A stylish serial-killer thriller from deep inside the mind
The script Penn created with the name Suspect Zero is supposedly quite different than the one that resulted in the finished film, as it was sold to Universal in 1997, dragged through numerous rewrites before finally being released in 2004, without its original star, Tom Cruise. Instead, there is Aaron Eckhart (In the Company of Men), as demoted FBI agent Thomas Mackelway, a shamed Dallas investigator whose bungling of a serial-killer case set free a murderer, and landed him in New Mexico (or "the minors," as it's referred to.)
Eckhart is sufficiently tortured, as an agent unable to forgive or forget, whose headaches require a nearly-constant intake of aspirin. Other than that, he's a shell of a character, one lifted directly from the Hollywood Book of Special Agents, where you find men with obsessions that double as or substitute for personality traits. Outside of his medicinal abuses and standard-issue secret past, there's not much to Mackelway, a fact made more obvious when paired with fellow agent and ex-wife Fran, played without much effort by Carrie-Anne Moss (The Matrix.) That the audience is asked to believe they had a relationship at any point might be a bigger leap than anything in the rest of the story.
Mackelway's first case in the Land of Enchantment is tracking down a serial killer who leaves his victims marked with a slashed circle. It's Mackelway's case because he received faxes that taunt him, giving hints as to who is behind the murders. Some investigation points to the reasons why he was selected as a fax friend, but it doesn't explain to the agent what the answers are. Those won't be fully fleshed out until some time later, whether Mackelway likes it or not.
The other main character in the film is played by Ben Kingsley, who is uber-creepy, the way only bald men can be. Playing his role, a man with meta-psychic abilities known as "remote viewing," to the hilt, he instills the movie with a madness that works in ways it probably shouldn't. Sadly, I can't say much more without influencing how one might see this movie, which I wouldn't ever want to do. Not even in a movie that puts everything (or at least almost everything) right out in the open from the start.
While the plot isn't Grade A, this take on the obsession of law enforcement, serial killing, government plots and the depths of the human mind gets bonus points for trying something new. Of course, with Merhige at the helm, this movie is more about feel and atmosphere, which he knows as well as any director working today. Sure, his style is loaded with gimmicks and art-seemingly-for-art's-sake, but it's effective in making Suspect Zero a disturbing and unsettling film, while not going too over the top with the gore. Instead, unique choices in camera angles and editing put the audience off-balance, until the end, which disappointingly could have been spliced from any number of desert/cop thrillers. It was a bit of a let-down for a movie that is otherwise quite different than the standard.
The audio, done in Dolby 5.1 Surround, is the appropriate match for the image, with very active surrounds. There's a very deep soundfield for this movie, with lots of atmospheric sounds on the fringes, helping to create a sense of suspense. The dialogue has no troubles, and the subtle parts of the soundtrack come through without distortion.
There's more Mehrige commentary available for the Alternate Ending to the film. To have left it in wouldn't have hurt the movie, but his reasoning is understandable, as explained in his audio track. This minute-long scene is presented in letterboxed widescreen.
A four-part, 30-minute featurette, "What We See When We Close Our Eyes," is not what one would expect. Instead of a four-part look behind-the-scenes of Suspect Zero, this is a half-hour, letterboxed widescreen exploration of the main concept of the film, remote viewing. The director interviewed several people about the concept, including people trainined in remote viewing by the military, scientists, philosophers and himself, and the informative interviews are combined with footage of examples of the concept from the film. This is a great featurette about the paranormal.
There's more remote viewing in an 11-minute demonstration of the concept, hosted by Merhige. Depending on your level of cynicism, you'll view this featurette though your own lens. It's well-done and made just for the DVD by the director, so it's a nice bonus, though presented in letterboxed widescreen..
A group of trailers that are forced at the beginning of the DVD are presented again in one reel in the bonus features, along with the Internet Trailer for Suspect Zero.
On the Hunt
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