Review by Dan Skip Allen
Phillip Noyce is a well-known Australian director who has directed seventeen feature films in different genres, most of which are in either drama or crime or something to do with these two genres. Even though Above Suspicion has to do with the Dixie mob, it's still considered a crime film because it deals with drugs, death, and FBI agents. So Noyce has stuck to his guns with another crime-riddled film set in Kentucky.
Susan Smith (Emilia Clarke) is a drug dealer in Pikesville, Kentucky. When a young up-and-coming FBI agent, Mark Putnam (Jack Huston), gets stationed in the local office, he tries to make a name for himself by breaking the local drug trade in that area. He convinces Susan to be a confidential informant. She has to snitch on her husband and people she's known and lived around her whole life. Things aren't as cut-and-dry as this, though. They get caught in a web of events that could take them both down.
This story was written by Joe Sharkey, a New York Times columnist. He usually writes about business in his column. In his novels, he focuses on criminal activity, deceit, and death. The same goes for his book from which he wrote the script for Above Suspicion. He knows this world in and out. Sometimes adapting a novel into a script, you need to be careful not to have too many characters which take away from the main plot of the film. This film has this problem. There are a couple of subplots that aren't necessary for the overall flow of the film.
Besides the two main characters, there are a nice group of co-stars in the film, needed or otherwise. Johnny Knoxville stars as Susan's abusive husband, and Sophie Lowe plays Mark's wife. She is just in the middle of this crazy scenario between Mark and Susan. Austin Hebert is the local sheriff. He's trying to make a name for himself. Thora Birch is Susan's sister, Karl Glusman is a local criminal, and Omar Benson Miller is another drug dealer turned informant. Everybody has a role to play in this mixed-up game.
Still, Clarke and Huston are the main focus of this film. When the film doesn't veer off into other directions, it is fine. This main plot is where the film should have focused more energy. Clarke gives everything she has as a country-fried drug addict from the south, accent included. Huston is fine as well, but I could have used a little bit more emotion from his character. The dramatic scenes weren't as dramatic as they could have been. A more seasoned actor in his place may have done better. This entire scenario seemed a little much for him as an actor playing this character of a rookie FBI agent.
The film seemed to know its place as in the location and so forth. Noyce understood that about the story. The setting was fine and the visuals matched the setting. A seasoned director like Noyce knew how to get all of this stuff right. The cinematography, the score, and the production value of the film were all on point, as well as the makeup, hairstyling, and costumes. All of this stuff worked for me in this film. The story was too convoluted though. That didn't work.
Noyce did an admirable job on this film. His expertise was evident in this production. All the crafts and below-the-line work were very good in the film. The cast was fine. The thing that really dragged this film down was the script. It had too many subplots that took the focus away from the main characters. Maybe let a more experienced screenwriter write the script instead of the author of the book.
Above Suspicion hits theaters and VOD on May 7.