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Sus is economic in cast and location, one room three characters, and its theatrical roots are evident. It gets a high score from me because it was on late night and I wasn't planning to stay up, the power of the performances kept me there to end. Its 90 minutes felt like an hour. Of course a low budget movie like this doesn't compare to big set and big budget cinema but it works. It is good to see a film that relies on good dialogue and excellent acting. Late night TV has become quite the venue for low budget movies and ones that failed to get wide distribution and box office takings. But amongst a lot of really dreadful movies there is the odd gem of which Sus is one. One other point, it is an historical movie set in 1979, I remember the issues but if you are the other half of the population, under 40; then you may find it educational.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I suppose there are whites for whom this would be hard to watch as
well, but I guess black people will identify more with the victim, to a
deep emotional level.
This film won't come entirely as a shock to those who know the many injustices of American justice system. The Trayvon Martin case shows that there's still a humongous amount of class justice, or rather racist justice over there, one set of laws for whites, and one set for blacks.
This is exactly at the heart of the events in this film. A black man is brought in for questioning, because his wife was found dead in their house, having bled out. Now, as the situation becomes clear during the film, you really get the feeling, to a point of certainty, that if this had happened to a white family, the husband would NOT have been hauled in for questioning, would NOT have been treated like a criminal, would NOT have been separated from his kids all night. The problem of not being able to call a lawyer wouldn't even have arisen.
The policemen are feeling that the election of Thatcher allows them all sorts of rights they previous were denied by the Labour government: Now they feel empowered to harass every non-white person, sent them back if "they step out of line", even once.
So that's the situation: Two policemen, who feel overjoyed that the Thatcher win has now allowed them to bring their inner racist out in the open. And they judge the situation completely through a racist lens: black woman, dead, bled out, black husband, and of course blacks are animals, who are such savages that they wouldn't even use the NHS to get an abortion, so they used a screwdriver instead.
That, and not whatever a doctor told the policemen what happened, has led to the horrendous police brutality shown here.
The police jumped to the most racist conclusion their fascist minds could think up about the situation, without ever even trying to be objective about it. No! Because "blacks are animals, everyone knows that!" It took me about 2 minutes to realize that I didn't really wanna watch this movie, and I tried not to, but I got sucked in by the situation and the quality of acting.
The Melancholic Alcoholic.
WARNING. This is not an easy film to watch.
Not that is if you have any sense whatsoever of the concept of right or wrong.
Basically as the blurb will tell you, it is the story of a black man who on the night that Thatcher is first elected is taken into custody and questioned by two white police officers after his wife has been found dead.
Watching this movie, you are immediately aware that this is not going to be a fluffy Sandra Bullock type film and that opening scenes of the stark set is indicative of what you are about to watch.
Throughout the next 90 minutes my emotions then went from being really, really scared to being incandescent with rage and then with upset, disbelief and being completely overwhelmed being thrown in for good measure along the way.
Rafe Spall is getting a reputation for quality performances and here is no exception. His portrayal of the bullying D.C. is scary but at least you have an idea of what he is going to do next. The stand-out performance for me however is Ralph Brown as the D.S. where I felt the hairs on the back of my neck go into over-drive whenever he looked at the suspect also played (almost under-played) superbly by Clint Dyer. It was as if Brown was going to literally explode at any moment! After this I genuinely this I would be reluctant to meet Brown the actor let alone D S Karn the police man.
This was originally a play apparently written at the time of the '79 election but I think the film which came out in 2010 now probably has even more resonance for anyone who has lived through the past 20 years in the UK with the real-life horror in the way in which the Police have treated black people (including victims) after the Stephen Lawrence and Damilola Taylor murder cases.
It may be because of these terrible real-life events that right at the start of the film as soon as suspect Leon Delroy is brought in, one feels that there is a sense of injustice about this. There is however also a feeling of there being a "twist" at the end; it has that kind of "feel" about it. However I would have to say that even I could not have predicted what happens as this film progresses and nor guessed its conclusion.
It basically takes us through the interview process but is much, much more than that. It is also indicative of a whole nation's attitude towards race, society, politics, the police etc at the late '70s in microcosm. I normally hate juxtapositions but this is done so cleverly and is integral as to why this film is just so good. The joy of the bigoted police officers over their prospective new and glorious leader is done with fine touch of subtlety and is in sharp contrast to the tension in that interview room. It just works so well.
My only slight criticism of this film was the interview room itself. Not that I have a great deal of experience of them personally but I could not quite get over how large the room was as I always imagine these rooms to have just about enough room to fit a table and four chairs (based I must admit on episodes of "The Bill and those snippets of real-life interviews that you see on the news after someone is convicted) but this was more sports hall than interview room. However this really is a very very minor quibble and does nothing to detract from this fantastic film.
It is clearly no blockbuster, it is often very uncomfortable to watch, but it is simply just a good story-line with three of the best examples of the craft of acting (four if you count Anjela Smith as the dead wife - which she did well enough) you will ever see.
I have watched many thousands of films in my life and would even admit to being one of those "they-don't-make-them-like-they-used-to-do" snobs but I would put this in my top ten and very possibly even the best film I ever seen.
Don't miss it.
Set on the General Election night of 1979, Barrie Keeffe's filmed play takes us back to a world where suspects could be held under the controversial 'sus' law - in other words, be held for questioning without being charged for long periods at a time. The production deliberately contrasts Margaret Thatcher's election speech, with its sycophantic thanks to the police for their efforts in sustaining public order, and the institutionalized racism of the two officers (Ralph Brown, Rafe Spall) questioning an African-Caribbean man (Clint Dyer) about the death of his wife. Set in a claustrophobic interview-room, interspersed with graphic shots of the dead woman, SUS is at times very difficult to watch, especially when the officers physically abuse the suspect. They are not particularly interested in obtaining a conviction, but rather to (ab)use the suspect as an outlet for their own racist resentments that Britain has apparently been overrun by immigrants, and ruled by governments dedicated to the cause of "human rights," while neglecting the rights of the indigenous population. What renders the film more shocking is to reflect on how little has changed in the 35 years since Thatcher came to power. Even after the much- publicized "reforms" of the police in the wake of the Stephen Lawrence case, there are still officers within the force who harbor equally racist sentiments, while the success of Nigel Farage's UK Independence Party (UKIP) in recent elections reveals the extent to which the British people dislike what they perceive as the so-called "malign" influence of immigrants. Thirty-five years ago it was the African-Caribbeans; now it is the Eastern and Southern Europeans. SUS stands as an object lesson to show how prevailing attitudes seldom change, despite the protestations of successive governments to the contrary.
It's clear from the outset that SUS is the filmed version of a play;
it's set in a single location, with three actors, and contains some
very theatrical mannerisms. I'm sure that seeing it in person would
have been a great success, but as a film it feels like something of a
failure. It's totally non-cinematic, it feels overlong and it's one of
those films where not much really happens.
It's also a film that hits you over the head with a political agenda from the outset, which is something I'm not too keen on. This time around they're pushing a liberal mindset, with the cops depicted as racist pigs and the blacks subjected to irrational hatred and violence, but it all feels a bit obvious. It's the sort of thing that you'd expect to take up ten minutes of screen time in a film detailing other stuff, but instead it's stretched out to feature length.
There's no faulting the acting, particularly from Ralph Brown as the elder of the two cops, although it does feel like Rafe Spall is showing off a bit, desperate to get the camera to take notice of him. Trying to come out from his father's shadow perhaps? Clint Dyer is fine, of course, in a difficult part. But this is hardly enjoyable and it hardly adds anything new that we don't already know about racism in the UK.
Sus does not work as a film. Its pretty faithful to the play its based
on - it should be as the screenplay is by Barrie Keefe who also wrote
the play. However no adjustment has been made to accommodate for a film
Because of this watching Sus is like watching a play, which would be great if you are sitting in a theatre.
The performances by Ralph Brown, Clint Dyer and Rafe Spall are totally solid and stand up, even allowing for the fact the script has dated badly since it was written in 1979.
But it just doesn't work as a film. It reminded me of the Plays For Today that used to be on BBC in the 1970's which were exactly that, filmed plays.
I wonder just who the film-makers thought they were making this for? There is nothing wrong with filming plays if the film-makers allow for the differences between the two mediums which this production does not.
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