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  • Nate Adams

Review: Emilia Clarke can't rise above wobbly crime saga 'Above Suspicion'

Courtesy of Lionsgate


Based on a true story and adapted from the novel by Joe Sharkey, Phillip Noyce’s “Above Suspicion” finds Emilia Clarke playing a Kentucky drug dealer turned FBI informant in coal country where apparently the only way to make money is peddling dope or cashing fraudulent checks. Filmed in 2017, but passed around dozens of distribution circles, “Above Suspicion” finally lands stateside where audiences big on Clarke’s successful “Game of Thrones” run, will be eager to see what she’s cooking. Her transformative role as a tough-as-nails Southern dixie who isn’t afraid to kick your teeth in and slash tires with a smile should garner attention among devout fans, but it might struggle to break out beyond that inner circle until eventually landing on a streaming service. And even then, it feels like a dated, cheaply made gritty crime saga.

Set during the late ‘80s, Clarke plays Susan Smith, an narcotics peddler for her ex-husband Cash (played by a relatively tame Johnny Knoxville). Noyce, as did Sharkey’s novel, offers commentary on the inevitable opioid crisis and how big pharma was notorious for over-supplying smaller communities with drugs they didn’t need. Considering, in the last two years, several projects have been released on the subject, “Above Suspicion” loses urgency. Sandwiched between the drug trafficking is a forbidden love story among Susan and Mark Putnam (Jack Huston), a pretty-boy sheriff who just rolled into town yearning for his big break. Susan is obsessed, offering simmering voice-overs about how she thinks Putnam is gorgeous and perfect, fantasizing a life together that will most certainly never happen.

So it’s no shock when Putnam comes looking for help within Pikeville, Kentucky’s jurisdiction, Susan quickly asserts herself as his loyal confidant. But it’s more than casual meetings about which drugs are being distributed when their lustful desires get the better of them, taking advantage of every locked office space and backseat within a ten mile radius. Susan can’t believe this is anything other than a shameless fling right? Clarke tows the line between two misshapen personalities (mistress vs ass-kicker) exceptionally, but she can’t hide awkward transitions and screenwriter Chris Gerolmo’s indecisiveness.

Pikeville seems to be filled with dozens of odd and quirky characters, - like a backwoods version of “Twin Peaks” - except Noyce doesn’t offer much exploration beyond title cards and the occasional montage. A shame when Clarke leaves it all on the screen, putting Knoxville and Huston - who scowl in the corner - to shame. Sitting on the shelf for nearly five years hasn’t done “Above Suspicion” any favors, but it proves Clarke is a timeless and versatile actress who deserves better.

Grade: C

Lionsgate will release the crime thriller ABOVE SUSPICION in Select Theaters and Everywhere You Rent Movies on May 7th; on Blu-ray and DVD May 18th.


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