Suspect Zero follows the contradictory teacher/student relationship between serial killer Benjamin O’Ryan (Ben Kingsley) and FBI Agent-in-Pursuit Tom Mackelway (Aaron Eckhart, sporting as much chin as Bruce Campbell). O’Ryan is a tormented refugee of a government program to tap psychic powers for military intelligence, and Mackelway is a borderline-rogue agent, tormented by visions and headaches. Without letting slip any spoilers, the movie sees O’Ryan draw their paths together in pur…uit of justice for him self, his victims, and Mackelway.
Kingsley does a typically stand-up job playing O’Ryan, who comes across alternately as heroic, demented, charismatic, and alarming. Carrie-Anne Moss’s character seems to have been thrown in to get her name on the playbill – adding some more contemporary star power, and perhaps drawing in a different demographic than might be suggested by Kingsley’s lead role. Moss seems uninspired in her role, delivering lines with the same insipid, insouciant monotone as in the Matrix, and failing overall to bring much emotion to the screen.
Moss aside, the movie is an enjoyable evenings entertainment, which blends a fairly typical murder mystery with enough from the paranormal and government conspiracy camps to generate some interesting conversation. Its not the sort of ground-breaking film that stays with you (like Se7en or 12 Monkeys), but it is an enjoyable, dark adventure that I’d put on the shelf next to Kiss the Girls.
Audio is a standard 5.1 track, with no surprises. Many of the scenes are dialog driven, and dialog comes across smooth and clear. The mixers for this disc did a good job as dialog and ambient sound levels are balanced out very well. You won’t be shaken out of your seat by bass, nor will your surrounds have you looking over your shoulder, but the audio does a competent job.
The video is unremarkable. As with many atmospheric movies, its actually hard to judge how much of the video’s quality is artistic license, and how much is poor transfer or lousy film to begin with. Needless to say, the movie has its share of night scenes, which come across fine, without undue grain. These are complemented by stark, desert day scenes which show good saturation and colour. Various indoor shots (FBI offices, and so on) come across as almost Matrix-y in their unhealthy pale green-yellowness – this I’ll throw into the artistic license bin. All told, the video is good in its unremarkableness.
I’ll start this section with a summary: disappointing. With a very few exceptions, the well-populated features list on this disc is a bunch of typical fluffy PR stuff, thrown on I suppose to pad this Widescreen Collection entry. That being said, there are a few gems in here, identified below.
Director E. Elias Merhige’s Commentary: I’ll start with the best feature first: Merhige speaks as an auteur and offers a truly first class commentary to accompany the film. Many commentaries seem to get lost in the mundane details of a given shoot – the heat of the sun in a desert scene, or how a shot was taken at a particular angle. Merhige sticks to his territory – which is artistic, inspired direction. In the light of contemporaries like Se7en or Memento, Suspect Zero stands as a good, but fundamentally unexceptional peer until you listen to this commentary and get an understanding of the level of thought that went into each scene. Merhige deconstructs each shoot’s artistic and philosophical components, and also frequently contextualizes them within the framework of the entire file – other directors, take note. A commentary gives a director (or cast and crew member, for that matter) a real opportunity to commune with the viewer and communicate their vision; Merhige’s success at doing so makes other films rambling and inane commentaries seem really pointless in comparison. The only complaint I have is that Merhige’s measured pace and sonorous voice nearly put me to sleep.
Trailers (Previews): Two interesting ones buried in here, although you have to chapter-skip forward to get to them. Skip Alfie and check out Enduring Love – interesting, and not one that I’d heard off. This is followed by The Machinist – see Christian Bale at his most scrawny in what looks to be a really interesting psycho-thriller. Both are branded Paramount Classics – not a marque I’d encountered before – and both look worth getting ahold of.
Remote Viewing Demonstration: If you expect director E. Elias Merhige to be able to sit down with a past-prime Army Intelligence type fellow and successfully conduct a remote viewing, you’ll be disappointed. The cast and crew does a fine job of getting sufficiently amazed about the vague coincidences between Merhige’s viewing and the wanderings of the Outboard Team, but fundamentally, this is a hokey a hocus pocus exercise as has ever been done. Ultimately, this feature was just boring, self-important, and irrelevant. Save your time.
Four Part Featurette – What We See When We Close Our Eyes: Fluff, apparently. When the Taoist monk and his interpreter came on screen, I thought they might be able to save these cheesy PR pieces from complete inanity, by offering a different, more spiritual perspective on remote viewing and psychic phenomenon. My hope was dispelled when the interpreter hugely rolled her eyes before starting in on what the monk has just said, which – on par with the rest of these – was a bunch of mumbo jumbo with no clear intent other than to try and imbue this whole production with a vague aura of pseudo-medical and spiritual credibility. Thumbs down on these.
Internet Trailer: It’s a trailer for Suspect Zero. Apparently it was distributed on the Internet at some point. Apparently this is enough to distinguish it from those boring, old-fashioned trailers that grace out-moded forms of media like TV screens or movie theatres. Whatever the case, it’s a trailer for the movie you just watched – don’t expect any surprises.
Alternate Ending (I’m going to spoil it here): The alternate ending is an interesting 30 second addendum to the movie, positioned chronologically one-year into the future. Its not actually an alternate, per se, as nothing from the rest of the film is changed, but rather and extended ending. Agent Mackelway has assumed psychic-serial-killer O’Ryan’s role, using his nascent remote viewing powers to actively hunt down killers. He ends up cornering his next prey at a diner, and using O’Ryan’s same verbiage. Merhige explains in commentary that he thought it was too trite or simple an ending, which I agree with, although it is a nice touch that were uncertain as to whether Mackelway is operating within the law or not. The other thing about this ending is that it almost positions the movie as the start of a franchise, with Mackelway transmorgifying into some sort of Dark Hero archetype. Something tells me this won’t be happening, although a sufficiently creative writer could probably make something interesting of the concept.
A good-but-not-exceptional movie, combined with merely adequate audio and video and a generally lackluster collection of extras makes this disc worth watching, but as a renter.
Special Features List
- Director’s Commentary
- Featurette – What We See When We Close Our Eyes
- Remote Viewing Demonstration
- Alternate Ending (optional commentary)
- Trailers Galore