Above Suspicion review: Emilia Clarke deserves better

Above Suspicion

Above Suspicion
Photo: Lionsgate

Note: The writer of this review watched Above Suspicion on a digital screener from home. Before making the decision to see it—or any other film—in a movie theater, please consider the health risks involved. Here’s an interview on the matter with scientific experts.

Above Suspicion spends a lot of time concentrating on Emilia Clarke’s beautiful, cherubic face—only to beat it to a pulp on several occasions. The Game Of Thrones star plays Susan Smith, a woman addicted to drugs in a small Kentucky town circa 1988. Her double-wide is overpopulated: She shares it not just with her two kids but also her violent ex (Johnny Knoxville, of course), who sends her out to commit fraud by cashing social security checks, plus his bank-robbing pal and the pal’s girlfriend. Smith sees salvation on the horizon when newly relocated FBI agent Mark Putnam (Jack Huston) enters her life. After her little brother gets pinched for shooting a drug dealer during a fight, she becomes Putnam’s informant, meeting up at faraway spots to exchange info. It’s when she finally gives up the bank robber she’s harboring that a torrid affair begins between her and the G-man. That’s when all hell breaks loose.

Shot way back in 2016, but only now reaching American theaters and digital services, Above Suspicion plays exactly like a movie you’d expect to sit on the shelf for years, no one pushing hard for its release. The film appears to be a labor of love for producer Colleen Camp, the veteran Clue and Police Academy actor who optioned its source material—a 1993 nonfiction book by Joe Sharkey—two decades ago. Shockingly, it’s directed by Phillip Noyce, who once upon a time helmed big-budget studio thrillers starring Harrison Ford and Angelina Jolie. Noyce and the cast (which includes reliable folk like Thora Birch, Chris Mulkey, and Veep’s Kevin Dunn) are mostly stuck with a lazy-ass script by Chris Gerolmo (Mississippi Burning) that presents the real-life players (especially the Kentucky residents) as one-note ignorant sociopaths making dumb decisions at the worst possible times.

Above Suspicion, maybe the 30th movie to use that title, is a major step down for everyone involved: the cast, the director, even cinematographer Eliot Davis, who had a nice run in the ’90s DPing Steven Soderbergh projects. (He does what he can here, capturing most of the action in bleak, depressing blues.) The movie is told from Smith’s perspective—Clarke narrates in a down-home voice-over—and we’re clearly meant to sympathize with her, even when she goes into Fatal Attraction mode and infiltrates her lover’s home, getting chummy with his wife (Sophie Lowe). She’s a hard character to root for, regardless if you know how this true-crime story ends. As if nervous our sympathy might indeed wane, the film piles on needlessly, gratuitously brutal scenes in the second half of Smith getting the holy hell beaten out of her.

Who told British actresses they could only prove themselves in the States by playing miserable women with rural accents, trapped in squalid hellhole lives? It’s disheartening to see Clarke as a coked-up lost soul, basically stuck in her own trailer park nightmare. (The choppy party scenes, in particular, are just so bush league.) Often teetering between seductive and sinister, she brings some longing to the role, playing someone so desperate to get away from her putrid surroundings that she’s willing to snitch on her own and break up a man’s happy home. For all the star’s efforts, though, Above Suspicion will mostly just appeal to the crowd that found Hillbilly Elegy compelling. Everyone else will be left wishing they could see Khaleesi fly high and free again.

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