Above Suspicion

***

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Above Suspicion
"The pacing means the plot doesn't sizzle so much as stew, with only the basic psychological drivers explored." | Photo: White Knight

The familiar whisky-coloured sunlight of Kentucky is swapped out for blues and greens in Philip Noyce's true crime drama, which recounts the true tale of Susan Smith (Emilia Clarke), an FBI informant who was killed by her handler Mark Putnam (John Huston) at the end of the Eighties. Recounts is the appropriate word as we are led through the tale by the voice of Susan speaking from beyond the grave - a device that almost always puts the brakes on films and does so here, despite a few choice snarky asides.

Elevated by a Clarke's compelling central performance, we learn how the volatile and addicted Susan - living in a depressed mining town with her abusive ex Cash (Johnny Knoxville, bringing subtle striations to what could have been a monolithic character) - came to fall for Mark as she began to feed him information about a series of bank robberies. The story, which is based on the book by journalist Joe Sharkey, is the sort of thing that has become a staple of Netflix these days, as we see how Mark, despite his obvious, to us, manipulations, offers a sort of hope to Susan, who dreams of him leaving his wife Kathy (Sophie Lowe) and baby for her.

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Noyce and his cinematographer Elliot Davis, alternate that cool palette with a sickly yellow glow that appears in choice moments, such as when Susan is shoving crushed up opiate Percocet up her nose in a bar or allowing herself to be exploited.

The pacing means the plot doesn't sizzle so much as stew, with only the basic psychological drivers explored. Revealing the death at the start of the film serves to emphasise the sedate pacing, while though the voiceover puts Susan's voice front and centre, it remains adrift from her life as she lived it. Her interactions are mostly reduced to violent or sexual encounters, with the camera focused more on her eyes and gestures than on what she says while she's still alive. The town is also never allowed to fully take shape as a community fabric, making it hard to know where Susan is stitched into it. Chats with the smart and focused Kathy and Susan's sister Jolene (Thora Birch), fleetingly promise more but screenwriter Chris Gerolmo (Mississippi Burning) and Noyce are more interested in melodrama than emotional scrutiny - a shame given the talent they have at their disposal.

Reviewed on: 15 Jul 2020
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The story of an informant who was killed by an FBI agent.

Director: Phillip Noyce

Writer: Chris Gerolmo, based on the book by Joe Sharkey

Starring: Emilia Clarke, Jack Huston, Sophie Lowe, Johnny Knoxville, Austin Hébert, Thora Birch, Karl Glusman, Kevin Dunn, Brian Lee Franklin, Omar Benson Miller, Chris Mulkey, Brittany O'Grady, Luke Spencer Roberts, Lex Kelli, Landon Durrence

Year: 2019

Runtime: 104 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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