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by Jack Sommersby

"An Illogical but Semi-Prime 'Suspect'"
4 stars

Not a box-office success, but it's not any more negligible than the more financially successful "Jagged Edge."

I wish the effective courtroom thriller Suspect were about twenty minutes shorter and the plausibility factor considerably higher, but warts and all it's involving, atmospheric, and suspenseful enough to warrant a slight recommendation. The last time its director, Peter Yates, attempted something of this genre it was the muddled 1981 Eyewitness, though the main fault was a ludicrous screenplay rather than incompetence on Yates's part - no filmmaker could've conquered the inane contextual poppycock served up. "Suspect" is flawed as well, but it's all of a sustained piece, and I enjoyed it despite more than a few logic loopholes. Fresh off her Oscar-winning performance in Moonstruck Cher stars as Kathleen Riley, a Washington D.C. member of the public-defender's office assigned to represent one Carl Wayne Anderson (Liam Neeson), a homeless deaf-mute Vietnam War veteran accused of slashing the throat of a Justice Department file clerk found slaughtered in her car in a downtown parking lot; upon discovering the body the cops traced the woman's purse to a drainpipe with Carl in possession of it, and the fact that the lot attendant reports he earlier had to chase Carl away from the inside of her vehicle (it's a brutal winter in the District of Columbia, and Carl was trying to stay warm) is enough for him to be arrested and arraigned for first-degree murder. Kathleen, who hasn't had a vacation in over a year, doesn't want the case, but the presiding Judge Helms (John Mahoney), a stern son of a bitch, leaves her no choice; not only is the evidence overwhelmingly in the prosecutor's favor, but Kathleen is unable to communicate with her client in conventional ways, and Carl is mostly reticent and offers little for his attorney to work with. There's another character who figures into the equation, a political lobbyist, Eddie Singer (Dennis Quaid), who's been called for jury duty but tries every means to get out of it; but Kathleen, partly resentful of his profession and somewhat amused over the power she has over him, selects him to serve. So far so good. Not only are the performances first-rate and the dialogue penned by Eric Roth uncommonly intelligent, but the people populating the screen hold a good deal of interest. However, the otherwise-decent writing throws us a curve when Eddie, for some unfathomable reason given his barely disguised cynicism, starts sneakily helping out the overwhelmed Kathleen by helping her after-hours with aspects of the case, which is pell-mell illegal and can get Kathleen not only disbarred but brought up on charges. Quaid is an extraordinary actor, and he has no problem endowing Eddie with the velvety smoothness necessary for the part, but not even his best efforts can make Eddie's unnecessary risk-taking believable. He's attracted to Kathleen, and perhaps trying to show her just because he's a D.C. sleaze (he's not above seducing a congresswoman and taking her to bed to get her vote for a crucial milk-dairy bill) he's not amoral, but I think we'd all agree there must be a better, and far safer, way to go about it. Still, if you can get past this gaping logic loophole, Suspect is quite fun. Working with the cinematographer Billy Williams and the composer Michael Kamen, Yates, who's eclectically given us everything ranging from the police actioner Bullitt to the coming-of-age comedy/drama Breaking Away to the sci-fi adventure Krull, grafts upon the picture an unnervingly eerie hold that clings; in fact, this is the creepiest cinematic tale ever set in our nation's capitol - especially frightening is a sustained sequence where an unarmed Kathleen is stalked in the dank, dark basement of the court building by a shadowy assailant. As a whodunit, Suspect is somewhat specious in that it doesn't play fair with the audience in that we're simply not given enough clues (in fact, there's only a single viable clue suggesting the culprit's identity), but the conclusion is still rousing and makes perfect sense when seen in retrospect. With expectations lowered, what Yates and company are pushing here is perfectly satiable to an undemanding viewer. It certainly won't stand up to scrutiny but delivers the goods more often than not.

Beware the appalling full-screen DVD and underwhelming Blu-Ray.

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originally posted: 10/23/20 09:16:44
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  23-Oct-1987 (R)



Directed by
  Peter Yates

Written by
  Eric Roth

  Dennis Quaid
  Liam Neeson
  John Mahoney
  Joe Mantegna

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