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Sunday, February 12, 2012

ABOVE SUSPICION: SET 1 -- DVD review by porfle

I get depressed just looking at Kelly Reilly because of EDEN LAKE--that's how effective I found both the film and her performance.  In the case of ABOVE SUSPICION: SET 1, however, that depression soon turns to disappointment and, finally, disinterest. 

It's not all her fault, though.  The character created for her by author Lynda Le Plante, who follows up her endlessly impressive "Prime Suspect" series with yet another story of a female homicide detective making her way in a male-dominated force, is nowhere near as rich and multi-dimensional as the earlier show's protagonist Jane Tennison, played to perfection by Helen Mirren.  And without Mirren's talent or screen presence, Reilly is unable to supply the character of Detective Constable Anna Travis with the depth she lacks on the written page.

"Above Suspicion" begins with the callow young DC Travis joining a squad led by her late father's friend DCI Langton (Ciarán Hinds).  Langton is the stereotypical gruff, blustery, chauvinist boss who orders the female officers to fetch him coffee and food and makes the occasional sexist remark.  Fortunately for Anna, however, even this sort of character has evolved somewhat since Jane Tennison's day, and the young DC doesn't face nearly the sort of ridicule and discrimination suffered by the earlier heroine.  (The other women in the squad seem to regard their boss fondly even as they're running errands for him.)  In fact, being that Anna is the daughter of a former, highly-respected colleague, Langton pretty much nursemaids her along. 

Not that she needs much help, since she's one of the luckiest rookie cops ever.  After throwing up at her first murder scene and fainting dead away during the post-mortem (which is understandable considering the realism of the worm-ridden, ultra-gruesome dead bodies concocted for the show by its FX staff), she begins to stumble upon major pieces of evidence with amazing providence and happens to notice little things overlooked by her experienced peers.  At one point during their investigation of a series of prostitute killings, Anna's intuition leads to the discovery of a secret closet compartment filled with evidence.

The initial two-episode pilot is interesting enough, as the identity of the serial killer is narrowed down to two suspects, one of which happens to be a world-famous film celebrity.  Jason Durr gives an impressive performance as movie star Alan Daniels, whose interrogation scene is perhaps the most harrowing and intense sequence in the entire series.  Here, "Above Suspicion" (the title referring to arrogant suspects whose obvious guilt is frustratingly difficult to prove) lives up to its promise in a way that is rarely seen.

Next comes the three-part story "Above Suspicion: The Red Dahlia", in which a copycat killer re-enacts the notorious Black Dahlia murder.  Surprisingly, neither Langton nor anyone in his squad have heard of the original case (it's only one of the most famous unsolved murders of all time) so it takes them forever to make the connection.  There's another extremely gruesome body from the FX department, plus some horrific actual photographs of a post-mortem Elizabeth Short (the real-life "Black Dahlia") whose exploitative overuse for the sake of shock value seems gratuitous.

After coming out of the gate with such brilliance in her first case, Anna's subsequent newbie mistakes tend to make her seem a bit dense at times.  This is particularly true in her naive dealings with inquisitive newspaper editor Richard (Edward MacLiam), who woos and beds her with such transparent intent that we're not the least bit surprised to see the sneaky cad rifling through her case folders while she's asleep.

This is such an incredibly stupid lapse on Anna's part that henceforth it's hard to have much respect for her character.  Strangely enough, though, it finally puts some dramatic spark into the story when she's subsequently chewed out by Langton and ostracized by her co-workers, serving to derail her storybook rapid-advancement (that is, until her next brilliant flash of intuition puts her right back on track again).

This time, the suspect who fancies himself "above suspicion" is Charles Wickenham (Simon Williams), the patriarch of an upper-class but incredibly dysfunctional family whose kinky eccentricities and other downright weird behavior give the story some nicely twisted moments.  Not only is there evidence of the family engaging in incestuous BDSM sessions, but Wickenham's two-fisted daughter Justine actually pounces on DC Travis in one scene and pummels her senseless.  Despite its shortcomings, the story is pretty engaging and ends on a nicely morbid note.  Venerable actress Sylvia Syms is a welcome presence as the family's housekeeper and nanny, Mrs. Hedges, who knows more than she's telling.

The two-disc DVD from Acorn Media is in 16:9 widescreen with Dolby sound and English subtitles.  Extras include two behind-the-scenes docs, cast and crew interviews, photo galleries, and more.

While lacking the gravitas of La Plante's earlier work and not nearly as memorable, "Above Suspicion" is brisk, fast-moving storytelling that is shot, as one castmember describes it, in "the American style."  But the main character advances so quickly in the first couple of episodes that we wonder how much room has been left for her to grow and learn as a detective.  And the hint of an impending and ill-advised romantic relationship between Anna and Langton at the end of episode five just doesn't bode well at all.  (More interesting is Langton's affair with his no-nonsense female boss Commander Leigh, well-played by Nadia Cameron-Blakey.)  While passably entertaining, ABOVE SUSPICION: SET 1 is pretty weak tea after "Prime Suspect" and fails to leave one with a sense of keen anticipation for more. 

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