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The Usual Suspects

Posted by admin | Posted in Movies | Posted on 13-05-2010


Winner of two 1995 Academy Awards(r), including Best Original Screenplay, this masterful, atmospheric film noir enraptured audiences with its complex and riveting storyline, gritty, tour-de-force performances (including an Oscar(r)-winning* turn by Kevin Spacey) and a climax that is truly deserving of the word stunning. Also starring Stephen Baldwin, Gabriel Byrne, Chazz Palminteri, Kevin Pollak and Pete Postlethwaite, this ‘thoroughly engrossing film (HBO) is so gripping… More >>

The Usual Suspects

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“Round up the usual suspects.” And so they do – and ending up in the lineup are career criminals Michael McManus, Fred Fenster and Todd Hockney (Stephen Baldwin, Benicio del Toro and Kevin Pollack), ex-cop gone bad gone good again Dean Keaton (Gabriel Byrne) and small-time con man Verbal Kint (Kevin Spacey).

Wait a minute … five criminals in one lineup? There’s something wrong here, right? Right …

In “The Usual Suspects,” not only every line but every gesture, every facial expression and every camera cut counts. Even if you distrust the story being told, you can’t exactly pin down everything that’s wrong with it. The plot unfolds through the tale extracted from Kint, one of two survivors of a massacre and subsequent explosion on a boat docked in San Pedro Harbor, by U.S. Customs agent David Kujan (Chazz Palminteri). And at the same time as Kint is spinning his yarn, in a nearby hospital the other survivor (badly injured and fresh out of a coma) helps a police sketch artist draw a picture of the mastermind behind the scheme – “the devil,” Keyser Söze.

You can watch this movie countless times, and you will still discover new subtleties every single time. Not only will you find that it still makes sense after the story line has been unraveled at the end (which therefore is a plot twist, not a non-sequitur). You’ll also discover nuance upon nuance in Kevin Spacey’s incredible performance. You’ll see that tiny apologetic grin on Todd Hockney’s face as attorney Kobayashi (Pete Postlethwaite) lists a weapons truck heist – the very act which brought them together in the initial lineup, and which they have all come to believe to have been a trumped-up charge – as Hockney’s latest sin against Keyser Söze, now forming part of the debt to be repaid by participating in the suicide mission in San Pedro Harbor. And at some point you’ll also have figured out all of Fenster’s lines (not being a native English speaker, I am relieved to find that I wasn’t the only one struggling with them at first) … although the mumbling is of course part of his character, and is as excellently delivered as every other aspect of Benicio del Toro’s acting, his lines are so funny and to the point you almost wish he’d speak more clearly so you wouldn’t miss half his punch lines the first time around.

Among a cast of tremendous actors (to name just two, Gabriel Byrne in one of his best performances and Benicio del Toro, deserving much more than just an “also starring” mentioning in the opening credits), Kevin Spacey’s star shines brightest. To this day it is a mystery to me how he came to be awarded the Academy Award for Best *Supporting* Actor – the only things the man supports (in fact carries, almost single-handedly) in this movie are Bryan Singer’s directing and Christopher McQuarrie’s screenplay, and that alone makes him the movie’s lead character. But regardless of its title, the award was more than justified, and so was the one for McQuarrie’s screenplay. With infinite trust in the audience’s ability to pick up on little gestures, looks and inflections of his voice, Kevin Spacey displays all the many aspects of his character at the same time; and even the tenth time around, his performance still holds as true as the first time you watch the movie. Almost expressionless he tells his tale, always seeming to give away just about as much as he has to, and only raising his voice for a pointed (and exquisitely timed) expletive upon first being confronted with the name Keyser Söze, and for a wailing “Why me??” as agent Kujan tries to convince him that his own archenemy, Keaton, has been behind their failed enterprise all along and purposely let him (Kint) live to tell their story.

This is one of those movies which have you quote their many memorable one-liners forever. (Just look at how many reviewers on this site alone are quoting the one about “the devil’s greatest trick.”) To the extent that it cites other works, those citations pay homage, they don’t merely copy – right down to the name of the movie’s production company (Blue Parrot/Bad Hat); like the title containing a reference to “Casablanca,” the prototype of all films noir (or those made in Hollywood at least). It is one of the best modern examples of the genre and has long since become a cult classic – it’s a must in every decent collection.

Also recommended:

Memento (Widescreen Two-Disc Limited Edition)

L.A. Confidential

Seven (New Line Platinum Series)
Rating: 5 / 5

Sometimes a movie really surprises you, really blows you away for some reason. I saw “The Usual Suspects” not really expecting anything interesting. Well, I was wrong. Instead I got to see a terrifically exciting movie featuring outstanding acting and a plot twist that actually caught me by surprise.

The plot? Following a bloody shoot-out aboard a ship moored at a Santa Monica pier, the police question a hood by the name of Verbal Kint in an attempt to learn about what happened. We see several different possibilities and the final answer we get is a real surprise.

Typically movies rely upon special effects, left-field plot twists, and brand-name casting to get the job done. “The Usual Suspects” relies on an excellent script, good direction and wonderful acting from people who might not necessarily be household names. Look at this cast- Stephen Baldwin, Kevin Pollack, Benicio Del Toro, Gabriel Byrne, Kevin Spacey, Chazz Palminteri, Dan Hedaya, and Pete Postlethwaite. This is some serious acting talent to behold. They all are great, but in particular Gabriel Byrne (Dean Keaton) and Kevin Spacey (Verbal Kint) deliver exceptional performances. Neither man is quite who they seem to be. Spacey won a well-deserved Oscar for his performance in this film.

Director Brian Singer does a brilliant job coaxing terrific acting performances from his cast. This was a tought movie to make and he pulled it off in spades.

Go see “The Usual Suspects” and find out why it is one of my favorite films.
Rating: 5 / 5

The Usual Suspects is one of the finest films I’ve ever seen. It is peppered with magnificent performances, excellent direction, and a brilliant script(Which incidentally won the Oscar for Best Screenplay). Director Bryan Singer molds a tight and entertaining tale of five men, falsely brought in on charges of a stolen vehicle, then deciding to join forces and commit more crimes. What transgresses is a story of deceit, corruption and murder. Not only is the tale incredibly gripping, it is also downright hilarious at some points, making it such an enjoyable film. Kevin Spacey delivers an amazing performance as Verbal Kint, a scam artist cripple. Gabriel Byrne is great as the tough but compassionate Dean Keaton. Kevin Pollack delivers a strong and razor sharp comic relief role as Todd Hockney. One of the most surprisingly fantastic performances comes from Stephen Baldwin, who really packs a punch in this one. Benicio Del Toro gained rave reviews for his role as Fenster in this film , with due cause. Chazz Palminteri is also very intimidating as the cop trying to bring them down. This film won two Oscars, for original screenplay(Christopher McQuarrie, can you believe this was an original?!) and very deservedly for Kevin Spacey and his awesome performance. There is a surprise ending that will knock you off your seat. Sorry, can’t give it away. Go out and see it.
Rating: 5 / 5

Warning to DVD viewers who have not seen this movie: Do not play the menu screen before watching the movie. The menu shows movie clips in the background, some of which are from near the end of the movie. I don’t know who the morons were who created this DVD, but someone should tell them that that the movie is esentially a MYSTERY, and they should probably refrain from showing people the ending before they watch it. This is a great movie, it is a shame that the DVD producers put such little thought into making this DVD.
Rating: 3 / 5

By now everyone knows “The Usual Suspects” so I won’t comment on the film, just this MGM Special Edition; and it is a prime example of just how well these can be done. As I said in the headline, this is worthy of the Criterion Collection but at a very affordable price.

Side One has both the widescreen and P/S formated versions (although who still wants to watch a cropped film with pan&scan camera movements the director never made is beyond me). The transfer is high-definition with superb picture quality augmented by 5.1 Stereo Surround Sound. This film on this DVD looks better than when it was on the big screen. This side also features two running commentaries: the one by director Singer and screenwriter McQuarrie is the same one on the first “Suspects” DVD which was taken from a special limited edition VHS (Letterboxed film, same plus commentary, and a third box of “collectables”. I think I was the only one who bought this!) The second commentary of by John Ottman, the editor and composer, and this one is a revelation to anyone who is interested in filmmaking, specifically “putting the film together after the finished shoot”: editing and scoring. After my initial viewing of the film I really didn’t think I could sit through it again right away, especially with the incredible dialogue subdued. But after listening to Ottman for five minutes, his enthusiasm became contagious and I was hooked. There is plenty here that “Suspects” fans will appreciate.

Side Two has all of the extras and there are plenty of them. Two half-hour documentaries, (“Pursuing the ‘Suspects'” and “Doing Time with the ‘Suspects'”) with the actors, Singer and Ottman. (I guess McQuarrie felt he did his part with the original commentary.) A twenty-minute documentary on “Keyser Sose: Lie or Legend” which is funny and informative. Five deleted scenes introduced by Ottman (but it is easy to see why they were deleted) totalling ten minutes. Add ten minutes of trailers, TV spots, a seven minute gag reel introduced by Singer and some special “Easter Eggs” which I plan look for today (and probably watch the film again!) and you’ll know everything you’ve wanted to know about “Suspects” and Mr. Sose.

There is finally some deserved praise for cinematographer, Tom Sigel, who made this “$4 million dollar production look like a $50 million film.” Ottman, Singer and Gabriel Byrne also lament how this film, basically a rogue, independent production, could not be made today with studios rejecting originality and artists’ visions in lieu of boilerplate plotlines, sequel-itis, and adapting films to their perception of what an audience wants after multiple pre-screenings. Byrne justly calls these “MacMovies” and I can’t think of a more apt term.

Congratulations MGM for elevating your standards on Special Editions. This one was worth waiting for and delivered more than what was expected.
Rating: 5 / 5

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