Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Under Suspicion (1991)

Warning: structural spoilers on the way!

Brighton, 1959. A couple of years ago, Tony Aaron (Liam Neeson) was a perhaps promising policeman. His stint in the police was cut short when his having an on-the-job affair with the wife (Maggie O’Neill) of a criminal he and a couple of other officers are supposed to watch leads to one of his colleagues getting killed by a shot that was meant for him. The scene is set up a bit more complicated than that, actually, but then, making things unnecessarily complicated is a bit of a trademark of this one.

Anyhow, civilian Tony is working as a shady, nearly penniless private eye mostly involved in helping people get a divorce, something that by the laws of the time is apparently only possible in cases of dire marital misconduct, like adultery. So Tony helps set men up with a fake girlfriend – the criminal’s wife of affair fame now married to Tony – photographs them, and secures enough witnesses for the whole thing. Let’s not ask why the courts aren’t becoming suspicious about the wife of the same private detective who comes up with the photos of the adultery regularly ending up publicly cheating on him with married men.

Tony’s newest “case” goes very wrong when he finds his wife and their newest client shot dead instead of in a compromising situation. The client, it turns out, was a famous painter, so there might be monetary reasons for the murders. Despite still being friends with Frank (Kenneth Cranham), the cop leading the following investigation, there are hints pointing to Tony’s involvement that can’t be overlooked. Consequently, Tony is starting an investigation of his own, soon getting into an affair with the dead guy’s possibly femme fatale mistress Angeline (Laura San Giacomo) as well as other trouble.

Simon Moore’s Under Suspicion is more an interesting effort than a truly effective and successful film.

In theory, there’s a lot to say for the film: the film’s first half makes some nice attempts at using an audience’s knowledge of noir and thriller tropes as well as clever casting to mislead the viewer. It also generally looks slick, from time to time even in a way that enhances what it is trying to do in a given scene quite nicely. The cast is certainly well put together, though the way the actors are used isn’t always convincing, particularly because the film – perhaps in a misguided attempt at aping classic noir – really wants them to go a degree bigger and more melodramatic than actually works for them or the story they are involved in. Particularly the film’s final third is a sheer endless sequence of Neeson and the rest hamming it up mercilessly while dramatic music never stops swelling and the script goes through great convulsions to come up with melodramatic twists.

The problem with this is that it reveals a film that at first feels like an interesting play on classic noir in a British setting with perhaps a bit of a Patricia Highsmith influence added for good measure to really not have much of anything to say about the tropes it plays with, or the word it takes place in. There are all the elements to make an interesting movie about a male femme fatale, but Moore buries them under too much needless melodrama, only ever showing interest in the surface level of things, which isn’t exactly a good choice in a film supposedly about depths.

I can’t say the melodrama ever worked for me either. There’s something emotionally abstract about it that keeps a viewer at arm’s length – and when it comes to melodrama, a film needs its audience to get emotionally involved. Otherwise, it’s just a lot of scenes of people shouting and making faces at the camera.

If you can live with its general emptiness, the film is an okay enough time. As I said, it certainly looks pretty, and at first indeed promises to do something interesting. There’s just no substance to Under Suspicion.

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