A few days ago I reported that Phillip Noyce‘s Above Suspicion, a brilliant Kentucky redneck true-crime drama that I saw and wrote about three years ago, is “still unreleased”, although a late summer opening in Australia via Madman is planned. U.S. distributor Roadside Attractions wanted to open it last March, but then COVID-19 intervened. The current plan is to open it sometime in the fall (maybe) or, failing that, in early ’21, depending on the pandemic.
But now that’s all up in the air due to pirated copies of the film circulating all over, which obviously compromises the streaming rental value. The bootleg availability is due to a premature, scattershot, ad-hoc distribution that has basically put the cart before the horse.
The usual plan for an American-made film, especially one set in the rural heartland, would be to open in the U.S. with at least a modest p&a budget ($8 million in p&a spending had been sought for Above Suspicion) to support the initial release. International bookings follow from that. But not this time. Not with a distribution strategy that any veteran would call penny-wise and dollar-foolish.
According to this Time Out link, Above Suspicion‘s first commercial booking was in Dubai on 3.18.19. Another theatrical engagement happened in Lebanon on 7.4.19, according to the IMDB. This was followed by an Israel release on 1.23.20. On 8.12.18 original Above Suspicion author Joe Sharkey reported that a Turkish-dubbed version called Suphe Otesi (a rough translation of the English-language title) was streaming online. Several months later, per the IMDB, came a “DVD premiere” in Greece on 3.12.20. This was apparently followed by a 6.19.20 release in Japan (theatrical or digital only?).
Perhaps the most egregious opening of all is the imminent streaming debut of Above Suspicion in England on Monday, 7.13. “Egregious” because star Emilia Clarke (Games of Thrones, Solo: A Star Wars Story), who is rightly proud of her performance as the murdered FBI informant Susan Smith and would have granted interviews to generate interest, was never even told about the British streaming release until a couple of days ago.
Last Wednesday (7.8) The Guardian‘s Peter Bradshaw gave Noyce’s film a three-star review (trust me, it’s at least a four-star effort). Presumably Variety and The Hollywood Reporter will review concurrent with the 7.13 release.
Other territories have been sold, including Germany, Eastern Europe, Italy, Iceland, Scandinavia, Spain, India, South Africa, Switzerland, South Korea, Latin America and South America. The pandemic has turned everything upside down, of course, but opening territories on a random patchwork basis, especially before the domestic U.S. debut, is not the usual way to go.
Roadside had wanted to distribute Above Suspicion since it was finished in mid ’17, but a long holdup resulted over a party that wanted to invest $8 million for p&a. Negotiations dragged on forever. As one observer puts it, “If you’re in real estate, the usual thing is that if you say no, the property goes up in value. That doesn’t work in film, however.”
Word around the campfire is that the “comparatively rich” $8 million p&a offer was made in March 2018. The p&a guy wanted America and all English-speaking territories (England, Canada, Australia, New Zealand) while two senior investors could have all of the foreign, non-English-speaking territories. The offer concluded with the following prophetic line: “This show is like a melting ice cube, and with every day that goes by the value diminishes. Therefore this offer is open until the end of business (PST) on Friday, March 23, 2018.” The offer was rejected.
Over the last three years, in fact, a total of five such offers were rejected.
I’m told that this investor is nonetheless still ready to make a deal. He/she is “not put off by piracy” and “has agreed today to keep the investment and is happy for the film to play in the U.S. as late as February 2021.”
Noyce has been unwilling to speak about this long-running situation since ’17, but here’s what he says now, speaking for himself and Above Suspicion producer Colleen Camp:
“Colleen and I were devastated to discover that our film is about to be released in the UK. The news came on top of discovering by chance that the Australian release was also imminent. I myself feel like a parent who has lost a child in the chaos of war. The thought that the movie I’ve loved is not even being respected with the dignity of us all being informed in advance of its release just sickens me.
“The British digital debut is insulting to all of us. It’s illogical from an artistic, psychological and p.r. point of view. Not to try to promote the film’s release in [Emilia Clarke’s] home territory is not smart business for any of us. “Obviously in this time of pandemic, streaming is king and profit overages might be expected. But I’m at a loss to understand why no one seems interested in helping the movie to find its audience.“
“Today Colleen has fielded a steady stream of phone calls from actors’ agents asking why the film was being dumped in various markets without their clients being given a chance to support their own work
“An ongoing problem throughout the tortured negotiations to release the film in America was its early sale to a Middle Eastern distributor, who opened the movie in cinemas. This sparked piracy all over the world, with the movie available for free to hundreds of thousands of downloaders, collapsing the film’s legitimate value in major territories.
“In defense of our investors in the film, even after some spectacular test screenings in Orange County, they were faced with the unexpected outcome that when the movie was finished no U.S. distributor was willing to offer a deal that guaranteed the $8 million p&a fund, a spend needed to launch the movie into American cinemas.
“Colleen then quickly secured private investors who were willing to provide the needed cash, but they insisted on being able to control how the funds would be spent. That led to a seasawing three-year negotiation that finally was concluded earlier this year, with the movie booked into cinemas by Roadside Attractions for a May 22nd debut. Essentially it was the same investors and distributor from back in December 2017. But then came the pandemic and the closing of all North American cinemas.”
According to the IMDB Above Suspicion‘s principal producers are Mohamed AlRafi and Tim de Graye, whose film companies are called 50 Degrees Entertainment LLC and White Knight Pictures, respectively. The other three are Colleen Camp, Amy Adelson and Angela Amato-Velez. Linda Bruckheimer is listed as executive producer.
From “The Girl From Lonesome Holler,” posted on 7.24.17: “Above Suspicion, which is based on Joe Sharkey’s 1993 true-life novel, is a triple-A, tightly-wound, character-driven genre flick (i.e., rednecks, drug deals, criminals, lawmen, murder, car chases, bank robberies) of the highest and smartest order.
“Most people would define ‘redneck film’ as escapist trash in the Burt Reynolds mode, but there have been a small handful that have portrayed rural boondock types and their tough situations in ways that are top-tier and real-deal. My favorites in this realm are John Boorman‘s Deliverance, Billy Bob Thornton‘s Sling Blade, and Lamont Johnson‘s The Last American Hero. Noyce’s film is the absolute, dollars-to-donuts equal of these films, or at least a close relation with a similar straight-cards, no-bullshit attitude.
“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 a 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.”