Suspect Zero

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Suspect Zero
Suspect Zero poster.jpg
Promotional poster
Directed by E. Elias Merhige
Produced by Lester Berman
Gaye Hirsch
E. Elias Merhige
Darren Miller
Paula Wagner
Tom Cruise (uncredited)
Moritz Borman
Guy East
Gary Lucchesi
Tom Rosenberg
Jonathan Sanger
Nigel Sinclair
Written by Zak Penn
Billy Ray
Starring Aaron Eckhart
Ben Kingsley
Carrie-Anne Moss
Kevin Chamberlin
Harry J. Lennix
Music by Clint Mansell
Cinematography Michael Chapman
Edited by John Gilroy
Robert K. Lambert
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release dates
August 27, 2004 (2004-08-27)
Running time
99 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $27 million
Box office $11,416,075

Suspect Zero is a 2004 American psychological thriller film starring Aaron Eckhart, Ben Kingsley, and Carrie-Anne Moss. The film, which was produced by Tom Cruise's co-owned company Cruise/Wagner Productions, was directed by E. Elias Merhige. It was a box office bomb failing to earn half of its estimated $27 million production costs at the box office.

The film is about the hunt for Suspect Zero, a potential serial killer who is able to kill indefinitely because he is able to remain undetectable by law enforcement agencies.


A man is seated in a diner who is revealed as Harold Speck, a traveling salesman. He is joined by a gentleman who asks question which make him uncomfortable. After leaving the diner, Harold is found dead, with his eyelids cut off and clutching a symbol which appears to be a circle with a line through it, which leads to FBI Agents Thomas Mackelway (Aaron Eckhart) and Fran Kulok (Carrie-Anne Moss) being brought in on the case. There appears to be history between Mackelway and Kulok. We learn Kulok has been married but it didn't work out. Before that she was with Mackelway. Flashbacks of Mackelway's recent suspension reveal he received a six-month suspension and psychological evaluation for beating a suspected serial killer, Raymond Starkey (who was in fact a serial killer and went to prison for his crimes). Mackelway receives a series of taunting faxes from someone who may be the killer. Meanwhile kids go missing and we catch glimpses of a big truck.

As the investigation proceeds, the agents begin to become aware of the possible existence of "Suspect Zero", a "super serial killer" responsible for hundreds of deaths across all 50 states who leaves no evidence behind to link his crimes together. Another body is found in the trunk of a beaten up car, also with his eyelids cut off and cut with the crossed circle mark. The ownership of the car is traced to a halfway house where the manager admits Kulok and Mackelway to a room that was occupied by Benjamin O'Ryan for seven years. The room is filled with obsessive-compulsive sketches of the crossed circle design, a Bible which contains sketches of missing persons, and a book on ritual. Questioning the other occupants of the halfway house, Mackelway is told by one of them the design represents a Zero, not a circle.

The killer sends information to Mackelway which leads him to Benjamin O'Ryan (Ben Kingsley), who believes himself to be a former member of the FBI. The agents must decide if O'Ryan is the key that will allow them to catch Suspect Zero or if he himself is Suspect Zero.

A man kidnaps and begins to rape a girl he followed out of a bar. O'Ryan pulls him out the car window and kills him. When the FBI including Kulok and Mackelway arrive, they find that the body belongs to the serial killer. Starkey, who Mackelway had put away earlier, who had been released from prison.

Evidence uncovered reveals that O'Ryan was part of a secret government experiment (Project Icarus) attempting to cultivate telepathic abilities in individuals (remote viewing) for military purposes. The experiments gave O'Ryan the ability to see the actions of serial killers. These disturbing visions constantly torment O'Ryan and drive him to find the killers and kill them. O'Ryan seeks out Mackelway because Mackelway shares his abilities to some degree. O'Ryan begins to see through Mackelway's eyes, too. Then Mackelway starts seeing through O'Ryan's eyes and Mackelway starts seeing through the serial killers' eyes. Mackelway's boss is not convinced by his theories that O'Ryan is chasing the killer rather than being the killer; Kulok is not sure either.

The actual Suspect Zero is another man who travels around the United States with a refrigerated truck. He targets children, whom he abducts and transports to his ranch to be killed. Mackelway pieces together evidence linking these crimes by recognizing that victims had signs of freezer burns while being transported from their place of kidnap to their resting place. Mackelway chases a suspect truckdriver to a carnival only to find that the child he saw in his vision as 'captured' is free; the truckdriver appears to be his father. Suddenly O'Ryan appears and captures Mackelway. Mackelway wakes tied in front of a mirror as O'Ryan tries to scare him but Mackelway is not frightened. O'Ryan spares him and they drive together while O'Ryan divulges his history with Project Icarus.

Eventually, Mackelway and O'Ryan find Suspect Zero at his ranch. There are many bodies buried in shallow mounds of earth. Chasing him, both vehicles crash off the road. Kulok manages to free the child in the truck trailer, who had been kidnapped from a swing. After a struggle outside, Suspect Zero is killed when Mackelway crushes his skull with a rock. O'Ryan then tries to convince Mackelway to end his suffering by killing him. When Mackelway refuses, O'Ryan pretends to attack him, prompting Kulok to shoot him to defend her partner.




The film is based on a first draft by Zak Penn. After it was sold to Universal Studios for $750,000, Cruise/Wagner Productions (founded by Tom Cruise and Paula Wagner) became its producers. However the script was put onto the back burner after a deal to make the movie in 1997 with Sylvester Stallone fell through.

After several more years, Cruise/Wagner Productions hired Bill Ray to rewrite Penn's original script. Changes included moving the action from Texas, making the lead character a burned-out, disgraced FBI agent rather than a rookie, and turning a maverick criminal profiler into a psychic with the power of remote viewing.


The film began shooting in New Mexico in 2002. The State was chosen because it offered tax-free incentives and financial funding to film companies using New Mexico. The program was established to entice film makers to the State.


The original release of the film was slated for 2003. However after it was put back to spring 2004, it was not released until the last weekend in August 2004.

The film has received generally bad reviews. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a rating of 18%. Roger Ebert thought the film confusing, stating "enigmatic flashes of incomprehensible action grow annoying, and a point at which we realize that there's no use paying close attention, because we won't be able to figure out the film's secrets until they're explained to us."[1]

It made less than half its total budget in ticket sales.



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