mystery-thrillers known as whodunits constitute a rather peculiar genre. They offer something of a game for the
canny viewer – a game in which the skill of the storyteller is in leading us
astray, deflecting us from the real clues as to the identity of a murderer. At
stake, finally, is more – at least potentially – than the simple, ultimate
question of who, indeed, did it. It doesn’t just have to be a guessing-game; the
entire unfolding of the story can raise complex ethical questions concerning
who (in life or on screen) we are willing to trust, and why.
Under Suspicion, the
debut cinema effort from writer-director Simon Moore (after much TV script
work), is a thriller of this sort. (He went on to write the very different The Quick and the Dead  for Sam Raimi in USA.) In particular, it turns on
what Jacques Rivette once called the “play with the protagonist, the so-called
central character” – the hero with whom we normally sympathise. Private
detective Tony Aaron (hulky and soulful Liam Neeson) is a typically ambiguous
leading man: part sleazy operator, part victim caught up in a labyrinthine maze
of treachery and deception.
is the kind of movie in which no one is what they at first appear to be, and where
the actions and motives of all are neither clearcut nor morally pure. The femme fatale of the piece is pouty Laura
San Giacomo (from sex, lies, and
videotape, 1989) as Angeline, mistress of a rich and famous artist, Carlo
Stasio (Michael Almaz), who is mysteriously murdered alongside Aaron’s wife.
The possible frame-ups – and likely frame-up artists – multiply with each new
turn of the plot. But Under Suspicion,
for all its strenuous effort in establishing an atmosphere, littering red
herrings and building complex character relationships, ends up a mechanical and
largely forgettable affair.
great trap of the mystery-thriller genre – and even Hitchcock could sometimes
not avoid falling into it – is that these convoluted mechanics of the plot can
easily overwhelm the interest of the character relationships, as well as the
tantalising, intelligent themes of trust, morality and power that are raised
along the way. While the blame for a crime or murder remains floating above
virtually every character in the plot, the double game of art and entertainment
can sustain itself. Once the answer to the mystery comes in the final scene, however,
the rest of the film is forgotten, discarded. All the ambiguities and implications can
vanish into thin air.
Under Suspicion does
not entirely escape this forbidding trap. But, as a generic exercise that owes
more to Fritz Lang (particularly his Beyond
a Reasonable Doubt, 1956) than Hitchcock, Moore’s film does have its own
icy, hard-edged sheen.
© Adrian Martin December 1992 / August 1993