DVD Review HTF REVIEW: Suspect Zero

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Scott Kimball, Apr 11, 2005.

  1. Scott Kimball

    Scott Kimball Screenwriter

    May 8, 2000
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    Suspect Zero

    Studio: Paramount

    Year: 2004

    Rated: R

    Length: 99 Minutes

    Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 (also available in a fullscreen edition)

    Audio: English and French Dolby Digital 5.1, English 2.0

    English and French Subtitles

    Closed Captioned

    Special Features: Director commentary, 4 part featurette, Remote Viewing Demo, Alternate Ending, Internet Trailer

    M.A.P..: $19.95, USD

    Release Date: April 12, 2005

    Suspect Zero is a hard film to pin down. Does one describe it as a murder mystery, or a supernatural thriller? Either categorization would be an utter failure in conveying the experience of this film. Any attempt to explain myself further would muddy waters that are already murky, because the film itself can’t decide what it wants to be.

    From green director E. Elias Merhige, Suspect Zero tries hard to be a supernatural thriller and a murder mystery. While the film has a visual flair, it succeeds at neither genre. Merhige’s first film, Shadow of the Vampire was quite well received by critics. Suspect Zero, however, fails to gather any momentum and is merely an “interesting” film, albeit with an excellent psychological edge and a fantastic visual lyricism.

    The film finds FBI agent Thomas Mackelway (Aaron Eckhart) investigating a series of strange murders. Stranger still, after some digging, Mackelway finds that each of the victims had one thing in common - they were all serial killers at large. Haunted by visions he can’t explain, and by the taunting of killer of killers Benjamin O’Ryan (Ben Kingsley), Mackelway gets caught up in a psychic phenomenon known as “remote viewing,” where a person can see things he is separated from by time and space - into the minds of killers.

    It sounds like I’ve given too much away, but I haven’t. One of the problems with this film is that it plays all its cards too early. We know the killer early on, and we know his motives. We watch as Mackelway discovers the true meaning of the killings, and as he is sidetracked into paranormal territory. In this case, the plot is too elaborate for the story. The viewer is halfway through the film before he realizes that this isn’t a mystery to be solved, and that he must just wait for the answers, which are undevinable.

    The film is interesting in its visual style, and in the compelling (if confusing) performance by Ben Kingsley. I can’t help but believe this would have been a more interesting film if it began with “remote viewing” training, and followed Kingsley’s character over time, leading to the emotional toll that must take hold when you see through a killer’s eyes every day. In other words, the film should have dispensed with the murder mystery and dealt head on with the subject we know the director wanted to tackle - that of the psychic spy.

    The Transfer
    The film is offered up in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, and is anamorphically enhanced. The image has excellent sharpness and detail, with only an occasional hint of ringing at high contrast borders.

    The color palette is variable, as the stylistic choices of this film dictates, and seems accurate to the source. Contrast is excellent, with strong black levels and bright, but restrained, whites.

    Grain is variable as style dictates, as in the source.

    The visuals could be considered a character in this film, and they are well rendered on DVD.

    Audio tracks include English and French Dolby Digital 5.1 and English Stereo.
    The English 5.1 mix features excellent frequency response and channel separation, with excellent panning directional effects from all channels, when called for.

    Dialog is consistently clear and intelligible over the sound effects and score.

    Bass response is strong in the score, with good low frequency effects when called for.

    Sound design is almost as critical to this film as the visuals. While I would have liked to have heard a DTS track, the Dolby Digital mix delivers a very nice aural experience.

    Special Features

    Commentary by E. Elias Merhige

    The first thing Merhige says is that he didn’t set out to make a film about serial killers - he set out to make a film about something deeper - the unconscious mind and its power. Merhige’s comments reinforce the notion, as I mentioned earlier, that he should have dispensed with the mystery story and focused more on the psychic aspects of the characters.

    Merhige’s approach to commentary is different from most you’ve heard. He’s almost poetic, lyrical in delivery. He becomes a narrator of the story as he relates the meaning of what you see on the screen.

    This commentary is very much an exploration of the care in the crafting of a psychological and visual medium. There isn’t a lot of technical talk about lenses and effects. The meanings of objects in the film, angles, lights and color, even the effects that infrared film conveys, are explored in depth. The smallest details, those that you likely miss on first viewing, are explained here.

    An excellent commentary.

    The following special features are not anamorphically enhanced.

    Four part featurette: What We See When We Close Our Eyes
    I’m a skeptic, and I view the “remote viewing” as seen in the film as science fiction. This is despite the fact that this documentary presents scientists, researchers, spiritualists and former members of military intelligence to talk about remote viewing.

    The documentary talks about declassified government documents and interviews practitioners and researchers in the paranormal field of remote viewing. Scientists even relate the phenomenon to theories in physics postulated by Einstein.

    Wherever you fall in the belief of the paranormal, this is an interesting half hour on the subject at the core of the film, although the documentary has little to do with the film itself (beyond a few comments from the director and a few actors).

    Remote Viewing Demonstration
    Director Merhige wanted a demonstration of remote viewing from a former practitioner. Instead, he was taught to perform the feat himself. Whether or not there is any validity to the phenomenon, Merhige seems convinced. The notes and drawings he made during his experience do contain things pertinent to what he was tasked to “see”, but they are also pretty vague impressions that could apply to many situations. The interesting part, though, was Merhige’s instant “recognition” of the place in his vision as he was being driven past it.

    Alternate Ending with Optional Director Commentary
    Less than a minute long, this is essentially a brief epilog which was discarded because it negatively impacted the tension felt at the end of the film. The director’s commentary explains his reasons for deleting this ending in more detail.

    Internet Trailer
    While it’s nice a trailer was included, wasn’t there a theatrical trailer which could have been included, as well?

    Final Thoughts
    The film is compelling, both visually and psychologically - even if the story is imperfect. There is a glimmer of greatness in its confused plot. The transfer is well done, and an interesting commentary adds to the value of this DVD.

    If only they could leave off the forced trailers.
  2. Ed St. Clair

    Ed St. Clair Producer

    May 7, 2001
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    Thanks for the help. Saw this was coming out tomorrow and was without a clue to what the film was about.
  3. TonyD

    TonyD Who do we think I am?

    Dec 1, 1999
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    Gulf Coast
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    Tony D.
    good review.

    i thnk you hit it on the head with your ideas about the movie.
    especially concerning the killer.

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