Above Suspicion

DIGITAL REVIEW:

Theatrical, Digital and VOD 5/7/21;
Disc Street Date 5/18/21;
Lionsgate;
Drama;
$19.98 DVD, $21.99 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘R’ for sexual content and drug use throughout, language and some strong violence.
Stars Emilia Clarke, Jack Huston, Sophie Lowe, Austin Hébert, Karl Glusman, Chris Mulkey, Omar Miller, Kevin Dunn, Thora Birch, Johnny Knoxville.

The circumstances surrounding the first FBI agent convicted of murder are explored in Above Suspicion, a rudimentary crime thriller more interested in illicit intrigue than character study.

Emilia Clarke of “Game of Thrones” stars as Susan Smith, who begins the story with “American Beauty”-style narration informing the audience that she’s dead. The film is based on the true story of her involvement with Mark Putnam (Jack Huston), an up-and-coming FBI agent looking to take down a criminal ring in a small town in Kentucky in the late 1980s.

He recruits Susan as an informant, since her former husband (Johnny Knoxville) is one of the major drug dealers in the town. She takes the gig partly because she needs the money he pays out for tips on criminal activity, but also because she’s enamored with his clean-cut image and his seemingly perfect family life. They begin a sexual affair with ultimately tragic consequences when she can’t accept being little more than a white trash fling for him.

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The film has its moments, particularly when Clarke ramps up the sex appeal, but the details surrounding Putnam’s case and how he ends up roping Susan into it are somewhat muddled for the expediency of getting to their love affair — which is, admittedly, the film’s primary selling point.

The movie has some filmmaking pedigree behind it, having been directed by Phillip Noyce (Clear and Present Danger) and penned by Chris Gerolmo, Golden Globe nominated screenwriter of Mississippi Burning. First announced in 2016, the film has been finished since 2018 and awaiting a wide release, after a few showings in 2019.

Lionsgate Releasing Crime Thriller ‘Above Suspicion’ in May

Lionsgate will release the crime thriller Above Suspicion in select theaters, on VOD and via digital sellthrough May 7, followed by a Blu-ray Disc and DVD release May 18.

Directed by Phillip Noyce (Clear and Present Danger) and written by Chris Gerolmo (Mississippi Burning), the film is based on the true story of one of the most notorious crimes in FBI history. Emilia Clarke (“Game of Thrones”) stars as Susan Smith, a young woman desperate to escape a seedy life of crime and drugs in a Kentucky coal mining town. When a newly minted FBI agent named Mark Putnam (Jack Huston, “Boardwalk Empire”) recruits Susan as his informant for a high-profile case, she believes her bad luck may finally be changing. But as Susan and Putnam’s relationship deepens, so does the danger, setting them both on a collision course with deadly consequences.

The cast also includes Sophie Lowe, Austin Hébert, Karl Glusman, Chris Mulkey, Omar Miller, Kevin Dunn, Thora Birch and Johnny Knoxville.

The film is rated ‘R’ for sexual content and drug use throughout, language and some strong violence.

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Nightmare Origins of Lionsgate’s ‘Antebellum’

The frightening thriller Antebellum from Lionsgate and QC Entertainment — the producer of Get Out and Us — was fittingly inspired by a bad dream.

Filmmakers Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz trace the origins of the film to a nightmare Bush had. “This nightmare was about a woman named Eden,” Bush recalls. “The experience was horrific and so real that I immediately wanted to talk about it with Chris. It felt like my ancestors had visited me to tell me the story. We thought it had the makings of an exciting short story and film.”

Through Eden (Janelle Monáe), Antebellum — which became available through premium VOD Sept. 18 — explores a nightmare from which America seems unable to awake: the country’s original sin of slavery.

The story centers on Veronica (also played by Monáe), a Ph.D. sociologist and best-selling author whose books explore the disenfranchisement of Black people in the United States. Veronica travels to New Orleans for a speaking engagement and uncovers a horrific secret that connects her to the enslaved Eden.

“I felt like I know, love and respect so many women who reminded me of Veronica — powerful, community-serving, strong-willed women who refuse to have their voices silenced as they represent those who are marginalized,” Monáe says. “I wanted to take on a character that could make us feel proud, especially in today’s climate.”

As a speaker and writer, Veronica’s voice takes on a symbolic power.

“The concept of silencing Black people is pure horror,” Monáe explains. “Chris and Gerard leaned into the framework of a psychological thriller to depict these horrors.”

As in any horror tale, there are villains on the plantation where Eden is enslaved — played by Jack Huston, Eric Lange and Jena Malone (“Hunger Games” franchise).

“The way that Chris and Gerard move between these two worlds is not only clever, but necessary to tell the story,” Malone says. “They pull the rug out from under you so you can view these really intense things in a new way.”

(L-R): Gabourey Sidibe, Janelle Monáe and Lily Cowles in Antebellum

A world away from Eden’s plantation life, and before embarking upon her own harrowing journey, Veronica meets up with two friends, Dawn (Gabourey Sidibe) and Sarah (Lily Cowles), for a night on the town in New Orleans. Sidibe (Academy Award nominee, Precious) describes Dawn as “affluent and filled with black girl magic.” Her character lends a levity to the proceedings, but the frivolity of the trio’s night out is interrupted by moments of tension that create an ominous mood.

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“There’s a repeated micro-aggression that’s aimed at Veronica and Dawn — the two women of color — that Sarah is aware of but perhaps doesn’t completely understand,” Cowles says.

Throughout the production is the ominous feeling that history is encroaching on the present — made all the more potent by the fact that scenes were filmed on a real plantation, the Evergreen Plantation, located on the Mississippi River, about 40 miles northwest of New Orleans.

“We actually wanted and had committed to finding and identifying a real plantation, and honoring the ancestors,” Renz points out. “As soon as we arrived at Evergreen for a location scout, we knew we had to film there. The ghosts of enslaved people are stained on the trees and on the blades of grass. It’s in the air and soaked into the wood of those cabins. You can feel that energy; it’s palpable.”

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past,” reads the William Faulkner quote that begins the film.

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While Antebellum was meant to be a mind-bending mystery that unfolds as a metaphor for the current climate of racism, the filmmakers did not anticipate how the sins of the past would jump to the fore again in the current political climate.

“When we conceived Antebellum, we did not — could not — envision the way that systemic racism would break through to force the meaningful conversation we desperately need. But it has,” says Bush. “What we did intend was for the film to force the audience to look at the real-life horror of racism through the lens of film horror. We’re landing in the middle of the very conversations that we hoped Antebellum would spur. So to release the film in this environment is all we could ask for — as artists, we’re grateful to have the opportunity to add our voices in this cultural moment.”