Anger and bitterness prevails
Old TV movies seem to get lost in the sea of time. Some are available on DVD’s (and some on Youtube) but the quality is subpar but it’s likely as good as it’s gonna get for those of us who want to revisit them. Movies like “Indictment: The McMartin Trial” (1992), “Perfect Witness” (1989), “Blackout”(1985) and mini-series like “Brotherhood of the Rose” (1989), “Deceptions” (1985) and “If Tomorrow Comes” (1986) are just a few examples I would love to see get some kind of revival either on Blu-ray or on some of the Hi-Def streaming services. Which brings me to todays movie review: “Above Suspicion” (1995).
I went to the USA with my parents in 1995 and it’s always a great place to visit. The first morning I came upon a newsstand and there was a copy of the “National Enquirer” and on the cover was a picture of Christopher Reeve on a hospital bed. The article stated he was paralyzed. Just the night before I saw a movie on TV called “Above Suspicion” and the picture on the cover was taken from that movie. Turns out the last picture Reeve made (while in good health) had him play a man that became paralyzed. Life is full of irony it seems.
Said movie was an HBO production starring Reeve, Joe Mantegna, Kim Cattrall, Edward Kerr and Finola Hughes. It’s a first rate movie, layered, emotionally involving, very well acted and written. For over twenty years now I have been watching this movie regularly. My assessment of the film’s characters has changed drastically in that time and the message of resentment, anger and vengeance has now given way to tolerance, understanding and forgiveness. Only good movies have this lasting appeal and “Above Suspicion” is a forgotten gem well worthy of rediscovery.
Be forewarned; my review is spoiler-filled!
Dempsey Cain (Reeve) is a dedicated and highly intelligent cop on the rise who’s always looking out for his kid brother Nick (Edward Kerr) who’s also on the force. Nick is having an affair with Dempsey’s wife Gail (Kim Cattrall) and there’s also a fellow cop, Alan,(Joe Mantegna) who’s displeased at how much Dempsey is impressing the top brass with his investigation skills.
During a drug bust Dempsey gets shot and is left paralyzed below the waist. Understandably he is having a hard time adjusting to his new condition and seems to sink fast into depression. Gail and Nick continue their affair and both of them have their own problems (particularly Gail) with the whole situation. One night Dempsey asks them to do him a favour; he wants them to end his life so he can secure his and Gail’s son’s financial future and end his torment of living like this.
By this time “Above Suspicion” is barely halfway through it’s running time and the plot thickens (and a spoiler filled synopsis will appear below).
Dempsey one-ups Gail and Nick and kills them both as he’s known of their affair and is disgusted with his wife and sorely disappointed in his brother after everything he’s done for him. Furthermore; shortly before shooting Nick he rises from his chair to demonstrate the level of his own deception.
Fellow cops buy into Dempsey’s story that the pair were out to kill him but Alan smells something rotten. Alan pursues the matter all the way and manages to drag Dempsey into court where he’s eventually found not guilty and remains free. Taking a last stab at proving he’s right; Alan chances to prove that Dempsey is faking paralysis with disastrous results.
Upon first viewing I rooted for Dempsey and was glad he got away with it. I viewed Gail and Nick as repellent characters and Alan as a jelous S.O.B. who got what he deserved for not leaving well enough alone. But as the years go by I’ve changed my assessment of the film and it’s ending. For one thing; Gail and Nick aren’t repellent individuals as much as simply flawed human beings. Nick is living in the shadow of his over-achieving brother and has mostly failed at everything he’s attempted in his life. Viewing Dempsey’s genuine love for him as hand-outs and reminders of his own failures; one can understand his resentment (while not justified). Gail seems to be a caring mother with a successful working career who’s lost her passion for Dempsey but is probably afraid to leave him as she clearly knows what a good person he is but she, too, seems to resent his success in everything. And then there’s Alan; in most movies these rogue cops who defy everyone else and go after the guilty party with a vengeance come up victorious but in this case he’s simply up against such a resilient and clever foe that he comes up short. Now I admire Alan’s bravery of following through on what he just knows he’s right about; too bad it costs him just about everything.
I mentioned the layered aspects of the story; not just the characters. Dempsey is indeed a clever planner as he mentions to Gail and Nick to abort the plan if anything (he repeats; “anything”) goes wrong. When Nick goes about securing a fake ID he clashes with the thug when he doesn’t bring enough cash. Dempsey told Nick how much cash to bring knowing full well that it wouldn’t be enough and the only way to come out with an ID would be with an incident; as one does occur. Gail convinces Nick to proceed with the plan anyway and that’s probably when Dempsey’s final judgement is clear in his head.
I really like this movie. It’s stuck with me all these years and I enjoyed revisiting it recently. Christopher Reeve gives an excellent performance as Dempsey and demonstrates here how capable an actor he was when given good roles. Joe Mantegna and Kim Cattrall give solid support but I feel Edward Kerr is a little out of his depth here; not terrible but not very good. As said; the script is first rate but if pressed to name something negative it would concern the overly fast forward nature of the courtroom scenes; they could easily have had more time to breathe and a longer running time wouldn’t have hurt.
It’s a treat when you come across a movie that ends up teaching you something. I remember thinking very clearly that I was pro-Dempsey here and his less-than-honorable wife and brother got what they deserved. But life has a way of teaching you humility and the saving grace of forgiveness; especially when you’re in need of it yourself. “Above Suspicion” is clearly written by a talented bunch (one of them being that quality actor William H. Macy, who shows up here in a small role) and here bitterness gets the better of forgiveness. For that fact alone the movie has more of an impact and has stayed with me for well over two decades now.