I consider THE SUSPECT like a puzzle. All the pieces have to fit neatly in place or it will fall apart. Unfortunately there are some jagged edges that take this film down. It actually did have some promise no matter how ludicrous the plot was. The film never knew when to quit however.
Mekhi Phifer plays a man who has been taken into custody on a suspicion that he robbed the bank. He gives his name as Freeman Finch. Freeman is in a small town that has no black people residing in it. The bank tape shows that a black man robbed said bank. The police put two and two together when they saw Freeman with dirt in his hands on the side of the road. What exactly was he doing with this dirt? Why was he outside in broad day light if he just committed this crime? Wouldn’t a person who just robbed a bank be hiding out or be long gone from the scene? These are questions that pop into your head immediately as the film progresses.
Director/Screenwriter Stuart Connelly jumps around in time with impunity. We first see a woman get a package with a check in it. Then we jump back two months to see Mr Finch’s predicament. There are a couple more jumps in time that fill in some of the blanks.
Freeman shows remarkable poise in his jail cell as he is confronted about the crime. The police officers on the case are Sheriff Dixon (William Sadler) and Deputy Riley (Derek Roche). Riley is the hothead of the two and he showed great zeal in taking down Freeman. Dixon is calmer and doesn’t get rattled. Dixon has to show his mettle as Freeman tries again and again to get his goat. Freeman attempts to have Dixon saying racist things for the camera in the interview. Dixon does not bite.
We jump back in time a week to see Freeman in a similar predicament in another small town with another man (Sterling K. Brown) in Freeman’s current role. The other suspect does get under the sheriff’s skin in this case and the sheriff blurts out racist comments on tape. Freeman waltzes outside to return the money back to the bank. The duo say they work at a university and they are conducting an experiment. It deals with race and how it paints how you view a suspect. Freeman hands over a check to take care of the expenses involved with this test. The two men convince the sheriff to forget this all happened because of what he said on the tape. It is a simple open and shut case. The money had been returned and no harm no foul. This plan has a lot of problems to it when you really look into it. What if one of the guards shoots the robber? What if an innocent bystander gets hurt or killed? What university would sanction such a thing where there is so much risk? There just seems to be better ways to explore race in this country without all these pyrotechnics so to speak.
But I was willing to suspend belief in this concept if that was the whole story. It isn’t. There is more to these men than meets the eye. The showdown between Dixon and the Freeman goes on for hours. Freeman is confident his friend will come back with the money and clear up everything. Dixon is confident that he has his guy. At a certain point, Freeman knows something is wrong. Everything is done with precision and timing. His friend had indeed come across an obstacle. The curtain is then pulled back ever more to reveal more of the plan. I won’t ruin the surprise by discussing it, but it did lose me at this point.
I was also troubled by so many of the characters being clichés. There is no nuisance here and everything is painted with such a broad stroke. That is especially true when a surprise ending is sprung. The actions of one character are so different from what is presented previously and is done for shock value. It insults the audience. There are ways to talk about race without resorting to cheap tactics. THE SUSPECT has some merits to it. Unfortunately it drowns in its ambitions and becomes a clichéd mess.
THE SUSPECT BLU-RAY REVIEW
Video: There is not a lot of use of color on display. I didn’t have any objections to what’s on the screen.
Audio: The sound is quite good here.
Making a Scene (7:58): The climactic scene is dissected. You get to see storyboards and the use of green screen.
Extended Scenes (17:14): More information is presented in these scenes. These scenes done this way wouldn’t have made much of a difference.
Conversation with Director Stuart Connelly (28:56): Connelly goes over the theme of race in society. He delves into his inspiration for the film. He also talks about the design, characters, dialogue and the score.
Commentary Track with Director/Screenwriter Stuart Connelly: This is a pretty straight forward commentary. He talks about why he put certain things in the film and what he was trying to accomplish.
Commentary Track with Producer Mary Jo Barthmaier: She discusses what she thinks Connelly is looking to say.
Happy Endings Music Video-The Real Tuesday Weld (3:44)