Above Suspicion (1995)
Character Name: Dempsey Cain
Reviewed by Judy Thomas
On the evening news, Wednesday, May 31, 1995, five days after Christopher Reeve was injured in an equestrian accident, Dr. John Jane of the University of Virginia Medical Center confirmed for the first time in a news conference that Reeve was indeed paralyzed from the neck down and unable to breathe without the aid of a ventilator. A few hours later HBO aired, as previously scheduled, a film starring Reeve that had debuted only a week earlier: Above Suspicion. By unbelievably tragic coincidence, Reeve played in that film - his last role before he was injured - a police officer who was paralyzed after being shot in the line of duty. Obviously Above Suspicion is a film burdened with heavy emotional baggage, but how does it rate as entertainment? For those who can bear to watch Christopher Reeve say lines like: "I want to die. I can't live my life as half a man...", it is a taut, beautifully acted drama.
The film begins with gunshots and the sound of wailing sirens. Two rookie cops have been killed and the police are moving in to secure the crime scene. Homicide detective Dempsey Cain (Reeve) pulls up and immediately begins barking orders. Dempsey's colleague, Detective Rhinehart, sarcastically comments "Oh look, the cavalry has arrived." This should be Rhinehart's case, but it is given to Dempsey - clearly the Golden Boy of the department. The man is perfect. An ex-Navy test pilot, he's up on all the latest technical stuff. When he asks that a portable laser be brought down to look for fingerprints, Rhinehart scoffs: "You can't get prints off concrete." (Dempsey gets the laser and the prints). Furthermore, he lives with his beautiful wife and adorable son in a perfect house and neighborhood. But when he dials his mobile phone to bring his policeman brother in on the case, we soon learn that Dempsey's wife, apparently fed up with all that perfection is having a sexual encounter with his decidedly imperfect younger brother, Nick.
Thanks to the prints Dempsey lifted, the shooters are quickly identified and the police move in on the apartment where they are holed up. A typical Nick screwup (he forgot to turn his beeper off) alerts the suspects and they scatter. In the confusion, Dempsey takes a bullet to the spine which paralyzes him from the waist down and viewers enter a part of this film that can be almost unbearable to watch. Above Suspicion follows Dempsey through surgery, rehab, and his eventual hero's discharge from the department. But a perfect man cannot live this imperfect existence. He sinks into alcohol and depression, becoming in his wife's words "a depressed hulk in a wheelchair."
Dempsey turns suicidal and enlists his reluctant brother and not-so-reluctant wife in a desperate plan that he believes will be for the greater good of all. It would be a crime to say much more about what happens. Suffice to say that Dempsey's advice to his son who is struggling in Little League: "The power you have to direct your mind is the greatest power you have" sets the stage for what's to come and there are some shocking developments that bring even more sympathy to Dempsey. However, his old rival, Rhinehart, smells a rat and becomes obsessed with proving that Dempsey is not the hero everyone else thinks he is. The remainder of the film is a fascinating cat and mouse game which includes my two favorite scenes in the film: a battle of wits between the two men over a paperweight that's not where it should be and a stunning courtroom confrontation near the end of the film.
I hate to use the word, but Christopher Reeve is "perfect" in the role of Dempsey Cain. He is convincing both as the in-command ace detective and as the paralyzed hero who cannot tolerate life in a chair. Kim Cattrall is so purely despicable as his wife that she could serve as poster girl for all that sick or injured people might hope to avoid in a mate. And Joe Montegna is terrific as the old-line gumshoe with a hangdog face who trusts his instincts more than high tech. The whole film does a credible job of recreating the rivalries and loyalties inevitable within any police department.
The week after Reeve's accident, supermarket tabloid covers were splashed with photos lifted from Above Suspicion. Those who wonder to what depths photographers can sink might envision them pouring over tapes of this film in order to get pictures of Reeve in a wheelchair or hospital bed. An enterprising fellow even retouched one of the Reeve-in-a-wheelchair shots to add a cervical collar. Undoubtedly most people who saw this stuff believed they were looking at photos of the newly-injured Reeve at the University of Virginia Hospital. However disgusting the actions of the tabloids were, it got worse several months later when photographers wearing camoflage clothing climbed trees at Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation and used telephoto lenses to capture the first actual photos of Reeve when he was wheeled outside for a few minutes fresh air in the afternoon.
There is a video of Above Suspicion available and HBO also shows it from time to time. In somewhat controversial scheduling, the Lifetime channel showed Above Suspicion three hours before Reeve's comeback movie Rear Window aired on ABC. The film was originally titled The Rhinehart Theory and one of its writers is the wonderful William H. Macy who also makes a brief appearance as a prosecutor during the hearing which brings the plot to its resolution. A short time after Above Suspicion was filmed, Macy became famous as one of the stars of Fargo (he was the man who had his wife kidnapped). Some of the producers associated with this film were those who had offered Reeve his first directing job: Tell Me True. When he was injured, they stood by their offer saying the film would be shot when Reeve was ready, though casting difficulties have kept the project on hold. Also, in a final bit of irony, Dana Reeve plays a policewoman in several brief film appearances - most notably one where she and other officers are seated at an after-hours bar discussing Dempsey's rumored suicide attempt.
How does Christopher Reeve feel about Above Suspicion? In a prerecorded interview also broadcast that Wednesday night in May, 1995, Reeve told the television program "Hard Copy" that he had visited a spinal cord trauma unit in Van Nuys, California, to prepare for this role. He said these prophetic and widely quoted words: "A couple of days spent out at the spinal cord trauma unit and you see how easily it can happen. You think, 'God, it could happen to anybody.'"
It is interesting to see how Reeve's views have evolved since the accident. In an interview with Larry King in May, 1998, Reeve said that he does not watch Above Suspicion when it is shown, but not for the reason we might expect. "...every time I left that rehab center, I would say, "Thank God that's not me." I was very smug about it and relieved to leave the hospital, and I regret that so much because I was setting myself apart from those people who were suffering without realizing that in a second that could be me.... I'm ashamed about my smugness, my complacency, you know, and it brings back a bad memory, so I don't watch that one."
...things are not as they seem in this deliciously twisty script....You'll be guessing to the last frame - this one's very clever. Mick Martin and Marsha Porter. Video Movie Guide
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