Dempsey Cain (Christopher Reeve) is a former test pilot turned homicide detective who ends up getting shot because of the incompetence of another cop, a patrolman named Nick Cain (Edward Kerr). Nick also happens to be Dempsey’s younger brother. While Dempsey’s in the hospital, Nick has an affair with Dempsey’s wife, Gail (Kim Cattrall). When a now-paralyzed Dempsey returns home, he deals with his depression by drinking and contemplating suicide. He tells Gail and Nick that he no longer wants to live but that his life insurance policy doesn’t cover suicide. He comes up with a plan for his wife and brother to stage a break-in and murder him. Because Gail and Nick are secretly lovers and want Dempsey out of the way, they agree. However, it turns out that Dempsey isn’t as naive as they assumed and he still has a few tricks of his own. It looks like the perfect murder but Detective Alan Reinhardt (Joe Mantegna) is determined to solve the case.
Produced for HBO, Above Suspicion is a clever and twisty film noir that, unfortunately, never escapes the shadow of Reeve’s real-life tragedy. Just a week after the film first aired on HBO, Christopher Reeve was suffered the spinal chord injury that left him confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. Knowing that Reeve would spend the final nine years of his life paralyzed from the neck down can make it difficult to watch Above Suspicion, which is unfortunate because this film features what might be Reeve’s best performance.
As an actor, Christopher Reeve was always typecast as Superman and he definitely missed out on some roles as a mistake. Above Suspicion makes clever use of Reeve’s good guy image but casting him as someone who everyone thinks is a hero but who actually has a very dark side to his personality. Everyone in the film thinks of Dempsey as being Superman but he instead reveals himself to be Lex Luthor. It was definitely a chance of pace role for Reeve and he really seems to enjoy playing a scheming villain for once. Watching the film today, it is obvious that he had enough talent that, if not for his injury, he probably would have eventually made an Alan Alda-style comeback that would have seen him settling into the role of being a much-in-demand character actor.
Interestingly, the clever script was written by William H. Macy, shortly before he found fame as Jerry Lundegaard in Fargo. The film is a clever homage to films like Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Ring Twice and Christopher Reeve and Joe Mantegna are both fun to watch as they play their cat-and-mouse game. Despite the real-life tragedy that it unintentionally invokes, Above Suspicion is a clever and twisty thriller featuring a cast of talented actors at their best.