“Above Suspicion,” the movie, wrapped two years ago last month in the tiny eastern Kentucky mountain town of Harlan. The final day of the three-month shoot was bittersweet, in that the star of the movie, Emilia Clarke, had to rush off before dawn for a two-hour drive through the mountains of eastern Kentucky to board a connection for a flight for London to be at the bedside of her father, who died later in the day.
Movie wraps, especially after long shoots in less-than-commodious locations like the isolated old coal-town of Harlan, tend to be a bit like the last day of summer camp, with exchanges of emails and hugs among cast and crew who have been together day and night to make a movie. Emilia’s absence added a touch of sadness to the wrap party, but everyone had a sense even then that the indefatigable director Phillip Noyce had pulled it off, along with Clarke, her co-star Jack Huston, and a supporting cast including Johnny Knoxville, Thora Birch, Austin Hebert and Sophie Lowe. A congenial and very large crew worked from early mornings till late nights in a town with exactly one motel (a crammed-to-capacity Comfort Inn) and no bars or liquor stores (supply runs were launched to Tennessee, a two-hour drive over twisting mountain roads). By December 2017, the movie was finished, edited and scored and ready for distribution.
So where is the movie? Why do we have no information on a release date, which was supposed to have been last year and which is now noted on IMDB.com as merely “2018” (hey, it’s August and there is nothing scheduled) or, in various news accounts generated by the intense worldwide media interest in Emilia Clarke, as “forthcoming.”
I wrote the book and, as a consultant on the movie, I was on location for the final stretch of the shoot in Harlan. When I am asked about the release date, you would think I would have a better answer than, I simply don’t know. That’s embarrassing, frankly.
It’s important to know several things lest anyone assume this movie is not good enough for theatrical release. Jerry and Linda Bruckheimer (the wonderful and gracious Linda was on the set for most of the production of “Above Suspicion”) held screenings at their Beverly Hills home for industry executives and selected critics, including influential bloggers, The reviews and word of mouth were very enthusiastic. For example, Jeffrey Wells wrote this in “Hollywood Elsewhere:” “There have been a small handful of films that have portrayed rural boondock types and their tough situations in ways that are honest and real-deal. My top three are John Boorman’s “Deliverance,” Billy Bob Thornton’s “Sling Blade” and Lamont Johnson’s “The Last American Hero,” [“Above Suspicion”] certainly deserves to stand side-by-side as a peer … Noyce always delivers with clarity and discipline but this is arguably the most arresting forward-thrust action flick he’s done since “Clear and Present Danger.” Plus it boasts s smart, fat-free, pared-down script by “Mississippi Burning’s” Chris Gerolmo, some haunting blue-tinted cinematography by Eliot Davis (“Out of Sight,” “Twilight”) and some wonderfully concise editing by Martin Nicholson.”
He added, “’Above Suspicion’ damn sure feels like an early ’70s film. I can tell you that. I mean that in the most complimentary way you could possibly imagine…”
Where’s the movie, then? A couple of months ago, I had a Google Alert for “Above Suspicion” and “Emilia Clarke,” which led me to a website and fan forum on Clarke where there was a link to a pirated copy of the movie, dubbed in Turkish with the title “Suphe Otesi,” which basically translates into “Above Suspicion.” For the first time, I saw the movie. It is beautiful and gripping, even in Turkish, though of course it helped my comprehension that I had written the book and was a consultant, including on the screenplay.
I immediately alerted my friend Colleen Camp, the executive producer of the movie, that a pirated print was available online. Within days the online link was removed by Google.
Since then, nothing — in English or Turkish. My frequent inquiries about the release date have met basically with radio silence from the producers.
I did, however, speak not long ago with Colleen Camp, a well-known actress and producer who tirelessly brought “Above Suspicion” from option two decades ago, to screenplay and casting and, finally, to production. Colleen was very frustrated with the delay and with what she described as squabbling among producers.
Having now had a little experience with the machinations of Hollywood, I know enough not to wade into the weeds of whatever the disputes are that have prevented a timely release of a movie that is generally regarded as a triumph. But here’s some of what Colleen told me:
“The movie is brilliant; it scored 98, but the system that we have now is that because of all the ancillaries, because of television rights and everything else, what happens is the studios, when they release a movie, they have other components that help cover the prints and ads, the P&A.” Essentially, she said, studios want to be able to follow a hit movie with television and other spinoffs.
I don’t quite understand why that is a snag, but it seems to be. In my opinion, it also seems to be something that should be easy to fix.
I understand that discussions with major distributors centered on a platform release, in which a movie is released to up to 600 theaters and then, assuming good reviews and word-of-mouth, released more widely. Distributing any movie requires millions in additional “P&A” money above the cost of actual production. With a major star like Clarke, a famed thriller director like Phillip Noyce and a pool of already enthusiastic word-of-mouth from those who have seen the movie at private screenings, that ought to be readily doable, I would think.
But the movie distribution business is changing. Colleen said that a major distributor told her that “Above Suspicion” looks to be ” a huge commercial hit, like Sherry Lansing’s “Fatal Attraction.” (Former Paramount chief Lansing produced the 1987 “Fatal Attraction,” which cost $14 million to make and grossed $163.5 million worldwide).
Today, distributors “want either big super-commercial [hits] like ‘The Avengers,’ or on the other end they want a ‘Lady Bird,’ she said. She described “Above Suspicion” as a “tweener” occupying ground between the giant franchise hits and the small hit independent movies like last year’s “Lady Bird,” which was budgeted at $10 million and grossed $77 million. The budget for “Above Suspicion” was about $12 million, plus another $8 to $12 million estimated for marketing and distribution, people connected with the production told me.
My guess is that a resolution of the disputes is imminent and we’ll finally see at least an announcement this fall of a release date for “Above Suspicion.” And I am further guessing that the movie will be a hit and will be followed by a television series keyed to the movie but further exploring the plot of the book and its dark, dystopian setting in coal-mine eastern Kentucky, around the same time Ron Howard’s currently in-development “Hillbilly Elegy,” adapted from J.D. Vance’s runaway 2016 best-seller, comes out. I’m further guessing that the title for the TV series based on “Above Suspicion” will be “The Girl From Lonesome Holler,” which is a title I wished I had originally used for my book, published by Simon & Schuster in 1993. A revised, updated edition of the book was published last year by Open Road Media. I researched the new epilogue right after leaving the set of the movie.
Colleen Camp, a real trouper who absolutely never gives up, says that all should fall into place before too long. “All I care about is, I want the movie marketed right,” she said.