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Suture Reviews

A tricky and beautifully photographed thriller, SUTURE ultimately founders on its own pretensions. Its premise is classically Hitchcockian, revolving around an exchange of guilt and identity, but the execution is pure film-school swagger: the story hinges on one brother's passing for another, but the actors who play the siblings could not look less alike. This too clever Bunuelesque conceit wears thin long before the end. Beneath his impeccably tailored white suits, businessman Vincent Towers (Michael Harris) is a scoundrel. He's suspected of murdering his wealthy father, and sees only one way out: to fake his own murder and start fresh. At his father's funeral, he discovers the means to carry off this deception: a half-brother, Clay Arlington (Dennis Haysbert), whom he never knew existed. Vincent makes false overtures of friendship to Clay, invites him to visit, and then concocts a sudden, pressing business engagement that will require an overnight trip out of town. Dressed in Vincent's clothes, driving Vincent's car, Clay is meant to be blown to bits when Vincent triggers an ingenious car bomb. But it doesn't quite work. Clay is burned beyond recognition and robbed of his memory, but he lives. Plastic surgeon Renee Descartes (Mel Harris) reconstructs his face from photographs and videotapes of Vincent; psychiatrist Dr. Shinoda (Sab Shimono) tries to unlock his memories. Clay/Vincent--the false Vincent--and Dr. Descartes fall in love, the real Vincent plots to recover his life, and the police try desperately to nail the false Vincent for patricide. It all concludes with a shootout between the two brothers, in the appropriately circular bathtub of Vincent's house. When the smoke clears, the real Vincent is dead, his face obliterated by a shotgun blast. Lack of evidence forces the police to leave the false Vincent alone, and Clay, now Vincent in the eyes of the world, marries Renee and slips permanently into another man's life. In synopsis, SUTURE seems a pretty conventional thriller. But it's all in the telling, and in SUTURE, seeing is not being able to believe your eyes. The film's dominant conceit lies in the casting of Dennis Haysbert--stocky, broad-featured, and black--and Michael Harris--slender, ferret-faced and white--as near-identical half-brothers. The first time Vincent alludes to their remarkable similarity, the mind boggles; you wonder, if only for a second, whether you missed something really important while you were reaching down for your popcorn. It's a great moment, a just about foolproof intellectual gotcha! But so what? SUTURE doesn't hide its arty intentions. Widescreen black-and-white, ravishingly beautiful though it is, isn't the mainstream norm in the '90s, and the title evokes a world of arcane film theory. Suture is the process by which the spectator is theoretically bound into the filmic narrative, generally through cinematic conventions (e.g., P.O.V. and shot/reverse shot structure) that compel the viewer to identify with characters on screen. Hence SUTURE's single, elaborate joke: the identification of Clay and Vincent within the narrative, like the spectator's identification with the narrative, is persistently, jarringly disrupted. The switched identities, police investigation, and imperilled love story all pale, if one may use the term, before the unimpeachable reality of Haysbert's skin. This isn't Fassbinder's DECEIT, whose plot revolves around a similar visual conundrum, a man planning to fake his own death by murdering a man who looks just like him, when we can see they don't look alike at all. In DECEIT, we're meant to wonder about the protagonist's perceptions; in SUTURE we're expected to question our own. Why are we discomfited when other characters accept Clay as Vincent? Is our thinking hopelessly mired in racial cliches? Are we so rigid in our approach to the world that we can't have our eyes opened by such a cleverly disjunctive visual strategy? No. SUTURE's cleverness is all theoretical. As a six-minute skit, SUTURE might well have been subversively funny, but at feature length, it's a one-prank picture that quickly wears out its welcome. It's neither a deadpan hypertextual joke (it's not funny) nor a successful intellectual exercise in convention-busting. Since the mystery doesn't work for one moment--because viewers can't stop wondering what's wrong with everyone who mistakes Clay for Vincent--there's no reason to care about the way in which the film manipulates the conventions of the genre. Producer/directors Scott McGhee and David Siegel, artists who began making films in 1989, are full of ideas, but they're trapped in a way of thinking so insular that one suspects they have no idea why other people don't find SUTURE as amusing as they do.