Review: A Gorgeous Cast Isn’t Enough to Keep Underwhelming Crime Drama Above Suspicion Interesting

For a film based on true events concerning the first-ever conviction of an FBI agent for murder, very little about Above Suspicion seems believable. Which is not to say it isn’t a certain type of sleazy, ridiculous fun; but high drama it ain’t. From (of all people) veteran filmmaker Phillip Noyce (Clear & Present Danger, Patriot Games, Dead Calm, Salt), this movie follows two very different lives that collide spectacularly in a small Kentucky town where nothing good really happens and the only way for folks to make a living is by selling narcotics.

Above Suspicion Image courtesy of Lionsgate

Emilia Clarke plays Susan Smith, a local woman still living with her ex-husband Cash (Johnny Knoxville), their kids, and whatever low-life friend of Cash’s decides to drop by their mobile home. Cash is a dealer, Susan is a frequent user, and she’s always passively in search of a way to get out of the house as quickly and as far away as possible. She crosses paths with a new transplant to town, rookie FBI Agent Mark Putnam (Jack Huston), giving him information concerning a crime but also wanting to become a paid informant by using her ex’s drug connections as collateral. Being the two most attractive people in the movie, they naturally begin an illicit affair (he’s married with a newborn back home) that rocks his world and gives her hope that he will leave wife Kathy (Sophie Lowe) to be with her when she finally gets her promised witness protection deal.

Based on a novel by Joe Sharkey (adapted by Chris Gerolmo), Above Suspicion is a bit of a functioning mess. Director Noyce certainly provides a good-looking film while simply moving characters around when they need to be somewhere and shifting their emotions when the story suits it rather than in some emotionally authentic way. Huston feels so generic in this role of an ethical lawman who strays from his wife and his personal moral code for the first time in his life. He eventually begins to regret getting attached to someone who won’t just leave when he wants her to. It becomes clear at a certain point fairly early in the movie that Susan is narrating her story from beyond the grave, so at a certain point, viewers are simply left waiting for the events that lead to her ghastly demise at Putnam’s hands.

Over-qualified performers like Thora Birch (as one of the only people who doesn’t turn on Susan when she’s revealed as a snitch) and Kevin Dunn (as a veteran FBI agent who is partnered with Putnam and immediately wants to bury him for his misdeeds just because he doesn’t like him) are effectively wasted in roles that were either written small or were cut back during the editing process. One of the more interesting relationships formed in the movie is between Susan and Kathy, who become friendly before Kathy's fears about her husband’s involvement with Susan are confirmed. In a way, Susan looks up to Kathy and her perfect life with the man Susan thinks she deserves. It doesn’t take long for harmless envy to become destructive jealousy as Susan decides she would rather cause maximum collateral damage in Putnam's life than disappear quietly into the night.

Between the awkward, unconvincing coupling of Susan and Mark and a story that gets unnecessarily complicated as it goes deeper into its running time, Above Suspicion has some fantastic actors giving mostly decent performances in a story I simply couldn’t care about or get into, even on a ’90s, straight-to-video nostalgia groove (it’s not even seedy enough to rise to that level). It comes up short at nearly every turn, even when it shows some promise at times.

The film is now playing in theaters, and is streaming via VOD; it will be available on Blu-Ray May 18.

Did you enjoy this post? Please consider supporting Third Coast Review’s arts and culture coverage by making a donation. Choose the amount that works best for you, and know how much we appreciate your support! 

Picture of the author
Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a frequent contributor at /Film ( and Backstory Magazine. He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.