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Usual Suspects, The (1995)

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Score: 10/10

Genre: Mystery and Thriller Running Time: 1 hr. 46 min.

Release Date: September 15th, 1995 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Bryan Singer Actors: Gabriel Byrne, Benicio Del Toro, Kevin Pollak, Kevin Spacey, Chazz Palminteri, Stephen Baldwin, Pete Postlethwaite, Suzy Amis, Giancarlo Esposito, Dan Hedaya, Paul Bartel

F

rom the pounding music by John Ottman (who also edited the movie) to the colorful characters to the hardboiled dialogue to the murder-mystery intrigue, “The Usual Suspects” gets everything right. Sporting one of the greatest endings in cinema history, this fast-paced crime thriller features solid performances, a completely engrossing plot, tons of suspense, and even some competent action sequences. When it comes to brain-twisting deception and absorbing machinations embellishing a tortuous narrative, “The Usual Suspects” is at the top of the list.

In present day San Pedro, California, 27 bodies turn up dead on a harbor battleground – and sure-footed, cocky FBI Special Agent Dave Kujan (Chazz Palminteri) is determined to get to the bottom of it. Immediately, he rounds up the “usual suspects” (a phrase borrowed from “Casablanca”), a group of lowlifes, previous offenders, and generally scummy thugs who were surely involved; if it’s a big crime, they almost always are. The five men appear in a classic police lineup that would become the poster art and one of the most humorous scenes in the picture. Originally intended to be serious, the takes always resulted in laughter from the cast, prompting the use of a more relaxed tone.

Kujan’s only means of finding out the truth revolve around two disparate survivors. One is a badly burned Hungarian mobster, who reveals that notorious Turkish narcotics criminal Keyser Soze was at the heart of it all (nobody has ever seen him or worked directly for him, and his entire existence is most likely a myth). The second is Roger “Verbal” Kint (Kevin Spacey), a crippled, unintelligent, pushover, short con operator who gets caught up in a dastardly scheme for a few bucks and the chance to hang with the tough crowd. The harsh, intimidating oral interrogation by Kujan forces Kint to reveal extra details left out of his testimony, even after the District Attorney granted immunity.

One of the chief suspects is Dean Keaton (Gabriel Byrne), a crooked cop who was kicked off the police force and claims to have turned straight. But the law’s constant pressure and his frequent status as a suspicious player drive him back to crime. The others are Michael McManus (Stephen Baldwin), a loud-mouthed loose cannon; Fred Fenster (Benicio Del Toro), a streetwise vehicle provider; and Todd Hockney (Kevin Pollak), a weapons man. They’re all petty crooks who band together for what should have been a simple, quick heist; instead, their solitary task mutates into a string of dirty jobs until they find themselves working for Keyser Soze himself.

Who is Keyser Soze? “The Usual Suspects” features perhaps the most famous of all movie lineups and the most unforgettable series of unpredictable twists. The sarcastic dialogue, shady personas, and Kint’s convoluted narration present a perfect neo-noir atmosphere that will keep audiences guessing until the very end. The story is told in flashback, with the opening scene determining the fate of the lead character. But the method in which the details are filled in, the characters introduced, and the relationships complicated, is so entertaining that the “why” and the “who” become far more riveting than the “how.” A highly impressive second film for Bryan Singer, who would go on to direct two X-Men entries and a Superman installment, “The Usual Suspects” would go on to win Best Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor Academy Awards (for Christopher McQuarrie and Kevin Spacey, respectively), and is now considered one of the most outstanding of all mystery movies.

– Mike Massie

 



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