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Above Suspicion

by on May 6, 2021
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“Above Suspicion” (available in select theaters and on VOD beginning Friday, May 7) is an odd duck of a movie.

It was supposed to be released stateside all the way back in 2019 (and actually was in the United Arab Emirates). I remember seeing a behind-the-scenes segment concerning the film on an entertainment news program such as “Access Hollywood” or “Extra” a few years prior, which is strange as this is the sole time I’ve watched one of these shows this century after they were appointment television for me as a tween. I believe I also saw the first episode of the first season of Investigation Discovery’s “Betrayed” (concerning the real-life case that inspired “Above Suspicion”) – the Mrs., my mother-in-law and I often marathon this junk when we visit her. By the time I got around to actually watching the movie it almost felt like a fake flick, something I’d made up or something that I’d altogether forgotten ever existed in the first place.

“Above Suspicion” is based on the true story of Susan Smith (Emilia Clarke) and Mark Putnam (Jack Huston, an actor I’ve always admired for his work as Richard Harrow on “Boardwalk Empire” who’s never totally made good on all that potential) as well as Joe Sharkey’s non-fiction account of the case. It’s the late 1980s. Susan is a Pikeville, Ky.-based druggie who still lives in a trailer home with her drug dealer ex-husband Cash (Johnny Knoxville) and their two children. She also engages in welfare fraud to further fill their coffers.

Susan’s taken aback at first sight by Mark, a rookie FBI agent whom she sees as the personification of perfection. She volunteers to become his informant helping to take down Joe-Bea (Karl Glusman) – a serial bank robber who often bunks at Susan and Cash’s place with his girlfriend Georgia (Brittany O’Grady) – as well as rival pusher Rufus (Brian Lee Franklin).

Despite having his loving wife Kathy (Sophie Lowe) and baby daughter, Mark enters into a series of sordid trysts with Susan. She sees their “relationship” as her opportunity to get clean and escape poverty, but it’s impossible for the affair to turn out any way other than badly.

“Above Suspicion” is directed by journeyman filmmaker Phillip Noyce, scripted by Chris Gerolmo, produced by actress/producer Colleen Camp (best known as Yvette from “Clue”) and Jerry Bruckheimer’s wife Linda, scored by Dickon Hinchliffe and shot by Elliot Davis. I get why all of these folks got involved. The picture employs the bluish hue Davis used in the Detroit segments of “Out of Sight.” Hinchliffe’s sparse, string-plucked score calls to mind his own work on “Winter’s Bone.” Gerolmo is best known for penning “Mississippi Burning,” another period crime piece. Noyce has experience making steamy thrillers (“Dead Calm,” “Sliver”) and historical dramas (“Rabbit-Proof Fence,” “Catch a Fire”), which would seem pertinent here. The movie has moments of artistry, but these artisan’s credentials don’t congeal into a cohesive whole.

I suspect Noyce may not have been the best choice to direct. The Australian’s grasp on Southern culture appears to be on the skids. “Justified” this ain’t. I would love to see what an actual Southerner – say writer/director Jeff Nichols – could do with the material. The writing isn’t always up to snuff either. Clarke, through a so-so drawl, is saddled with voiceover howlers like, “You know what’s the worst thing about being dead? You get too much time to think,” and “I’ve been fornicating like a long-eared bunny and Kathy’s the one who’s pregnant?!!!” Her Susan Smith oscillates between Kentucky Khaleesi and … speaking of rabbits … Glenn Close as Alex Forrest in “Fatal Attraction” replete with pot of boiling water. As for the movie itself? It’s an artier Lifetime Movie that’s past its sell-by date.




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