Two men, half brothers, meet at a bus station and ride back to one of their houses. They have only recently just met, at their father’s funeral, and decide to spend the weekend together getting to know one other. One of them, Vincent Towers (Michael Harris), is obviously rich - he drives a nice car, wears an expensive suit, and lives in a house that makes the word “fancy” feel small and embarrassed. The other, Clay Arlington (Dennis Haysbert), is obviously poor - he arrives by bus, comes from a tiny desert town, and dresses in jeans and an old, worn shirt. The two arrive at Towers' mansion and discuss how similar they look.
Their similarities become a major plot point. Not long after they arrive, Towers receives a phone call and regretfully notes that he has to go on a business trip. He allows Clay to clean up, gives him a set of his own clothes, gives him the keys to his car and secretly switches driver's licenses with him. Then, while Clay is driving home, Towers remotely blows the car up. Turns out Towers killed his father and to get the police off his back he’s turning Clay into a decoy.
Contrary to the plan, Clay does not die, but is scarred enough to need extensive facial plastic surgery, loses an eye, and obtains amnesia. The police (and everyone else) do believe Clay is in fact Towers and so the real Towers - for a time - does get away with it. Clay, unlike the real Towers, is a decent, kind man and thus begins forming real bonds with others and even scores a love interest. He begins to enjoy his new life as a refined rich man (though because of his amnesia he believes this is the life he’s always led). The police are on his trail though and he must eventually face a line-up which could put him in prison for a crime he cannot remember. (And did not commit - it was his brother, remember?)
The interesting conceit is that the actors portraying Towers and Clay look nothing alike. Towers is a thin white dude with slick-backed hair while Clay is a large black man with burly features. They are nearly complete opposites, but apparently only we, the audience, can see that, for every character in the story seems to think they look exactly alike. This is not a bit of goofy stunt casting either, but a serious statement by directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel.
What, exactly, they are saying I do not know, but they are definitely trying to get a point across. Is it meaningful that the black actor portrays the poor, country character and that the white guy portrays the rich villain? At the police lineup, we see a black character standing next to a bunch of nice-looking white guys. Is that a statement on our criminal-justice system and how it regularly convicts men of color over whites? If so, what does it mean that the witness is actually looking at four white guys? The film was shot in stark black and white emphasizing these questions even more.
These questions and concepts are much more interesting than the actual story. Without its central conceit, the movie is a bit of a bore. They built the main set of Towers' house inside an old bank. Apparently there was a loud air conditioning unit that had to continually run causing all the dialog in that set to be overdubbed in post production. This gives those scenes an even greater sense of detachment. The acting is good, but distant. The scenes are beautifully shot, but cold. Had the filmmakers played it straight and hired actors that actually looked like each other, or indeed got the same actor to play two parts, then this film would have been forgotten a long time ago. But having the brothers played by such different actors gives it a fascinating quality that ponders questions about identity that are hard to shake.
Arrow Video has once again done a very nice job of presenting this film. I have to admit I was a bit taken a back watching this as I’m used to seeing films from Arrow in, let us say, lesser genres. I mean I’ve reviewed a Spaghetti Western, Italian Horror, French Erotica, and from the Murderous Vegetable genre, but I never expected to see modern art-house from them. Yet here we are. It even includes audio commentary from Steven Soderbergh. Not that I’m complaining. I’m all for Arrow going the Criterion route with more critically acclaimed fare, just as long as they keep putting out all the exploitive, gore-filled, and naked films as well.
The video looks excellent. The contrast in the blacks and whites is stark and crisp. The directors have created a nice collection of interesting images and use the great shadows in black and white film create to wonderful lengths. There is a bit of grain here and there, but mostly the video comes off very nicely. The audio is decent. As noted there is some overdubbing and it gives those scenes an odd vibe, but I never had trouble understanding the dialogue. The music can sometimes be a bit overpowering, but overall, the audio is quite serviceable.
Extras include an very fun and informative commentary from the directors with Soderbergh moderating. Actually, it's more like a really long interview with the film playing in the background and none of the three pay much attention to what's happening on screen. There is a new documentary on the making of the film featuring interviews with the directors and some of the cast. Also included is "Birds Past," a short film from the directors plus the usual trailers and essays in the booklet.
Suture is the rare film that is both rather plain and utterly fascinating. A standard story told in such an interesting way that it has kept me pondering its various meaning long after the credits rolled. Arrow Video has once again created a marvelous package to enhance the viewing.