Suspect Zero is a somewhat straightforward serial-killer thriller, but it also has an artistic vision working below the surface. The strangeness of the film is subtle, and it doesn’t make it more exciting, but it does make it more haunting. A second viewing may make me like the film more; for now let’s just say that I appreciate it.
3, 2, 1, 0
R for violence, language, some nudity
Aaron Eckhart plays agent Mackelway, an FBI agent new to the Albuquerque office, a minor-league branch that Mackelway views as a demotion. His boss has a Chicago accent (also demoted?), and for lunch, his coworkers bring him Frito pies, a delicacy it takes a native to appreciate.
Working with former partner Fran (Carrie-Anne Moss), he starts investigating a series of murders. The last of three victims had been suspected of killing the other two. At the end of the chain of killers of killers, is there a “suspect zero?” Is this meta-murderer a vigilante, or just another psycho? And why is he taunting Mackelway with cryptic faxes?
At the other end of the story is Ben Kingsley, known lately for his roles as villains, and who, in this film, casts the shadow of a vampire. Benjamin O’Ryan, we learn, is trained in “remote viewing,” a psychic technique developed by the military and adopted by the FBI. O’Ryan was one of five agents in “Project Icarus,” which put agents inside the heads of killers and victims.
Breaking the Engagement
My initial reaction was a sense of disengagement. I never got sucked in to the movie, even with two great actors like Kingsley and Eckhart. It could have something to do with my knowledge of real-world “remote viewing,” some of which comes from Penn & Teller’s Bullshit. Then again, a movie universe is allowed to break the rules of physics, so long as it’s internally consistent.
It could also have been some minor nitpicks that kept pulling me back out of the movie. Eckhart’s character yells at a hapless towtruck driver: “Ever heard of evidentiary procedure?!?” Of course he hasn’t. What a surreal thing to say. And at the same crime scene, a digital camera has a sound like a single-lens reflex. And why does his boss speak like a Chicagoan?
Perhaps my coffee was spiked, because these odd little textural mysteries distracted me from the bigger mystery of the plot. And when the credits rolled, I was just as mystified by my own lack of a coherent reaction. I didn’t hate the movie. I didn’t love it. It’s as though I simply didn’t see it.
Second Time’s a Charm?
The film’s visual style snuck into my subconscious. Days later, I was thinking of O’Ryan’s hand-made map of remote viewings across the U.S. I thought of his face in the New Mexico desert. I thought of the thickness of the dark night-time spaces in the film, and of the menacing black semi that seemed to go where O’Ryan went.
But I couldn’t tell you whether the film is a masterpiece or a bore. Another viewing may clue me in (and an interview with director Merhige makes me eager to see it again). I wouldn’t recommend Suspect Zero to pure thrill-seekers, but I think there will be an audience for Suspect Zero, and if you’re intrigued, go for it.