Synopsis

Brothers Vincent (rich) and Clay (poor) meet up for the first time after their father's funeral and remark on how similar they look. But unknown to Clay, who thinks his life is taking a turn for the better, Vince is actually plotting to kill him with a car bomb and pass the corpse off as his own, planning to start a new life elsewhere with his father's inheritance. But Clay survives the blast and has his face, memory and identity restored in hospital... but are they the right ones? —Michael Brooke

Director

Scott McGehee

Cast

Dennis Haysbert
as Clay Arlington
Mel Harris
as Dr. Renee Descartes
Sab Shimono
as Dr. Max Shinoda
Dina Merrill
as Alice Jameson
Michael Harris
as Vincent Towers
David Graf
as Lt. Weismann
Fran Ryan
as Mrs. Lucerne

Movie Reviews

Reviewed by The_Movie_Cat 7 /10

"As you pointed out, our physical resemblance is striking"

Suture ("a sewing together" according to my dictionary) has to be one of the cleverest films I have ever seen.

Definitely not to everyone's taste, it concerns two half-brothers Clay (Dennis Haysbert) and Vincent (Michael Harris) who meet up after their father's funeral. Clay is a poor construction worker whom the rich Vincent plans to kill. The idea is that Vincent is on the run for murder and he attempts to kill his half-brother in a car bomb explosion, planted with his identity so that he will be free to continue his life without harassment, the authorities believing Vincent Towers to be dead. Unfortunately for Vincent, his brother survives, and, an amnesiac, assumes his life and identity.

If all this sounds quite good, then you have to remember that Dennis Haysbert is black and Michael Harris is white, and they have no physical resemblance whatsoever. I've seen this film trashed even by professional critics, such as the British magazine writer David Quinlan who bemoaned that `no one seems to notice'. Of course, the very fact that no one seems to notice IS the point. If I were honest, I wouldn't state for certain that I know what message the film is trying to purport. In fact, so confused was I by it, that I took the unprecedented measure of reading the other user comments before I wrote mine. I normally avoid this practise to avoid unconsciously stealing another's words, but I had to get some fix, some general consensus as to what it's all about. Some interesting theories abound, including one very good point about the two being `Yin and Yang', explaining the black and white filming. (And in delightful cinemascope too!) It is suggested that race is not an issue in this film, though I feel the scene where Clay's plastic surgeon describes his face in Caucasian terms (`Roman nose… thin lips… straight hair') is a definite reference.

In fact, the film emerges as a search for the nature of identity, as well as the nature of racial perception. Of course, you could argue that what is a straightforward plot, doubtlessly tried many times before, is merely propped up by gimmickry. And occasionally the film does over-crank it's tools, such as the glorious moment when Clay is listening to Johnny Cash singing "Ring of Fire", turned down, so it's almost subliminal, before he himself is consumed by such a ring. However, this sublime moment is gatecrashed by Clay's trolley-dash to hospital being punctuated by a full-blast rendition of the same song by Tom Jones. This does, though, act as a nice coda to the piece much later, just as the prelude is effective. The idea that you could steal another man's life and possessions, even his face but never be able to become that man acts as the central thread. As you can see from this outline, it all becomes very complex and heavy going, though it's told in a slight, minimalist fashion so you never end up with too much of a headache. What makes this film worthy of a `7', even if you don't like the basic concept and theme, is the execution. Using excellent direction, which often consists of arial shots, not one scene is given over to bog-standard point-and-shoot techniques, where the camera is merely dumped in front of the actors and left to roll while the director goes off for a sandwich. (And this is no place to bring up The Phantom Menace). Especially worthy of note are the dream sequences, and the recovered memory sequences, which are starch and fuzzy like a damaged television screen. Also outstanding are the initial scenes that showcase the climax-to-be, where the two brothers must ultimately confront one another. Haysbert's dark skin contrasted with the pure white of the bathroom as the camera looks down upon him holding a rifle in a straight line ahead is a perfectly captured image. Also worthy is the off-beat acting style, very evocative of Soviet cinema in the sixties, the deliberately off-kilter and underplayed performances giving it all a continental air. For the sheer basic conceit of it's plot I would recommend anyone see this film. It is a testament to the fact that real talent in cinema often gets buried. The writer-directors have done little work since, this film making less than $200,000 in it's own country. Meanwhile the creators of production line cinema have mountainfuls of projects lined up for them with increasing regularity. A great shame.

Reviewed by versatile_observer N/A

The most genuinely interesting noir thriller for a decade!

Although the story arc of this film is fairly conventional (murder setup, memory trauma, induced impersonation, final double-ironic betrayal) it is the ominous mood and the spectacular, yet understated gamble that the writers and director take with the audience's expectation in making the central duo -brothers- utterly different racially and physically. It is so obvious a thing to point out, but for me this reaffirmed, via an otherwise rather easily-contrived situation and plot, the whole modern interpretation of the film noir.

The concept of all reality being a facade and prey to the unexpected warpings of fate, accident and whimsical doom-laden coincidence is a fundamental aspect of noir. With the twist of no one actually making the obvious connection between the brother's difference and Dennis Haysbert's character Clay gradually absorbing the life of his (not) dead brother without incident, the surreality of the film is magnetically compulsive and as noirish as some of the best films of the 1940s and 50s in dreamy, menacing atmosphere. I found myself deeply caring what happened to Clay on his odyssey towards a (false) identity and finally claiming it.

The whole cast is good, but in this film Dennis Haysbert shows the gravita s and dignity and vulnerability that makes him the real star of the excellent TV thriller '24'. A landmark film of the '90s gone unnoticed!

Reviewed by joybran2000 N/A

A filmmaker's film

A masterpiece of black and white Cinemascope, a brilliant use of the format. Every frame is beautifully composed with meticulous production design and art direction. It is so stylized that perhaps only ardent cinephiles can really appreciate it.

The story is about a rich murderer who discovers that he has a long lost brother who looks so much like him that, if he is killed by a car bomb (in the murderer's car, in his clothes, carrying his identification), nobody will guess it isn't the murderer. The innocent brother is so poor and naive that he allows himself to be set up, but, instead of dying, he survives with a smashed face and no memory.

The justification for this implausible setup is the opportunity to explore the idea of identity by positing an amnesia patient who is fitted with a very different person's face and past. If this story had been told in a conventional way with color, a narrower screen size, realistic rather than stylized acting, and the casting of two actors who looked very similar, it would have made a reasonably interesting thriller.

The brilliance lies in the artifice, especially in casting the wonderful Dennis Haysbert in a role written for his directly opposite physical type. The filmmakers seem to expect the audience to be able to watch the movie on more than one level. The story allows the audience to consider the obvious questions about the nature of identity, but the stylization allows the audience to consider the different questions about the nature of the film experience.

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