'Above Suspicion': Film Review

Phillip Noyce adapts Joe Sharkey's true-crime book about an FBI agent (Jack Huston) who has an affair with his informant (Emilia Clarke).

7/14/2020 1:21:00 AM

Phillip Noyce adapts Joe Sharkey's true-crime book about an FBI agent (Jack Huston) who has an affair with his informant (Emilia Clarke). Read THR's film review for 'Above Suspicion:'

Phillip Noyce adapts Joe Sharkey's true-crime book about an FBI agent (Jack Huston) who has an affair with his informant (Emilia Clarke).

Above Suspicion, an adaptation of Joe Sharkey's account of true events in 1988-89.Completed in 2017, the film could have been released at the height of Clarke'sGame of Thronespopularity. But Sharkey's own website describes (in the author's words) a "distribution clusterf***" in which random international theatrical engagements have left the film vulnerable to piracy long before its release in the West. A hoped-for U.S. opening in May was scuttled by the coronavirus, while UK distributors are releasing on streaming starting this week.

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A release three years ago would also have helped the film thematically, as its setting — economically devastated coal country where, according to Clarke's Susan Smith, the funeral business and the drug trade are the only ways to make any money — foreshadows an opioid crisis that, by this point, has already been the focus of several big-screen dramas. Susan isn't merely a partner with her ex-husband in supplying pills and powders to neighbors every payday; she's also engaged in some sort of welfare fraud, drawing checks from multiple states. She's a peach.

But one day, as she's walking down the sidewalk swigging cough syrup, a lightning bolt hits her. As she puts it in a voiceover the film relies on heavily throughout, she sees a man who seems to have stepped out of the perfect world of a fashion magazine. Mark Putnam (Jack Huston) is a straight-arrow G-man, newly arrived at the Pikeville, Kentucky, FBI office with wife Kathy (Sophie Lowe) and infant in tow. Hoping to be promoted to a sunnier burg in no more than two years, he immediately sets his sights on catching a serial bank robber.

But first, another crime brings Putnam to the trailer Susan still shares with former husband Cash (Johnny Knoxville). Cash is an ex-con with plenty of trouble hanging over his head, but the next couple of scenes find him, at Susan's urging, behaving as if he has the upper hand in interactions with the feds.

Susan mostly reads like a femme fatale in these scenes — she sticks her foot in Putnam's crotch and stares intensely while she and Cash are sitting at a dinner table across from him. But the movie needs her to be more vulnerable than that: As the story develops and Susan becomes Agent Putnam's informant, we're meant to believe that she's genuinely committed to a fantasy in which she'll win his heart, have his babies, kick drugs and start anew, far from this hellhole. But it's often unclear if Clarke agrees with this take on the character. Susan's smoldering come-ons look calculated, and she generally seems to see too many of the angles to really believe in fairy tales.

Susan does get Mark into bed, of course, and if this lifelong good boy feels guilty, Huston does a fine job of hiding it from us. Soon they're sampling every motel and back seat available within an hour's drive. When developments at work and home give Mark multiple reasons to pull away from her, Chris Gerolmo's script sends Susan tumbling toward

Fatal Attraction-grade obsession — even if Noyce ( Read more: Hollywood Reporter »

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