Curious Yet Cliche
FBI agent Tom Mackelway (Aaron Eckhart - The Core) finds himself demoted and sent to work in New Mexico having broken the rules in bringing in a serial killer when he was stationed in Dallas. He is tormented by this mistake as much as the constant head ache which makes him chew handfuls of painkillers. But after first being called in to investigate a dead body in an abandoned car on the border as well as a couple of other murders including that of the serial killer who got released when he broke the rules he believes they have a new serial killer on their hands but one which has no modus operandi and who seems to be taunting Tom as he receives some faxes from a mysterious man who seems to know too much and leaves him clues.
I left one thing out of that synopsis because to mention it would be a spoiler but I will mention it now so if you don't want to know just buy or rent "Suspect Zero" and watch it. The thing I didn't mention in that synopsis is that the mysterious guy is called Benjamin O'Ryan and is played by Ben Kingsley. O'Ryan has the ability to remote view, to see things up close despite being nowhere near them. I mention this now as it is O'Ryan's strange ability which is the movie's unique selling point and in fairness is a good one thanks to Kingsley making O'Ryan such a creepy guy we are never sure whether he is a psychopathic serial killer or is some sort of vengeful angel with an ulterior motive. Well never sure until half way through the movie where pretty much everything is explained.
Now the idea to "Suspect Zero" is good and to be honest so is director E. Elias Merhige's vision for the movie with what I call an 80 20 split. 80% of the movie is normal, normal pacing, normal camera work and so on; it gives the audience a familiar visual base to work on. But then you have the 20% which is Merhige's own style and it can be a variety of things from a gruesome close up of an eye which has had its lids cut away to just a subtle camera movement such as in a scene where Tom climbs into his car and as he reaches across to shut the other door the camera moves in making this double zoom aspect which is simple but nice.
The trouble with "Suspect Zero" is that in that 80% which is familiar style we also get 80% which is text book serial killer movie. From Tom being haunted by a past mistake, the serial killer which taunts him personally, the female FBI agent who is his partner these are all serial killer movie cliches and are tired ones at that. It makes "Suspect Zero" hackneyed and despite the mystery over who the guy is taunting Mackelway a little bit boring.
As for the acting well Ben Kingsley is great at playing creepy guys, he has an intensity to him that when he stares it is unsettling, you just have to watch "Sexy Beast" to see how good he is at playing nasty pieces of work and unsettling characters. But then you have Aaron Eckhart who other than ferociously chewing away at aspirins fails to make Mackelway anything more than a cliche FBI agent tormented by his own demons. And as for Carrie-Anne Moss well she is sadly saddled with a character which has no real purpose other than to provide some depth for Mackelway.
What this all boils down to is that "Suspect Zero" is a mix of the curious and cliche which leaves me conflicted. The original ideas are good and Ben Kingsley delivers a typically unsettling performance yet the cliche outweighs what is original and in the end making "Suspect Zero" feel hackneyed.