#53 The Usual Suspects
(1995, Bryan Singer)
“The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist”
Trying to sum up The Usual Suspects in a quick and simple manner isn’t easy. First off, due to the flashback-style nature of the story, it’s hard to know exactly where to start. The plot’s got a million twists and turns and leaps around all over the place so it’s hard to summarise it here. But I suppose I have to.
An incident has happened in the San Pedro docks. A boat has been set ablaze, and a lot of people have died, all for a supposed drug deal. The only survivors are a comatose Hungarian crew member and a fraudster with cerebral palsy named Verbal Kint (Kevin Spacey). Kint is brought in to find out exactly what’s happened. He tells a story that all began with a line-up in New York rounding up the usual suspects of the title on suspicion of being involved in a hijack. This group – consisting of Kint, Michael McManus (Stephen Baldwin), his partner Fred Fenster (Benicio Del Toro), Todd Hockney (Kevin Pollak) and supposedly now-straight Dean Keaton (Gabriel Byrne) – together devise a scheme to show up corruption in the police force, eventually leading to them receiving an assignment from legendary crime lord Keyser Soze.
The Usual Suspects is a very intriguing crime thriller. There are a million things going on at once here, and yet it all works. There’s the theme of Keaton trying to fight his criminal instincts and go straight, there’s the account of the actual crime jobs they undertake as part of the movie, there’s the mystery of what happened on the boat and what led the group there, and ultimately, tying everything together, there is the legend of mysterious crime lord Keyser Soze. Who is he? Where did he come from? Where is he hiding? And what is he planning?
The plot is exciting, but it’s not perfect. There are a few holes in the way events pan out. For a start, the basic idea of the group getting together to commit a few criminal jobs seems a little implausible, particularly as plans begin to be made while they’re still being held in custody. However, it’s likely that this is because the story is being told through a flashback via an unreliable narrator. The police are already suspicious of Kint because his story allegedly changes every time he tells it and he initially seems unwilling to help, so it makes us suspicious of his story. It’s a theory that sticks right to the end, so it’s possible some of the minor plot holes can be glossed over this way. Particularly when the twist reveals itself.
Ah yes, the twist. The Usual Suspects contains one of cinema’s most notable plot twists, and it’s a very good one. It’s difficult to talk about the film effectively without giving the game away, but I’ll continue to try. What I will say is the twist is effective because of just how many clues are hidden away in plain sight throughout the movie. While initially it comes as a huge, unexpected shock, repeated viewings show that Singer and co. have been dropping hints towards it for the entire movie, they’re just easy to miss entirely, not least because of the sleight-of-hand employed to lead us to make a different initial opinion.
In addition to its rather clever plotting which gets more impressive the more it’s examined, the execution is fantastic too. On a technical standpoint, the shots and the pacing are spot on, which is what makes the original misdirection work as well as it does. The acting is also brilliant. Benicio Del Toro has incoherent dialogue throughout the movie, but this is a deliberate decision on his part, and in fact suits the character perfectly. Only issue I had was in Pete Postlethwaite’s performance as mysterious lawyer Kobayashi. He constantly had a bizarre accent that was impossible to place. I assume it was designed to make the character seem a little unusual, but all it achieved with me was making me sit there thinking “pick an accent and stick with it!” and proved a distraction.
Overall, The Usual Suspects was an exciting rollercoaster of a movie with a satisfactory twist. Probably not for anyone who can’t stand crime thrillers, but definitely one of the best crime thrillers out there.
Starring Stephen Baldwin, Gabriel Byrne, Chazz Palminteri, Kevin Pollak, Pete Postlethwaite, Kevin Spacey & Benicio Del Toro
Written by Christopher McQuarrie
Produced by Bryan Singer & Michael McDonnell
Music score by John Ottoman
Cinematography by Newton Thomas Sigel
Edited by John Ottman
Favourite Scene: The twist. Quite possibly one of the biggest “OH CRAP” moments in cinema history.
Scene That Bugged Me: Kobayashi’s introduction. First of all, what accent is that? Secondly, you’re clearly British, why do you have a Japanese name? Yes, this gets explained a little in the twist, but it still bugged me.
Watch it if: You want to find out who Keyser Soze is
Avoid it if: Benicio Del Toro’s mumbling puts you off
Originally posted on Blogspot Saturday 11 February 2012