out of Five
Running time: 96
Well written, nicely staged drama with a timely anti-racism message and strong performances from its three leads, but it can't quite transcend its theatrical origins.
What's it all about?
Directed by Robert Heath, Sus is based on the 1979 play by Barrie Keefe (who wrote The Long Good Friday), which was inspired by a true story and refers to the so-called 'Sus law' that allowed British police officers to detain on suspicion anyone they saw fit (which, in practice, usually meant young black men). Set on the eve of the 1979 election, the film takes place in a single police interview room, where Thatcher-loving police officers Karn and Wilby (Ralph Brown and Rafe Spall) are attempting to extract a confession from Delroy (Clint Dyer), a young, unemployed black labourer, following the unexplained death of his wife.
Ralph Brown is genuinely chilling as Karn and Spall is effective as his barely restrained sidekick, while Clint Dyer convincingly portrays his shifts in character, going from cocky to heartbroken to terrified to angry and resilient without once going over the top. In addition, the film's message couldn't be more timely or relevant, particularly with the rather unpleasant current attitudes towards immigration in British politics.
The script crackles with good dialogue and there are flashes of dark humour, such as a lengthy speculation on whether Angela Rippon is sexier than Anna Ford. Similarly, Heath maintains a subtly menacing atmosphere throughout and persuasively recreates a sense of time and place through the clever use of original TV footage from the BBC's coverage of election night in 1979; this also allows for a disturbing and poignant moment at the end, where Thatcher gives her St Francis of Assisi speech.
The main problem with the film is that it fails to completely transcend its stage origins, to the point where it frequently feels like you are, in fact, watching a play. Similarly, as good as Brown and Spall are, their performances are largely one-note and there's no subtlety or depth to their characters.
Sus is an engaging, well written drama with strong performances and an important message, though it's hard not to feel that a little complexity to the cop characters might have gone a long way.