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Suspect Zero
2004 - R - 100 Mins.
Director: E. Elias Merhige
Producer: Paula Wagner, E. Elias Merhige
Written By: Zak Penn, Billy Ray
Starring: Aaron Eckhart, Ben Kingsley, Carrie-Anne Moss, Harry Lennix
Review by: Joe Rickey
Official Site:

What in the name am I looking at?
After a high profile incident involving a past case hits the headlines all around the U.S., FBI agent Thomas Mackelway (Aaron Eckhart) is promptly sent off to the New Mexico branch of the agency where it is expected he will spend the rest of his career out of the limelight as a paper shuffler.

Unexpected occurrences though drive him back into the game as the maimed body of an unassuming traveling salesman is found at a nearby diner. The body had a big circle with a slash through it carved into its back in blood. It isn’t long before the bodies start piling up and when the third victim is someone Mackelway knows, he believes the killer is targeting him; trying to send him some sort of cryptic message. The message soon becomes clear when, along with his partner and former lover Fran Kulok (Carrie-Anne Moss), Mackelway makes the disturbing discovery that all of the victims were serial killers themselves.

This revelation leads him to conduct further research into how a killer could know that the people he is killing are serial killers themselves. Mackelway stumbles upon a top secret program funded by the U.S. Government known as “Project Icarus” whereby trainees are taught to utilize a form of hypnosis called “remote viewing” in order to peer into the minds of killers as a way of tracking them. The subject he becomes most interested in is one Benjamin Ryan (Ben Kingsley), a trainee who reportedly went a little crazy after failing at Project Icarus. Ryan himself is tracking one particularly sadistic killer who abducts young children, takes them back to his place, and kills them before freezing their remains. The chase is now on as Mackelway attempts to apprehend Ryan while Ryan attempts to locate and kill his own target.

‘Suspect Zero’ is a textbook example of there being too much plot for one movie to handle. This far too often leads to characters explaining what has just occurred and what different terms mean (i.e. “Suspect Zero” refers to a killer being able to get away with murdering numerous people because of there existing no pattern to who is murdered or how they are killed). There is little enjoyment when it is necessary for a film to explain everything to the viewer. The problem is, though, unless the terms were explained, the viewer would be even more in the dark than they already are because Zak Penn and Billy Ray’s screenplay is overflowing with subplots almost to the point of exhaustion.

There is enough here for two or three different films, not just a single film that attempts to tackle it all and inevitably ends up failing at most of what it tries to accomplish.

That’s not to say that the film doesn’t do anything right. Director E. Elias Merhige (‘Shadow of the Vampire’), with the aid of cinematographer Michael Chapman, gives the film a very distinctive look and feel. The washed out color palette combined with the often sun-drenched landscapes of New Mexico lend the film an effectively unsettling aura. Similarities in this area may be drawn to a film such as ‘Seven’ but I found that the film ‘Suspect Zero’ most resembles in look as well as plot is Bill Paxton’s serial killer thriller from 2002 titled ‘Frailty.’ Both films utilize the idea of one being able to see into the past and future. Not only that, both feature a killer who believes that what he’s doing is right because the people he’s killing are themselves bad people. Therefore, if you liked ‘Frailty’ you may like the similarly themed ‘Suspect Zero.’

The film also benefits from solid performances on the part of both Ben Kingsley and Aaron Eckhart. Kingsley is a conflicted soul; a man who believes in what he is doing, “Taking out the trash” as he calls it. The talented actor does the most with the given persona to craft an intelligent and oftentimes powerful performance. Eckhart meanwhile, is himself a man of many internal and external conflicts, a lost soul searching for new meaning in a life and a career that he has bungled. Given the depth of the aforementioned performances, it is rather disappointing that Carrie-Anne Moss is both bland and unlikable in the limited screen time her character is allotted.

A film like ‘Suspect Zero’ begs for a rewrite or two, because, if done correctly, it could have been a superbly original film. As is though, it is yet another merely average entry into the ever-growing serial killer thriller sub-genre.

Movie Guru Rating
Below Average.  Mediocre. Has substantial flaws, but is watchable. Below Average.  Mediocre. Has substantial flaws, but is watchable. Below Average.  Mediocre. Has substantial flaws, but is watchable.
  2.5 out of 5 stars

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