Monday 21 December 2020

Movie Review: Suspect (1987)

A second-rate courtroom drama, Suspect suffers from far-fetched character behaviour, stilted dialogue and uninspired performances.

In Washington DC, respected senior judge Justice Lowell (Thomas Barbour) shockingly takes his own life. Soon after, Justice Department clerk Elizabeth Quinn (Katie O'Hare) is found murdered. The main suspect in the Quinn case is homeless hobo Carl Wayne Anderson (Liam Neeson), a Vietnam War veteran rendered deaf and dumb by post-war afflictions.

Overworked public defendant Kathleen Riley (Cher) is assigned to defend Carl, with Judge Helms (John Mahoney) presiding at the trial and Charlie Stella (Joe Mantegna) prosecuting. Enterprising milk industry lobbyist Eddie Sanger (Dennis Quaid) is on the jury and starts discretely helping Kathleen by uncovering evidence that could prove Carl's innocence. Kathleen and Eddie also start to get attracted to each other, threatening the integrity of the trial.

While the talent on both sides of the camera suggests a quality production, Suspect never convinces. Writer Eric Roth scrounges for obscure ideas and arrives at a slick lobbyist deciding, for never explained reasons but maybe having something to do with irritation at being unable to avoid jury duty, to play amateur detective, contaminating the trial not just by colluding with the public defendant but also pursuing her romantically.

Elsewhere the accused Carl Anderson as a deaf and dumb victim of an uncaring society is an interesting angle, but director Peter Yates is never quite able to navigate to a place where the disabilities are just a plot enhancement and not a cinematic hindrance. Liam Neeson, by not saying a word, elevates himself above most of the rest of the material. 

As for the larger conspiracy surrounding Elizabeth Quinn's death, Riley and Sanger eventually uncover corruption from years past involving powerful people, although not powerful enough to remove incriminating evidence from a filing cabinet drawer accessible to any lowly clerk.

The courtroom verbal sparring borders on bland, both Cher and a disinterested Joe Mantegna defaulting to conviction-free blank line readings and fake over-emoting. A couple of badly executed and tension-free action scenes are thrown in, including Cher running around in an empty building with an assailant in pursuit for what seems like an eternity. The very next day she is back in the courtroom, but really, with a rushed and raucous ending flattening all remaining plot credibility, she need not have bothered.

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