In one of those strange turn of events, a nearly forgotten Morgan Freeman movie has become one of the most viewed films on Netflix. By extension, that makes Under Suspicion one of the most streamed movies in the world right now. The 2000 crime thriller is currently the #6 most viewed film on Netflix. Pretty good for a film that was initially only released in 19 theaters in the entirety of the United States and did not come even close to breaking half a million dollars. The film stars Morgan Freeman, Gene Hackman, and Monica Bellucci, all well-respected actors who couldn’t necessarily be called box-office draws 22 years later. So what gives?
Most likely, it is that Under Suspicion is actually a great movie. Based on the 1981 French film Garde à vue (which was itself adapted from British author John Wainwright’s novel Brainwash), it is a dark, sordid exploration of trust, murder, and suspicion. But especially murder. It was initially screened out of competition at the 2000 Cannes Film Festival, and frankly, might have simply been too grim for mainstream audiences.
But no one in the film, even Morgan Freeman, can be faulted for thinking otherwise. The early 2000s were a good time for weird thrillers. In the year 2000 alone, the bizarro horror satire American Psycho, Robert Zemeckis’ Hitchcock homage What Lies Beneath, and Christopher Nolan’s chronologically-challenged mystery Memento were released. It must have seemed like a decent time to release something like Under Suspicion.
Perhaps Under Suspicion was just too much for audiences. As the film begins, Gene Hackman plays a wealthy and respected attorney in San Juan, Puerto Rico. He is about to give a speech before the annual San Sebastián Festival when the local police call him in for questioning. It turns out that the day before, he had discovered the body of a young girl who had been raped and murdered. Although nothing directly links Hackman to the murder, his behavior is strange. He changes his story and can’t account for details, but it is only when it turns out another young girl had recently been found in the same condition that he realizes that the detective played by Morgan Freeman suspects him.
Things spiral from there. Morgan Freeman’s superiors don’t want the trouble of arresting a well-respected and rich man. They let him go back to finish his speech, but bring him back after. Gene Hackman’s wife Monica Bellucci becomes involved and slowly the strained nature of their marriage comes to light. Hackman has been visiting websites advertising extremely young women, while he accuses Belluci of having an affair with her brother-in-law. Hackman admits to being attracted to very young women but denies the rapes and murders.
Under Suspicion reaches its climax with accusations of molestation and the discovery of incriminating photographs. Eventually, Gene Hackman cracks and begins to confess to the murders. Morgan Freeman records the confession and it appears the case has been solved. Then- twist! The actual killer has been caught in the act of murder. Hackman was innocent. But Bellucci has already sold him out, and the two of them realize that their relationship is utterly shattered. Hackman, destroyed by the knowledge that even the person closest to him would so easily believe he was a monster, disappears into the festival crowd. The end.
It’s a bleak movie. No wonder audiences at the time stayed away, even if they were able to find a theater playing Under Suspicion. Since 2000, Gene Hackman has retired from acting, only emerging from his post-Hollywood literary career to give one interview (and appear on a Guy Fieri show by accident). Morgan Freeman became the Voice of God and starred in blockbusters like Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. Monica Bellucci appeared in The Matrix sequels and remains an iconic model. Everyone involved went unscathed by the failure of Under Suspicion, and the movie was quickly forgotten.
This just makes the revival of this obscure thriller directed by the man responsible for Predator 2, A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child, and Lost in Space that much more odd. Chalk it up the resurgence of interest in true crime, or just to the randomness of algorithms. But no matter what the reason, people are suddenly watching this one.