Homework 1991 Films

Mr. Winkler, previously known as the producer of such films as "Raging Bull," "Rocky" and "The Right Stuff," pays especially keen attention to production values. Michael Ballhaus's vibrant cinematography and Leslie Dilley's production design both evoke the early 1950's in a deeply atmospheric but not overpowering fashion. Well-chosen background touches, like the dancers straggling across the studio lot in their "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" costumes or the handsome fake poster for one of Merrill's hit movies, contribute to the film's overall persuasiveness.

Mr. Winkler even stages a brief takeoff on "High Noon" to represent a western that the newly disreputable Merrill is summoned to help out with, although this episode, like most of his stabs at new employment, ends in frustration. These details help the film hold its audience's interest through the full cycle of Merrill's evolution, as he trades in that sports car and finds himself literally and figuratively traveling Greyhound.

Mr. De Niro rarely takes on characters as fully rounded, or as relatively ordinary, as David Merrill. It's a long way even from the Hollywood genius Monroe Stahr, whom he played in "The Last Tycoon," to a man who can sit in his living room doing math homework with his school-age son. Yet this character's very humanity, fully captured in Mr. De Niro's fine and affecting performance, is what makes his crisis of conscience so compelling. The film's climactic scene, with the camera trained closely on the actor's face as he registers all of Merrill's conflicting emotions, manages to invest a potentially familiar event with enormous tension and surprise.

Also in the cast are George Wendt as a screenwriter who faces problems similar to Merrill's and deals with them very differently; Patricia Wettig, glaringly unconvincing as a glamorous movie star (in the film's worst-written role); Martin Scorsese, who has some lovely moments as one of Merrill's fellow directors, and of course Miss Bening, whose pert beauty perfectly exemplifies the style of the early 50's. Once again, with effortless ease, she lights up the screen.

Sam Wanamaker, once blacklisted himself, is ironically good as the studio lawyer urging Merrill to take the easy way out. These troubles, he tells Merrill, are strictly practical concerns. They're real life, and real life is about paying doctors' bills. Has Merrill ever seen anyone opening a doctor's bill on screen? The events of the blacklist, this lawyer insists, are not the stuff of which big-screen dramas are made.

"Guilty by Suspicion," a stirring and tragic evocation of terrible times, is proof otherwise.

"Guilty by Suspicion" is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned). It includes some strong language. Guilty by Suspicion Written and directed by Irwin Winkler; director of photography, Michael Ballhaus; film editor, Priscilla Nedd; music by James Newton Howard; production designer, Leslie Dilley; produced by Arnon Milchan; released by Warner Brothers. Running time: 105 minutes. This film is rated PG-13. David Merrill . . . Robert De Niro Ruth Merrill . . . Annette Bening Bunny Baxter . . . George Wendt Dorothy Nolan . . . Patricia Wettig Felix Graff . . . Sam Wanamaker Paulie Merrill . . . Luke Edwards Larry Nolan . . . Chris Cooper Darryl F. Zanuck . . . Ben Piazza Joe Lesser . . . Martin Scorsese

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