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

Suspect Zero
Suspect Zero poster.jpg
Promotional poster
Directed byE. Elias Merhige
Produced byGaye Hirsch
E. Elias Merhige
Paula Wagner
Written byZak Penn
Billy Ray
StarringAaron Eckhart
Ben Kingsley
Carrie-Anne Moss
Kevin Chamberlin
Harry J. Lennix
Music byClint Mansell
CinematographyMichael Chapman
Edited byJohn Gilroy
Robert K. Lambert
Distributed byParamount Pictures (United States)
Sony Pictures Releasing (International)
Release date
August 27, 2004 (2004-08-27)
Running time
99 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$27 million
Box office$11,416,075

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. It features various elements from declassified CIA Stargate remote viewing protocols.[1]


Traveling salesman Harold Speck is approached by a man in a diner who asks him an uncomfortable question. After leaving the diner, Harold is found dead with his eyelids cut off and clutching a symbol consisting of a circle with a line through it. The murder is investigated by FBI Agent Thomas Mackelway (Aaron Eckhart), who was recently suspended for beating suspected serial killer Raymond Starkey. Mackelway receives a series of taunting faxes from someone who may be Speck's killer. As the investigation proceeds, Mackelway and his partner, Fran Kulok (Carrie-Anne Moss), become aware of the possible existence of Suspect Zero, a "super serial killer" responsible for hundreds of deaths who leaves no evidence behind to link his crimes together.

Another body is found in the trunk of a car bearing an M.O. similar to Speck's murder. The ownership of the car is traced to a room in a halfway house occupied by Benjamin O'Ryan. The agents discover that the room is filled with obsessive-compulsive sketches of the crossed-circle symbol, 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 symbol represents a zero, not a circle. Information sent by the killer leads Mackelway to 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 to catching Suspect Zero, or if he is Suspect Zero himself.

Outside a bar, O'Ryan kills a man who attempts to kidnap and rape a young girl. When Mackelway and Kulok arrive, they find that the body belongs to Starkey, who had been released from prison. Evidence reveals that O'Ryan was part of Project Icarus, a secret government project attempting to cultivate telepathic abilities in individuals for military purposes. The experiments gave O'Ryan the ability to see the actions of serial killers, driving him to hunt them down. O'Ryan demonstrates that Mackelway shares his abilities to some degree. Neither Kulok or Mackelway's superiors are convinced by his theories that O'Ryan is chasing the killer rather than being the killer.

Suspect Zero is revealed to be a man who drives cross-country in a refrigerated truck. He targets children, whom he abducts and transports to his ranch, where he kills them. Mackelway links these crimes by recognizing that victims had signs of freezer burns while being transported. Mackelway chases one truck driver to a carnival, only to find that the child he saw in his vision as "captured" is free. O'Ryan suddenly appears and captures Mackelway. After refusing to be frightened, O'Ryan spares Mackelway. Eventually, the two men track Suspect Zero to his ranch and find numerous shallow graves. Chasing him, both vehicles crash off the road. Kulok manages to free a child while Mackelway kills Suspect Zero. 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, which allegedly impressed Steven Spielberg so much in its depiction of serial killers' elongated middle fingers that he went home and checked his children's hands.[2] 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.[3]

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.[citation needed]


On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, Suspect Zero holds an approval rating of 18% with a rating average of 4.4/10 based on 129 reviews. Its consensus reads, "Other than Ben Kingsley, there's not much to like in this preposterous thriller."[4] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 37 out of 100, based on 29 critics, indicating "Generally unfavorable reviews".[5]

Roger Ebert felt that the film was too 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."[6] Nick Schager from Slant Magazine wrote a particularly scathing review of the film, stating "Suspect Zero proves, uninspired imitation is the lowest form of thriller filmmaking."[7] Carla Meyer from the San Francisco Chronicle was also critical of the film, writing, "Suspect Zero needed to be exceptional, and it isn't. It's merely adequate, with one riveting element but limited chills."[8] Dennis Schwartz of Ozus' World Movie Reviews awarded the film a grade C, writing, "Director E. Elias Merhige has undeniable skills in making a film look pretty, but in this mainstream film he can't get around to telling a good story--or at least sticking with his main story without wandering off the reservation. His filmmaking in Suspect Zero loses itself in poor pacing, an inability to make things clear, plot devices that are illogical, a heavy reliance on genre clichés and a ludicrous ending and rational for the film that makes the entire project suspect."[9]


  1. ^ Targ, Russell. "Standard Remote-Viewing Protocol (Local Targets)" (PDF). CIA. p. 5.
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ "Suspect Zero (2004) - Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Flixter. Retrieved December 18, 2018.
  5. ^ "Suspect Zero reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved December 18, 2018.
  6. ^ Ebert, Roger. "Suspect Zero Movie Review & Film Summary (2004)". Roger Roger Ebert. Retrieved 18 December 2018.
  7. ^ Schager, Nich. "Suspect Zero". Slant Nick Schager. Retrieved 18 December 2018.
  8. ^ Meyer, Carla. "Madman offers some killer advice - SFGate". SF Carla Meyer. Retrieved 18 December 2018.
  9. ^ Schwartz, Dennis. "suspectzero". Dennis Schwartz. Retrieved 18 December 2018.

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