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SUSPECT ZERO

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Aaron Eckhart, Ben Kingsley, Carrie-Anne Moss
Director: E. Elias Merhige
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround, French Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Paramount
Features: See Review
Length: 99 Minutes
Release Date: April 12, 2005

"Help me turn it off."

Film **1/2

Serial killer thrillers aren't as frequently made as they once were. Back in the mid 90s, especially after the release of the unbeatable Se7en, it seemed like there was a new one every week. So since they're hasn't been one in a while, it would seem that a movie of this sort would be more than welcome, and Suspect Zero does have something of a fresh spin on the typical serial killer plot.

The movie opens most effectively at a roadside diner during a rainstorm. A seemingly innocent salesman is confronted by a mysterious man who places himself across the table from him. He begins showing the man some disturbing photographs. It scares the salesman away to his car, where later on the highway the same man arises from the backseat to take the prey out.

The murder case lands on the desk of FBI agent Thomas Mackelway (Aaron Eckhart), who has just been transferred from Dallas to New Mexico in the wake of a scandal that he may or may not have taken part in. He is soon paired with former partner/flame agent Fran Kulok (Carrie-Anne Moss). Mackelway sneers at the idea of them working together, since she is still with the Dallas bureau and because of a possible flaw in their alleged relationship.

What appears to be a routine homicide turns to be more than just that. Mackelway learns that the salesman victim turned out to have a nasty criminal past. The body was also marked with a design of a circle with a line through it on a piece of paper, in addition to having the eyelids removed. When another body pops up in the trunk of a car parked outside the diner for several days, with the same marks/design, the feds sense a connection, but it's anything but an ordinary series of murders.

Their trail leads to that of Benjamin O'Ryan (Ben Kingsley), a man who knows all there is to know of Mackelway and his past. The agent is frequently taunted by the countless faxes sent to him from the mysterious O'Ryan, each of them sketching a design of a murder that has happened or is going to take place soon. Is he toying with Mackelway, or is it something of a call for help to prevent future murders from happening?

And O'Ryan, while a suspect, also has another agenda. Once in the FBI himself, O'Ryan was involved in a top secret, government funded program called Icarus Project. This project involved a technique called "remote viewing", which allows selected agents to determine a killer's face and the scene of a crime, using that of only the mind. The project has long been terminated, but it's suspected that the process has taken over the man, and that he is going insane at the same time he's hunting down serial killers.

The title Suspect Zero refers to a theory raised by a character in the movie. The theory is that one person could become the perfect serial killer if killings were committed randomly, and without a specific pattern. The circle markings with the slash serve as the symbol.

While I do give the movie credit for delivering something of an original premise, as well as good performances (especially by Kingsley), the overall film is not as involving and intense as it could be. In addition, the story tends to confuse by not offering any explanations as to why Mackelway is having bizarre visions. He seems to receive fuzzy visions at the same time O'Ryan is seen conducting his private remote viewing sessions.

And the final moments of the movie don't deliver the required jolt. I don't want to give anything away but once the mystery is revealed, the action hurries itself up-thus not giving the viewer enough time to get gripped by the suspense, unlike that of Se7en. I will say that the last shot of the movie does make a unique revelation.

In the end, Suspect Zero is a mixed bag. I appreciated the original and startling plot scenario, but just felt that certain areas could've been a little tighter and the ending could've offered a little more joltage. If anything, the movie is worth checking out for the galvanizing performance by Ben Kingsley.

Video ***

The movie has been given a most strong visual look to it, thanks to director E. Elias Merhige. The periodic grainy imagery and washed up browns and reds serve the movie quite well. The anamorphic presentation from Paramount is a most effective offering. The New Mexico setting provides some terrific scenic shots, and all around image detail is nicely done. A number of darker shots don't fare as well, with slight haze and softness, but this remains an overall terrific looking disc.

Audio ***1/2

A most strong 5.1 mix is at hand here. Being a suspense movie, you'd least expect a good number of sound perks, and this sound performance has a few to spare. The remote viewing sequences pay off the best in terms of effective sound. Dialogue delivery is terrifically heard, as is Clint Mansell's well crafted score to the film. A well executed handling of sound.

Features ***

Included on this disc is a commentary track by director E. Elias Merhige, a four-part featurette titled "What We See When We Close Our Eyes", which delves into the history of remote viewing. There's also a remote viewing demonstration, an internet trailer, and an alternate ending with optional commentary, and let me say that for once I found this alternate ending very worthy of being left in the movie.

Summary:

Suspect Zero does have a lot going for it. The plot scenario is more than intriguing and the performances are dead on, but it just needed to be a bit tighter around the edges. It's not a bad film by any means, and the well-made DVD by Paramount very much serves as a reason to possibly check it out.

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