October 6, 2005
E. Elias Merhige,
Starring: Aaron Eckhart, Ben Kingsley, Carrie-Anne Moss, Harry Lennix, Kevin Chamberlin, Keith Campbell, Chloe Russell, William B. Johnson, Jerry Gardner, Daniel Patrick Moriarty, Nicole DeHuff, William Mapother, ,
Suspect Zero (2004) is yet another tired entry in the exhausted serial killer genre. This time out, Ben Kingsley gets his turn to play a creepy sociopath (although, he’s more John Doe from Seven than Hannibal Lector in Silence of the Lambs)—at least that’s what it seems like initially. But there is more than meets the eye to use a well-worn cliché.
Fresh from a highly publicized bungled case, FBI agent Thomas Mackelway (Eckhart) is re-assigned to the middle-of-nowhere, New Mexico (“Welcome to the minor leagues,” deadpans a fellow agent.) and right away he is attached to a robbery-homicide involving a traveling salesman found dead in his car with a zero scrawled on a piece of paper. Mackelway has his problems and we can tell this by the way he gobbles Aspirin like they’re Smarties.
He’s soon reunited with his former partner, Fran Kulok (Moss), and they get to work tracking down the killer. There’s visible tension between the two. Obviously, something happened between them on a previous case that has them banished to their current assignment. They find another body with a similar M.O. as the previous one: a zero with a slash through it and the victim has one eye-lid cut off.
It quickly becomes apparent that someone is shadowing Mackelway, toying with him and playing on his guilt from the previous case. They figure out that it is a man known as Benjamin O’Ryan (Kingsley), a mysterious figure with a theory known as “Suspect Zero,” which involves a serial killer who travels across the country killing at random, therefore leaving no discernible pattern that would lead to his capture. O’Ryan also possesses a kind of psychic ability that allows him to see things before they happen. But is he the killer, a delusional former FBI profiler or just plain crazy?
Ben Kingsley does his best disaffected killer look. One cannot help but see his character as a pale imitation of his truly frightening gangster from Sexy Beast (2000). Aaron Eckhart and Carrie-Anne Moss’ characters are forgettable stereotypes. Their no-nonsense relationship during the course of the movie is nothing we haven’t seen in an episode of The X-Files.
Director E. Elias Merhige tries to keep things interesting visually with dark, shadowy interiors; grainy, filtered flashbacks; and the occasional, unorthodox camera angle. But we’ve seen all of these off-kilter visuals before and in better movies. What happened to Merhige? After the art house success of Shadow of the Vampire (2000) it is disappointing to see him follow that up with this forgettable effort. And why does every serial killer movie try to be all bad-ass, like Seven (1995), and more often than not, fail? There are some interesting ideas presented in Suspect Zero but they aren’t carried through enough for the end result to be truly satisfying.
There is an audio commentary by director E. Elias Merhige. He kicks things off by narrating over the film’s prologue in a slightly creepy, slightly pretentious way. He states that his intention wasn’t to make a serial killer genre movie but one that explored the unconscious mind and the concept of justice. Merhige also dissects the motivations of several of the characters and examines the concept of Remote Viewing, the ability for the human mind to exist between the conscious and the unconscious.
“What We See When We Close Our Eyes” is a four-part featurette totaling 30 minutes. Remote Viewing is a based on a real program that the U.S. government spent millions of dollars on to explore the psychic potential of the human mind. This is a fascinating extra that examines the process and refreshingly relies on very few clips from the movie.
“Remote Viewing Demonstration” features footage of Merhige staging an actual Remote Viewing that included his involvement.
“Alternate Ending” with an optional commentary by Merhige brings the film full circle with the prologue but the director felt that it wasn’t satisfying enough.
Finally, there is a trailer.