fault here lies in Chris Gerolmo’s script which resembles more of an old-fashioned TV film, where it is more interested in the fictional melodrama than the human factor. Hereby making this Phillip Noyce directed unhappy affair quite difficult to sit through for 104 minutes.
Set in the late 1980s, the story follows Susan Smith (Emilia Clarke), a troubled, lonely young woman living in a depressed former mining town in Kentucky who is addicted to drugs and has been abused by men all her life. She still shares the roof with Cash (Johnny Knoxville), her ex-husband and small-time coke dealer, and continues to cash in her welfare fraud cheques to provide for her two young children.
However, life takes an interesting turn when she lays her eyes on Mark Putnam (Jack Huston), a clean-cut FBI agent who has just moved into the town with his gentle-nature wife Kathy (Sophie Lowe) and their new born to track down a local serial bank robber. And when Mark approaches her to turn snitch in exchange for tender attention and money, the two soon begin a torrid relationship which has disaster written all over it.
A story about how a high-flying FBI officer became a gruesome footnote in bureau history by killing the informant with whom he was having an affair, making her the first murder victim of an FBI agent, deserves a substantial film. Instead, we have this moderate brash crime noir melodrama which has Clarke‘s character Susan narrating from beyond the grave.
Shot in pale blue tones that make the whole film look like its taking place in the chilly hours just after dawn, Susan’s world-weary narration diffuses some of that atmosphere by explaining too much. Though the voice-over provides some necessary color commentary from her point of view, it sometimes seems to paper over cracks in the plot caused by heavily cut-down scenes, especially other characters who has a prominent billing and very few lines.
By revealing the death at the start of the film it serves to emphasize on a slower pacing, that is until Susan begins tumbling toward Fatal Attraction-grade obsession with even director Noyce having an inkling to turn this into an exploitation flick as emotions turn violent.
It is hard to feel for Susan as most of her interactions are mostly reduced to violent or sexual encounters, with the camera focused more on her eyes and gestures than on what she says while she’s still alive. The town is also never allowed to fully take shape as a community fabric, making it hard to know where Susan is stitched into it.
Chats with the smart and focused Kathy and Susan’s sister Jolene (Thora Birch), fleetingly promise more but screenwriter Chris Gerolmo and director Noyce, like I mentioned above, are more interested in melodrama than emotional scrutiny, a shame given the talent they have at their disposal.
Yes, performance wise, it really does belong to Emilia Clarke who tones down her trademark eyebrow acting but amps up her life’s frustrations. Here, she makes Susan’s desperation magnetic, though she’s somewhat less convincing in portraying her drug addiction, which is talked about more than it’s actually depicted. Jack Huston is also well cast here as the uptight G-man who is smugly pleased with the dangerous game he’s playing.
While Johnny Knoxville adds surprising depth to what should have been a typical monolithic character. In smaller roles, Sophie Lowe, Austin Hébert, Thora Birch, Karl Glusman, Brittany O’Grady, Omar Benson Miller, Brian Lee Franklin, Chris Mulkey and Kevin Dunn are also effective. On the whole, ‘Above Suspicion’ is a dwindling crime thriller that never fully explores its true story.
Directed – Phillip Noyce
Rated – R
Run Time – 104 minutes