“Suspect” (1987)

by A.J. Hakari

What’s a Blog-a-Thon? This blog-a-thon is a challenge; its participants have chosen other films the other has not seen to watch and review.

September Blog-a-Thon criteria? Hidden ’80s gems.

Why did Marcey choose this for A.J.?“I picked out this film for A.J., again, as it fits the criteria we set for this blog-a-thon. It is a forgotten-about ’80s film, and even though it has been a few years since I’ve seen it, it has stuck with me. I thought it had an intriguing story, one that kept me watching and interested throughout. I actually really liked Cher in this; it was a performance that she managed to disappear into. Dennis Quaid and Liam Neeson are also rather memorable, and in my opinion, this is certainly worth a look.”

And now…A.J.’s review…

For as long as I’ve been conscious of Cher in movies, her time has largely been spent playing Cher — literally and figuratively. These days, I’m not sure what’s been holding her back from being as adventurous an actress as she was in the ’80s, but it’s certainly not a lack of talent; she didn’t win an Oscar for her autotuning prowess. Suspect may appear to be just an average legal pulsepounder (which it kinda is), but in terms of a performer’s own persona transcending their given role, Cher does a bang-up job. You don’t see her in Suspect as the camped-up divabot she’s become lately, which allows you to enjoy the film more so and even look past its occasional narrative missteps.

Christmas has come to Washington, D.C., and it’s brought with it two horrible deaths. First a Supreme Court justice commits suicide, and not long after, his secretary is found with her throat cut. Homeless deaf-mute Carl Wayne Anderson (Liam Neeson) is quickly fingered for the murder in what seems like an open-and-shut case that’s assigned to long-suffering public defender Kathleen Riley (Cher). However, the deeper she digs into Carl’s fragile psyche, the more Kathleen is convinced that there’s more to the crime than meets the eye — a sentiment shared by Eddie Sanger (Dennis Quaid). A smooth-talking lobbyist stuck with jury duty, Eddie covertly teams up with Kathleen to uncover any evidence that might spare Carl, evading not only the true perpetrators but a judge (John Mahoney) who’s not afraid to disbar her in a heartbeat.

For a long time, I lumped Suspect in with the likes of Music Box, Class Action, and other courtroom dramas with a female protagonist from that time. To be honest, they all felt like the same movie on the surface, so I never paid them much mind, but in the case of Suspect at least, I apologize for passing judgment. The movie sure hedges its bets in wanting to come across as socially-upstanding as possible, speaking on behalf of the hearing impaired, the vocally deficient, and the forgotten man. Fortunately, Suspect doesn’t cram its values too hardly in your face, so it can concentrate on being an engaging — if not wholly sound — legal potboiler. A big help is the added twist of Cher and Quaid’s characters having to work together outside of the courtroom without getting caught; one particularly tense sequence has Mahoney’s judge nearly catching them hunting evidence in a law library.

Then again, this angle doesn’t always work in Suspect‘s favor, as the “whodunit” aspect of the plot doesn’t always get the focus it needs. So little time is given to tracking down what may or may not be the real killer, you almost forget about it until Kathleen starts being stalked in darkly-lit corridors and basically pulls the big revelation out of her heinder at the end. But none of these are deal-breakers, and Suspect gets along very well in the end. The story moves fast and is given an authentic setting, and the ensemble cast is more than competent at getting us invested in the proceedings. Cher is terrific as the world-weary but hopeful Kathleen, Quaid is all charm and million-dollar smiles, and in a tough role that could’ve easily been pandering and sappy, Neeson is great at emphasizing Carl’s more sad and haunting aspects.

Suspect is about on par with the best John Grisham adaptations, though without having to be as showy or bombastic. It’s simplistic, but it works, doing enough to earn your interest while not getting too loopy with the plot twists. Suspect is a neat thriller that, like my good pal Marcey said, is definitely worth checking out sometime.

(Be sure to read Marcey’s review of my recommendation, Swimming to Cambodia, at her website, SuperMarcey.com!)