Friday, July 15, 2011

The Usual Suspects (1995)

An Unusual Thriller

- A dark and quiet night on a San Pedro pier suddenly turns into chaos as a boat explodes, leaving 27 dead and only two survivors for the police to question. One survivor is a Hungarian in critical condition; the other is Verbal Kint, a crippled scam-artist who was in on the job. With only hours until Kint walks out of the police station with state-granted immunity, police US Customs agent Dave Kujan presses Kint hard to give him information about the specifics of the boat job and his con-men teammates: Fenster, McManus, Hockney, and Dean Keaton - your usual suspects. The Usual Suspects is a fantastic film that thrills and keeps you guessing by asking what now seems like an age old question: "Who is Keyser Söze?"

The Usual Suspects is easily director Bryan Singer's magnum opus, looking down its nose at the other films that are a part of Singer's filmography. With the combination of Christopher McQuarrie's amazing script, John Ottman's sharp editing and moody score, Newton Thomas Sigel's rich cinematography, and Singer's flawless direction, this film is extraordinarily crafted with its unique way of storytelling, creative shots and lighting, and everlasting mystery, each scene saying more than one thing at once. Every time you think you have figured something out, you are proved wrong and are forced to keep guessing and guessing.

The film's acting ensemble - Gabriel Byrne, Kevin Spacey, Chazz Palminteri, Stephen Baldwin, Benicio Del Toro, Kevin Pollak, and Pete Postlethwaite - was not exactly a collection of Hollywood A-listers at the time (a different story today) but these guys put on one hell of a show and are among the best ever assembled together on screen. Gabriel Byrne leads this team of untamable professional thugs as Dean Keaton, a man drawn back into the crime underworld against his primary wishes. Quiet and subtle to tremendous effect, Byrne commands every scene he steps into. Also, Benicio Del Toro creates a very fun and interesting character out of the do nothing-on-paper Fenster character and Chazz Palminteri has never been finer as US Customs agent Dave Kujan. Even Stephen Baldwin and Kevin Pollak, who are basically called in to play themselves (the outrageous tough guy McManus and sarcastic jerk Hockney, respectively), make the roles work and are very entertaining.

If anyone deserved the Best Supporting Actor Oscar in 1995, it was Kevin Spacey for his mind-blowing performance as Verbal Kint. And that's all I'm going to say about that - if you have seen the film, you know what I'm talking about; if you haven't seen the film, you want to experience it for yourself.

You cannot really slap any labels on The Usual Suspects - it is too unique a film. But whatever genre you try to put it in - crime, thriller, neo noir, etc. - The Usual Suspects will come out as one of that genre's very best films, a fantastic thrill ride from beginning to end.

CBC Rating: 10/10

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