Starring:  Bill Pullman, Julia Ormond Director:  Jennifer Lynch

I can’t resist a tale told from multiple points of view. One of the best books I have ever read is a Star Wars-based book, Tales From the Mos Eisley Cantina.  It’s a collection of short stories that all center around Han Solo shooting Greedo at the cantina – but from the points of view of different characters who were in the cantina at that time.  Everyone brings in their own context, their own perspective.

So when I read a description for Surveillance summarizing the movie as three witnesses giving very different accounts of a crime, and two FBI agents have to figure out what really happened, I was interested.

The opening credits are interspersed with images of a murder – which the viewer might presume is the crime central to the plot.  Then, the two FBI agents Hallaway (Bill Pullman) and Anderson (Julia Ormond) roll into town to take over interrogation of the witnesses from the local police with the requisite tension in the air.

When the interrogations begin – all in separate rooms but also on a video feed to agent Hallaway – the viewer learns it’s not really the account of the murder they witnessed that varies from the truth (at least what they believe is true), it’s the events that got them to the scene.  While each witness explains their trajectory toward the murder, viewers see what actually happened…and that two of the three witnesses have crimes of their own to hide.

Nine-year-old Stephanie (Ryan Simpkins) mostly just won’t talk much.  She draws pictures of the events and drinks hot chocolate with marshmallows while Agent Anderson tries to get Stephanie’s account of how her vacationing family ended up murder victims.

Officer Bennett (Kent Harper) is just angry and bitter, especially as his partner Officer Conrad (French Stewart) died during the action.  He’s convinced they were good cops, but their activities leading up to the murder – including incidents with both Bobbi and Stephanie’s family – suggest otherwise.

Bobbi (Pell James) is, as described by one of the officers, ‘high as a kite.’  She and her boyfriend claim to have been in town for a job interview, but really they were visiting a dealer in the area.  But that’s also not the whole truth about their trip either.

At just over an hour and a half long (really only about an hour of thriller and 30 minutes of ‘untangling’), there are only a few spots that Surveillance drags.  The movie was co-written and directed by Jennifer Lynch (daughter of David Lynch), which initially worried me, but the cuts between present time and recollection are done well.  It’s not incomprehensible.

Interestingly, the murder scene is catalyzed by “Add It Up” by the Violent Femmes. And the resolution is pretty twisted, but still makes sense in its own way

If you:

  • Watch (or read) thrillers/mysteries or anything else in the crime or puzzle-solving genre because you like to try and figure it out before the end
  • Liked Natural Born Killers
  • Find it interesting how people can justify themselves and try (with or without success) to cover their asses for bad behavior

Put it in the queue!

If you:

  • Don’t like graphic death scenes
  • Are not ok with an open-ended resolution
  • Are highly offended by ‘bad cops’

Don’t put it in the queue.