Can a single great acting performance rescue the cack-handed efforts of a duff director? Or will that director end up destroying the sterling work of a talented actor? In the case of Under Suspicion, the answer to both questions is a qualified no. Although this is a disappointment overall, you'll walk out of the cinema knowing that you've seen one of the performances of the year.
Quite simply, it's a case of cast and crew mathematics failing to add up. If your two leading men boast resumés including The French Connection, Unforgiven, Bonnie&Clyde, Glory and The Shawshank Redemption, then audiences will be expecting on-screen fireworks. But put them in the care of a director whose last three movies were Lost In Space,
The Ghost And The Darkness and Blown Away, and you're virtually guaranteed an exercise in style over content. The story's structure, centred on a series of behind-closed-doors interrogations, is set up to ensure that sparks fly when Gene Hackman and Morgan Freeman clash heads. But, even with some intriguingly staged flashbacks to the crimes, director Stephen Hopkins fails to keep the audience hooked as he lets the whodunit unravel ineptly.
And yet somehow Hackman shines in this uninspiring mess. He pulls audience sympathy this way and that, making his character paranoid about his wealth and status, and bitter about the gulf in age between him and his wife. But the actor always allows Hearst a shred of dignity even as his private life is thrown under a merciless spotlight.
Freeman, as ever, commands respect with a low-key turn that doesn't step on Hackman's toes, while Monica Bellucci fails to convince as an ice-cool femme fatale. But this is Hackman's show, and his creation of a psychologically real character who's suffering huge inner complications is 10 times as good as anything Under Suspicion deserves.
Gene Hackman turns in an actor's showcase, but the tension that builds in the two-hander scenes between him and Morgan Freeman instantly disappears when the focus of the film moves elsewhere. Great character study, terrible murder mystery.