Director: Scott McGehee, David Siegel
Screenplay: Scott McGehee, David Siegel
Producers: Scott McGehee, David Siegel
Starring: Dennis Haysbert
BBFC Certification: 15
Duration: 96 mins
Suture. Suit-yer. Suit you. The suits we wear. Black suits, white suits. Clothes maketh the man. This sort of stream-of-consciousness thought process is what Scott McGehee and David Siegel’s debut feature Suture suggests its viewers adopt. A Freudian psychologist even walks us through the process while interpreting a patient’s dream about turning into a car. This scene is key to unlocking the particular delights of Suture which so many critics failed to connect with or found sophomoric. While it is based around a bold, bizarre premise and played with the straight-faced style of a 50s crime thriller, Suture is actually a playful, often very funny film which doesn’t so much ask us to marvel at its innovations as challenge us to bring our own thought-processes, ideas and interpretations to what could otherwise seem like a fairly empty film.
When half-brothers Vincent and Clay are reunited after their father’s funeral, they remark on how uncannily they look alike. Unbeknownst to Clay, Vincent is planning to use this resemblance to stage his own death and abscond with his father’s inheritance. Dressed in new clothes that resemble his brother’s and carrying a wallet with Vincent’s drivers licence in it, Clay is blown up by a car bomb but manages to survive the blast. Languishing in hospital, doctors go about reconstructing Clay’s face and personality based on what they think they know about him. While Clay has brief flashbacks to what happened, he gradually begins to allow himself to be turned into the brother of whom he no longer has any memory.
So far, so Columbo, right? But Suture has a trump card up its sleeve. Or a Joker, depending on how you view it. You see, the actors playing Vincent and Clay, Michael Harris and Dennis Haysbert respectively, look nothing alike. At all. In fact, one is a skinny white man, the other a large black man. One has a thin, reedy voice, the other a deep, booming one. One has a cold, forbidding manner, the other a warm, kind one. They could hardly be more distinct from each other and yet in the opening fifteen minutes they continually remark on how uncanny their resemblance is. As the film goes on, other characters also make the same observation. This opens up the possibility of hundreds of thematic conversations for viewers, on subjects from the nature of identity to philosophies on how we are all essentially the same underneath. It is Suture’s refusal to clearly outline one point it is trying to make that so many critics found frustrating and yet to me it is one of the film’s big pluses. It knows it is positing a wide range of talking points and ultimately establishes itself as the audience’s film as much as the directors’. The directors take care of the fantastic look of the film, with widescreen, black and white (what else?!) cinematography paying homage to classic 50 and 60s thrillers by Hitchcock, Hiroshi Teshigahara and John Frankenheimer. The script, with its plethora of little flourishes, moves slowly forward, deliberately underlining its talking points and allowing the viewer to formulate questions in their head. Which of the two actors’ likenesses are the other characters seeing when they look at Vincent and Clay? Is there a third likeness that we are not privy to? Is that Tackleberry from Police Academy?!
That last question is one of the few definitively answerable questions raised by Suture and that answer is yes. David Graf, best known as the gun-toting cop in that popular series of comedy films, gives a good performance as a policeman trying to piece together the puzzle alongside the audience. He has a funny scene early on in which he questions an associate’s theory that Clay’s accident was a suicide attempt by asking who on earth would try and top themselves with a car bomb. It’s one of the few overtly comic moments in Suture but there are plenty of laughs if you choose to take the film as a slyly humorous proposition. If not, it’s perfectly plausible (if not quite so delicious) as an experimental thriller. Again, it’s up to the viewer to decide.
With such a simple premise, it’s easy to see how so many people took Suture for a smug film that thinks it’s cleverer than it is but to me it is a much more generous, self-aware film than that. It’s a conversation stimulator rather than a strutting peacock. It’s a film in which everything that is usually most important – plot, acting, dialogue – plays second fiddle to concept and engagement between filmmaker and film-lover. It’s a film that seems more concerned with being talked about socially than written about academically. Which seems as good a place as any to end this review. Because while I could get caught in a web of my own ideas and observations about this impish puzzle of a picture, it’s better to instead enjoy the thought of thousands of other people discovering this little gem and indulging in evenings of delirious deconstructional delight with their fellow cinephiles.
Suture is released by Arrow Films on DVD and Blu-ray on 4th July 2016. The plentiful extras include an audio commentary by the directors, interviews, deleted scenes and Siegel and McGehee’s early short film Birds Past.