Under Suspicion

Friday, October 13th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

By Charles Ealy / The Dallas Morning News

Under Suspicion has the makings of a first-rate drama: It features two of America's greatest actors, has a compelling premise and deals with moral ambiguity in a sophisticated way.

Yet, it's never as good as it should be, with occasional moments of brilliance overshadowed by the gimmicky direction of Stephen Hopkins (Lost in Space and The Ghost and the Darkness.)

The story focuses on one night in the life of prominent Puerto Rican attorney Henry Hearst (Gene Hackman), who's suspected of strangling two young girls. He's called to the police station to answer questions, but is caught in a succession of lies. Amid his smug denials and threats of lawsuits, the police captain (Morgan Freeman) slowly extracts the most intimate details of Hearst's life – much to the suspect's embarrassment.

It turns out that Hearst has married a woman (Monica Bellucci) far younger than he; that she has denied him conjugal relations after suspecting he was sexually involved with her young niece; and that he routinely uses the services of streetwalkers. It also becomes clear that he has met the two young girls who were strangled.

Punctuating the tension is a cocky young detective (Thomas Jane), who quickly unnerves Hearst with lots of strutting and sexual aggression. One of the film's finest moments, in fact, occurs when Hearst loses his toupee in a tumble down the police steps with the detective. As Hearst, Mr. Hackman registers a look of confusion and sexual frustration that shows why he's one of our most honored actors.

Despite such scenes, director Hopkins manages to disrupt the film's tension by using repeated flashbacks that feature not only the suspect, but also the police captain. We see Hearst prowling the slums of the city; we see him as a sexual predator; we see him combing the hair of one of the dead girls. And the police captain is there, too, chattering away, talking like a therapist rather than an interrogator.

Yet we soon discover that the first flashback wasn't true. Nor was the second. Nor was the third. And while we perversely enjoy seeing other people being jerked around, we aren't too pleased when we get the same treatment.

In the end, Under Suspicion lacks the sizzle of the original film on which it was based, the 1980s French cult hit Garde à Vue. Mr. Hackman and Mr. Freeman strive mightily to rescue the proceedings. But they can't overcome the misdirection – and poor pacing – of Mr. Hopkins.