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Paramount Studios presents
Suspect Zero (2004)

"No one taught us how to turn it off."
- Benjamin O'Ryan (Ben Kingsley)

Review By: Matt Peterson   
Published: April 07, 2005

Stars: Aaron Eckhart, Ben Kingsley, Carrie-Anne Moss
Director: E. Elias Merhige

MPAA Rating: R for violent content, language and some nudity
Run Time: 01h:39m:27s
Release Date: April 12, 2005
UPC: 097363419549
Genre: crime

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ BB+A- B

DVD Review

I never quite bought into the whole Sylvia Browne deal. You know, the blonde psychic with killer fingernails that seems to be on the Montel Williams Show every time I turn it on. And I find myself watching it. Often. Even though Sylvia's supposedly attuned predictions frequently seem off—sometimes eliciting the kinds of reactions one would expect if Sylvia randomly dished out her great grandmother's recipe for corned beef hash—it's always so darn watchable. Just the minor possibility of her hitting the mark keeps us enthralled. Suspect Zero takes the tired serial killer formula, adds a dash of psychic power, and gives it new life.

FBI Agent Tom Mackelway (Aaron Eckhart) is the newbie at the Albuquerque office, fleeing from a media circus in Dallas. After a perp got away scot free, Mackelway took the law into his own hands, and his career took a prompt nosedive. Ushered into the back woods of law enforcement, the edgy Agent is suffering from nasty headaches, but seems ready to start anew. His first case is a nasty one: a traveling salesman is found in his car, brutally mutilated. A distinctive emblem is present: a circle with a slash through it. It's a killer's calling card, no doubt, and Mackelway has a new obsession.

A little help is needed. Fran (Carrie-Anne Moss, sans the black leather), conveniently Mackelway's ex-lover, is called in from Dallas to assist, and the pair begins the hunt. A suspect is identified: Benjamin O'Ryan (Ben Kingsley), ex FBI agent with a deadly secret. The product of a secret military project aimed to develop "remote viewers", or psychics who can see far away events and locations by merely focusing their minds, O'Ryan may be the elusive "suspect zero." An old theory, "zero" is the ultimate nightmare: a completely random serial killer with no calling card. How can one fight an enemy with no pattern and infallible clairvoyance? As the trail grows dark and missing persons cumulate, Mackelway's mission becomes personal, revealing the mind's power to fight crime.

Sounds crazy, right? What's interesting about this film is that the concept of "remote viewing" is entirely real. A project declassified in the mid-90s, these "remote viewers" were utilized to spy and track down serial killers through the power of the mind, and the results were pretty accurate (see the extras for more info on this). Ben Kingsley has minimal screen time here, but he is entirely convincing and unflinchingly searing as "remote viewer" O'Ryan. This is a fine performance that elevates an otherwise unspectacular film. Eckhart and Moss also do a good job of capturing a passion for law enforcement and each other.

E. Elias Merhige (director of the much admired Shadow of the Vampire) takes a The Silence of the Lambs feel here (with some strains of Se7en), giving Suspect Zero a kind of vintage look. His technique and visuals are solid; this film looks good, and plays on all the expected notes: those popular psychic flashes, and O'Ryan's obsession with leaving convenient clues for his "best friend" Mackelway (something that can grow a bit tiresome). I always weep for the production designers that have to create those meticulously detailed serial killer notebooks and papers—the ones with the same phrases, emblems or numbers all over them. Young production designers must get assigned to serial killer films as a form of ritual hazing. The addition of "remote viewing" adds a fresh dimension that creates some interest, and outweighs the lengthy scenes that involve poring through all those blasted killer-created scrawlings.

Is there something beyond the physical realm? Most certainly. I have no doubt we are far more than the sum of flesh and bone. I'm just not sure Sylvia Browne can pick up on it, but Kingsley makes me believe he can. Who thought psychics could infuse new life into the Silence spinoffs? Maybe they did, several years ago...

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer is good, but can be soft and quite grainy. Detail is decent, as is contrast and color, which is appropriately muted. Not as clean or as sharp as one may expect for such a new film, but serviceable.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
English, Frenchyes

Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby 5.1 audio is quite active. There are plenty of creepy soundscapes to be had here, many of which blend in with the odd musical score. These effects shift from channel to channel, creating an effective surround experience. Still, most of the audio is front centered.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 21 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring Alfie, Enduring Love, The Machinist, Coach Carter
1 Alternate Endings
5 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director E. Elias Merhige
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extra Extras:
  1. Easter Egg
Extras Review: First up is a feature length audio commentary by director E. Elias Merhige. This is certainly not one of the best commentaries I've heard; Merhige's comments sound more like an audio descriptive track for the visually impaired. Granted, he has some fine insignts into moments and motivations, but there is a bit too much narration here.

Next is a featurette on the aforementioned "remote viewing" entitled What We See When We Close Our Eyes. This truly intriguing piece breaks down into four parts, including How We See, Remote Viewing, Psychic Spying, A Non-Local World (30m:56s total). The material here is more documentary in nature, delving into the phenomenon of "remote viewing" with comments by actual viewers who served in the US military. If you need futher evidence, look to the Remote Viewing Demonstration (10m:39s), were director Merhige tests his own psychic powers with some fascinating results.

A wisely cut alternate ending (00m:58s) is included in nonanamorphic widescreen, with optional commentary by the director. If they had ended the film this way, well, it would have been bad.

You will also find an "internet trailer" for the film, previews for other Paramount titles, and an easily accessible Easter Egg. On the first Special Features page, highlight the "Main Menu" button, arrow left and press enter to see a short featurette (04m:59s) with Taoist Master Dr. Wu on how to open your "third eye." Beat that!

One final note: don't watch the included trailer or even read the back of the cover art. Both give away one of the biggest twists in the film.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

Suspect Zero is by no means a great film, but it's an intriguing twist on the standard serial killer plot. The real life concept of "remote viewing" is brought to the screen with a searing performance by Ben Kingsley. While I'm not going to highly recommend this, I will say it's at least worth a rental. Get your third eye ready.


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