Back to IndieWire

ABFF 2013 Review: ‘The Suspect’ Explores Race Relations in Unpredictable Thriller

ABFF 2013 Review: 'The Suspect' Explores Race Relations in Unpredictable Thriller

The Suspect was conceived two years ago by Stuart Connelly, author who co-authored the Martin Luther King, Jr. biography Behind The Dream: The Making of the Speech that Transformed a Nation

Connelly’s first feature film, which premiered over the weekend at the 2013 American Black Film Festival, stars Mekhi Phifer and Sterling K. Brown as two social scientists who infiltrate a small midwestern town in order to explore law enforcement’s racism and bigotry in the isolated rural area.  

A black man robs a bank in the small town. Phifer’s character is seen walking along the side of the road. He is stopped and arrested soon after, and brought into a cell for questioning regarding the robbery. The general interrogation style, which is being recorded, is obvious indication of racial profiling. The word “boy” is thrown about; the officials perception of “you all look alike” is readily apparent, and the sheriffs are more keen on securing a conviction than seeking real evidence and fair witness identification. After all, there is no evidence linking “the suspect” to the robbery.

Since this is an experiment (we don’t find out right away), the suspect buys time and almost plays along, egging on the officials for more proof of plain bigotry in order to justify the experiment. 

While watching, I questioned the plausibility of such experiment; but it’s a film, and its hypothetical premise allowed for some peculiar and interesting exploration of race dynamics. Although, such dynamics may be apparent and/or not subtle: racist law officials trying to convict innocent black men, the latter who, are educated professionals playing the race card. Yet, as the film progresses, the mystery heightens and clues to what’s really behind this experiment are slowly revealed. 

Without giving much away, our suspect’s partner, played by Brown, is in charge of returning the money to the bank, come back to the station and clear the suspect. They have gotten away with this experiment once before. However, things go awry when Brown’s character doesn’t return, and the suspect is forced to come clean – well sort of – to the officials, and along with them, the suspect must now find his partner.

I only wish the real motive behind the experiment would have been unveiled relatively earlier in the film. There are plenty of flashbacks; but one may grow frustrated, especially during once scene while the suspect is telling his partner about a plan. He’s watching something on a projector, which clearly has him distraught. 

However, the modestly-produced Suspect catapults into a big unexpected climax towards and at the very end of the film. Nothing is what it seems, and our black scientists may not be so *heroic* after all. The unique thriller has plenty of twists and turns, and succeeds with its unpredictability. It’s also a film you may ponder upon and appreciate more once it’s over, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. 

Sign Up: Stay on top of the latest breaking film and TV news! Sign up for our Email Newsletters here.

This Article is related to: Reviews and tagged

Get The Latest IndieWire Alerts And Newsletters Delivered Directly To Your Inbox