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Non-Review Review: The Usual Suspects

Wow. Neo-noir is a very tough genre to pull off. It really is. Think of how many dodgy movies you’ve seen about drug dealers and bent cops in the last year alone (I’ve even seen one this weekend). When it works, it works magically. It seems like the mid-nineties was the era for producing any number of classic modern noir-style tales. There’s Copland, L.A. Confidential and – of course – the movie that arguably started the whole trend. We’re looking at you, The Usual Suspects

Calvin Klein models just aren't trying anymore...

Calvin Klein models just aren't trying anymore...

Set in the aftermath of what seems like a drug deal gone horrible, horribly wrong, various law enforcement agencies try to piece together what exactly happened. There’s the only survivor of the deal with critical burns ranting and raving about seeing the devil himself, and there’s a panicked and scared small-time hood spilling the beans in a downtown police sergeant’s office. The two can agree on one thing: this was all the work of a mysterious arch-criminal known only as Keyser Soze.

The script is tight. It’s solid. It keeps the audience on its toes with its tangled web of coincidences that aren’t really coincidences, retired hoodlums who aren’t really retired hoodlums and small-time mobsters in over their heads. The script moves to a stunning and clever conclusion, but it maintains our interest the whole way through and rewards repeat viewings, like a good film should. The was one deserved Oscar.

Of course, Christopher McQuarrie’s script would be nothing without a director who could handle it. Bryan Singer shows his skill behind the camera by guiding the audience through the tangled plot, but never losing us amidst it. Singer has hired an astonishing cast of actors – most of which have seen their stars rise dramatically since the release of the film. Kevin Spacey is superb here (as in everything he’s ever done), and maybe he deserved his Oscar, but for me it’s Gabriel Byrne that anchors the film. His formerly crooked cop Keating is arguably a walking cliché – that old-time gangster who wants to hang up his spurs but can’t resist the magnet draw him back in, to mix so many metaphors. Byrne manages to give us so much more. His motivations aren’t so clear, and he’s shifty; questionable. The audience doesn’t trust him, though he’s the protagonist. There’s something a little off about him.

That the film resurrected a genre confined to low budgets and direct-to-video features is a testament to its greatness. There have been dozens of inferior knock-offs constructed hoping to emulate the film’s success. Even Singer and McQuarrie re-teaming couldn’t compare. The Usual Suspects is a smart, well-paced gangster classic. It’s also a movie that’s a lot smarter and richer and more complex than it fools you into believing it is.

Just like Keyser Soze.


The Usual Suspects is directed by Bryan Singer (X-Men, Valkyrie) and stars Gabriel Byrne (Enemy of the State, Stigmata), Benecio del Toro (Che, Traffic), Kevin Pollack (Casino, The Whole Nine Yards), Stephen Baldwin (Born on the Fourth of July, A Simple Twist of Fate), Kevin Spacey (American Beauty, Moon), Pete Postlethwaite (Romeo & Juliet, In the Name of the Father), Giancarlo Esposito (Miami Vice, Nothing to Lose) and Chaz Palminteri (Mulholland Falls, A Bronx Tale). It was released in the United States on the 16th August 1995, and over her a week later on 25th August 1995.

9 Responses

  1. Wow 2 blogs over the weekend mentioning this movie, coincidence? I saw it for at least the 10th time on saturday, i love it. It always surprise’s me and keeps me intrigued. Even when i know the ending the build up and miss direction always gets my mind racing about other motives or what’s a lie or not.

    Oh and the ending, just wow….

    Possibly the best recent “noir” was Brick. Love that movie.

  2. Oh no — you mentioned “The Usual Suspects.” I’m about to geek out. You might get some on your shoe.

    But seriously … this is my third favorite film of all time. It’s tricky and smart and funny, with one of the best twist endings in movie history. Plus, the acting is great and Kevin Spacey gets points for playing against type (well, until the end). This movie is why I love movies.

    M. Carter at the Movies

  3. […] Man, Forgetting Sarah Marshall), Jamie Kennedy (Scream, Son of the Mask) and Pete Postlethwaite (The Usual Suspects, In The Name of The […]

  4. […] about ‘classic’ films? I think that certain endings are sacred. Thou shalt never spoil The Usual Suspects – and I drafted my review accordingly. However, can you mention that there is a twist? Or […]

  5. […] This post is somewhat prompted by an interesting discussion over at MCarter’s review of The Usual Suspects, concerning the ending. Some people remarked that while they were impressed with the ambiguity of […]

  6. […] piece that got people talking was a discussion over the ending of the Usual Suspects wondering if we’re sure we saw what we […]

  7. […] any other. And art is open to interpretation. We could argue, for example, over the ending of the Usual Suspects, for example – even though the writer and director have been unambiguous about what they […]

  8. Completely agree with your take on the film, I found that I had to watch it twice before I fully appreciated just how good it is! Check out my review at http://jblogs200.blogspot.co.uk/2014/07/the-usual-suspects-4-stars.html?m=1

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