Suspect Zero, Dir. E. Elias Merhige

Intermedia Film / Lakeshore Entertainment

Starring: Ben Kingsley, Aaron Eckhart, Carrie-Anne Moss

Reviewed by North

Despite an extremely respectable cast—Kingsley in particular has been on very fine form in the last few years—a high body count and a passably intelligent script, this film does not seem to have been a big hit in theatres, and this reviewer first came across the DVD in the 'sale' section of Blockbusters. It is true that Suspect Zero is probably neither original enough for the high-brow market (with shades of Seven, Minority Report, and The Pledge), nor straightforward enough to be a great commercial success, but it nevertheless deserves better than relegation to the bargain bins.

Eckhart is FBI agent Tom Mackelway, assigned to a new post after a six month suspension for illegally abducting a serial killer/rapist who was on the verge of escaping justice. Barely has he had time to claim his new desk—with a migraine already starting—when he starts to recieve anonymous faxes containing references to a "Suspect Zero", and missing person reports from someone who seems to know more about these apparently unrelated killings—thousands of miles apart with no apparent patterns—than anybody should. His former partner, Agent Fran Kulok (Moss, in moody, unapproachable mode) is called in to double up on the case, but her hostility and lack of faith in Mackelway's instincts echo those of his director, and he is constantly warned to play by the rules and stick to the evidence.

All the clues point toward Ben O'Ryan (Kingsley), a former student of criminal psychology who has now lost all but the barest grasp on his sanity, and whose theory is behind the concept of "Suspect Zero": the criminal who breaks all of the FBI's profiling rules, who has no motives, whose crimes show no patterns, whose modus operandi is so perfect that his very existence escapes attention as no connection can be drawn between the different killings. We have seen O'Ryan track his victims with almost psychic accuracy, but what is the connection between the two apparently innocent travelling businessmen whose bodies he leaves for the FBI's attention, and the serial killer/rapist Mackelway was previously unable to nail? And the countless missing persons he seems to be claiming responsibility for? And what is Project Icarus, the existance of which everyone in the FBI claims ignorance of?

Eckhart plays the tortured Mackelway well; confused, unable to trust anyone, beset by headaches and nightmares, single-minded, and uncommunicative. But he perhaps plays the role too well, and it is not much fun watching someone beat themselves up without ever explaining why. Kingsley steals the show with a performance that is by turns manic and tragic, all rolling eyes and scalp glistening with sweat, his soul as dark and mysterious as the charcoal sketches he leaves everywhere.

Confusion and darkness sum this film up; they are both its strength and its weakness. By not compromising on the effect of the drama on its participants, Suspect Zero goes further than such films usually dare, and feels more satisfying when we reach a (partial at least) resolution. But by spending more time on the internal agony of the protagonists and the dark imagery of the crime foretold but not prevented, than on police proceedure or the explanation of what is actually going on, it is a much harder movie to watch.

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