Dir: Stephen Hopkins. US. 2000. 111mins.
Prod Co: Revelations Entertainment. Int'l Sales: TF1 International. Prod: Lori McCreary, Anne Marie Gillen, Stephen Hopkins. Exec prod: Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman. Scr: Tom Provost, W. Peter Iliff based on the film Garde A Vue by Claude Miller, Jean Herman, Michel Audiard. Garde A Vue based on the novel Brainwash by John Wainwright. DoP: Peter Levy. Prod des: Cecilia Montel. Ed: John Smith. Music: BT. Main cast: Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman, Monica Bellucci, Thomas Jane, Nydia Caro.
An ill-advised remake of Claude Miller's taut psychological thriller Garde A Vue (first released in 1981), Under Suspicion has been a pet project of star and executive producer Gene Hackman for more than fifteen years. Relocated from provincial France to a small island in the Caribbean, the remake retains the basic elements of the original but falls far short in terms of claustrophobic intensity and dramatic impact. Critical reaction is unlikely to be sympathetic especially in territories where Miller's film remains highly regarded. General audiences may be either unaware of or unconcerned by the comparisons, leaving the new film to stand or fall on the drawing power of the Hackman-Morgan Freeman partnership.
Fussily directed by Stephen Hopkins, the story unfolds over the course of a few hours one evening at the height of a Winter Festival. Powerful lawyer Henry Hearst (Hackman) is about to attend a charity ball with his young wife when he receives a call from police captain Victor Benezet (Freeman) asking if he might drop by to clarify a few points in a statement he made the previous day. It transpires that Hearst had discovered the body of a little girl who had been raped and murdered. It is the second such incident in a matter of weeks. The fine details of Hearst's testimony have given cause for concern and Benezet is reluctantly inching towards the possibility that Hearst may be the guilty party rather than an innocent bystander.
As a friendly chat turns into an official interrogation, the two veteran Oscar-winners are given a chance to show their acting prowess in the roles memorably played by Lino Ventura and Michel Serrault. Freeman tackles the Ventura character; a doggedly determined detective that he handles with typical authority and precision. Hackman veers more towards the theatrical in his interpretation of a respected citizen no longer able to conceal the miserable loneliness of his existence. As we learn of his joyless marriage and seedy extra-curricular activities, the question of his guilt or innocence becomes almost academic. Instead, we witness a man relentlessly stripped of his defences and forced to reveal the full extent of his vulnerability.
Produced on a grander scale than its predecessor, Under Suspicion may gain some of the colour and atmosphere of the Caribbean but it loses the tight, spartan focus that distinguished the original. Hopkins' trick of placing the detective within the flashbacks of his witness, prodding him on with questions and observations, has a certain novelty value but is another factor that dilutes rather than heightens the overall tension. Ultimately, Under Suspicion is likely to serve as another cautionary tale for anyone contemplating an American makeover of a respected French classic.