Click here to listen to the interview with Aaron Eckhart.
My hunch is that people will either adore or despise SUSPECT ZERO. Its a film that doesnt play by the rules, but does pack an enormous wallop that starts in the first scene and doesnt let up for a second. This twisted tale of good and evil, right and wrong, will discomfit the tidy illusion of safety that gets us through our lives along with that other tidy illusion, that we are somehow in control of what happens to us.
Aaron Eckhart is Thomas Mackelway, a disgraced FBI agent on his last legs starting over in the backwater of New Mexico. We know hes been through the wringer from the enormous bottle of aspirin he pulls out of his briefcase his first day on the new job. He barely has time to settle into his new desk and recover from his introduction to the local specialty, Frito pie, before he catches his first case. This, of course, is not just any case, but a ritual murder, with the car placed precisely on the state line between New Mexico and Arizona, and with one eyelid removed from the victim. Whats more, Mac starts getting a series of cryptic faxes that point to a serial killer whose victims may or may not number in the hundreds.
To tell you more would be to spoil the way the story unfolds. Suffice to say that nothing should be taken for granted. Who is doing what to whom and why are questions that circle back on themselves with an ease that reflects the maze of a plot. E. Elias Merhige, who also directed the wildly uneven SHADOW OF THE VAMPIRE, creates a steady mood of quiet dread and nervous unease throughout. Every frame of film, even shots of a woman hanging laundry, is suffused with a sense of imminent, looming peril. The camera shifts within scenes, gliding silkily from a characters point of view to an overhead shot. Tints are introduced, angles are slightly off-kilter, exposures change radically all leading to the most pertinent question of all, who is watching whom, and why?
There are a few klunks in the script. Theres a confrontation in front of a mirror that comes from nowhere and disappears back there, for example, and a few holes that should have been sketched in. Still, once you get into the gestalt of what is happening, its irresistible from that first scene I was talking about before, wherein a nondescript man sits reading a magazine in a lonely diner on a rainy night in the middle of nowhere. A stranger (Sir Ben Kingsley), with an unruffled manner, calm voice, and eyes that are burning in their intensity, sits down uninvited. He has some drawings that make the other man recoil in horror. Using sound effects, close-ups, and the merest suggestion of what the drawings portray, Merhige has us on the edge of our seats. That Sir Ben displays the creepiness of a madman operating logically, albeit in a different, insane reality, only adds to the effect, both there and throughout. Eckhart, for his part, has an interesting weatherbeaten quality, playing a fine edge of emotional uncertainty with a resolute impetus to catch the killer or lose his own sanity.
SUSPECT ZERO is a thriller that really does keep you guessing until the very last shot, which answers many questions while raising one or two others. Challenging, infuriating, hate it or love it, it has the distinction of being unforgettable.