|Guilty by Suspicion|
|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 01 June 2004|
In one of those twists of fate few could have predicted, 'Guilty By Suspicion' seems a lot more relevant to current events now than it did when it was released back in 1991. The sight of daily government hearings full of vitriol and circular logic may indeed be unbearably familiar to anybody who's turned on the news lately.
However, 'Guilty By Suspicion' has nothing to do with the straits of the present White House occupants. Instead, it is a tale of blacklisting in Hollywood during the `50s, when the House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) was on an unstoppable hunt for Communists. Everyone was fair game and anyone who did not inform on their friends - Communist or otherwise--was at once labeled an unfriendly witness. This had the immediate effect of making unfriendly witnesses unemployable; they lost livelihoods, homes, friends, families and sometimes even their freedom. The Hollywood Ten are probably the best-known film professionals who stood up to HUAC and drew jail sentences as a result.
Director/writer Irwin Winkler uses this history as a springboard for his fictional tale of ace director David Merrill (Robert De Niro). David returns from Europe in 1951 to find Hollywood tense and suspicious. Friends are informing on each other, marriages are splitting up over politics and every potential employer is leaning on potential employees to cooperate with HUAC. David is pressured by studio chief Darryl F. Zanuck to name a few names. Never mind that David was never a member of the Communist party. If he doesn't cooperate, say a few "mea culpas" and point his finger at a few old pals, no one will hire him. Most of David's friends assume he will roll over for HUAC - they can't imagine him letting anything get in the way of his filmmaking. David, however, is a man of conscience.
Irwin Winkler, a longtime producer, makes his writing and directing debut with 'Guilty By Suspicion.' He does a perfectly good job with the latter, getting a great period look with the help of director of photography Michael Ballhaus and production designer Leslie Dilley. De Niro delivers exactly the sort of thoughtful, intense but quiet performance that his role calls for, and George Wendt, better known as Norm on "Cheers," contributes an excellent dramatic turn as David's best friend.
Winkler's script has a decent ear for dialogue. More, it provides a handy primer for those with a limited knowledge of how Sen. Joseph McCarthy's drive to ferret out suspected Communists wrecked thousands of lives. However, 'Guilty By Suspicion' is so anxious to avoid preaching to the converted that it winds up having little new to say, informationally or dramatically, to viewers already aware of the horrors of McCarthyism. The film so wants to show that terrible things happen to good people that it doesn't allow its hero even a few moments of temptation or indignity. David's trajectory is sobering and eventful, but it finally lacks the texture that would make it something more than a history lesson.