Engages You Right From The Start…
First time writer/director Stuart Connelly’s The Suspect, may not be a perfect film, but, what it is, is a perfect effort. It tells the story of two African American men, who are doing a social experiment, where they each take turns as either playing the bank robber or the suspect. How it works is, one will stick up a bank using a fake gun, while they other hangs about looking as guilty as hell, using himself as bait for the police to pull-in and question. The cash is always eventually returned and they then reveal their true identities. This is repeated a few times, until one of them fails to return with the cash, leaving the other to answer some awkward questions.
The film starts us off in a backwoods town prison cell, where suspect Freeman (Mekhi Phifer), is being questioned by Sheriff Dixon (William Sadler) and Deputy Riley (Derek Roché). This opening scene alone had me hooked, with some clever direction and solid acting, where Freeman remains resolute; Riley can’t keep his cool, but Sadler’s performance as Dixon was particularly good, as he goes from nice guy, to resentful racist, to apparent uncertainty so convincingly. Sadler’s portrayal of the Sheriff, with his cool-looking demeanor was a pleasure to watch, showing he was well suited to this part.
Mekhi Phifer as Freeman was expectedly good, and I’ve yet to see Phifer put a foot wrong in anything I’ve seen him in. He played his part with utter conviction, and he’s always a committed actor. This wasn’t a role where he had to reach, as we’ve seen him take on this type of character before, but Phifer always brings his ‘A’ game to his films. Out of all the very good performances in The Suspect, Sadler and Phifer’s were the strongest.
Penned by Connelly, the story is told by giving us flashbacks which I actually enjoyed, however, it did start to border on being a teensie bit convoluted, with the believability aspect a bit of a stretch, that some may not fully appreciate. While the flow may not have been the films strongest point, and Connelly sometimes tried a little too hard to trick-out his thriller, it appealed to me precisely because of this. I’m a huge fan of Tarantino, as I suspect Connelly might be too, which was telling the way The Suspect unfolds, and has fully fleshed out and interesting characters, who each have their own stories to tell. Then there was the way the interesting flashbacks were presented, clueing us into the characters motivations, which were far from simple.
I see a lot of first time efforts, and it’s always great when you get to see one that rises above the fray, and that’s exactly what Connelly’s The Suspect has done. His choice of story was interesting for a first, as we’ve seen the race-discriminating-cops tale so many times before, yet, Connelly manages to put a slightly different spin on things, giving us a fresh take on the subject. Again, it’s not perfect, but kudos to Connelly for such a great first film. I’ll be keenly waiting on his next affair.
by Nav Qateel