Nov 8, 2013

[Movies] The Usual Suspects (1995)

This review is the result of an afternoon home alone and me deciding that I needed to address some of the gaps in my movie watching history. And due to age, I missed out on catching The Usual Suspects when it first hit theaters. I just can't explain why I was able to watch Copycat around the same period. Oh childhood.

The movie had gotten a lot of attention from the various award-giving bodies. And I've seen a number of references made back to it over the years, so that just added to my annoyance that I couldn't relate.

I do realize that I have a bit of a thing for caper films - or stories that follow around the criminals instead of members of law enforcement or something. It's a fun way to go through the reveal of how things went down instead of the focus on trying catching the criminals. It's hard to explain, but I really think having things the other way makes a lot more sense to me, entertainment-wise.

Synopsis: The Usual Suspects is a 1995 American neo-noir movie directed by Bryan Singer with a screen play by Christopher McQuarrie. The movie won a number of awards including the Oscars for Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor for Kevin Spacey.

In the present day, the FBI are investigating a number of murders and a ship being set on fire by figures unknown. The only survivors of the incident are con man Roger "Verbal" Kint (Kevin Spacey) and a Hungarian criminal who was severely injured in the incident. Verbal testifies at length in exchange for immunity, but before his bail is settled he is interrogated by US Customs Agent Dave Kujan (Chazz Palminteri).

His story takes place about 6 weeks earlier when five criminals - Dean Keaton (Gabriel Byrne), Michael McManus (Stephen Baldwin), Todd Hockney (Kevin Pollack), Fred Fenster (Benicio del Toro) and Verbal are gathered to appear in a police line-up. While in holding, McManis talks about a job that they could work on together with significant rewards. And how their "simple" robbery leads to the events at the docks is really what defines the movie and keeps us all involved with the story.

The movie follows a rather deliberate, and methodical pace that does quite match how "thrilling" the story actually is. Sure, you don't have car chases or firefights that go on forever. But it's the narrative twists and turns that really keep you on the edge of your seat as we follow the course of events as narrated by Verbal. And I can't think of anyone else who could have captured the story so well.

I will take a moment to note that Stephen Baldwin was actually pretty decent as somewhat taciturn thief and muscle man. I mean seriously, he's had some really bad roles over the years and I didn't get that vibe from this particular movie. So yay him.

Back on point, the story is really the star here more than anything else. The actors are solid enough, yes, but they all only really come together to bring this story to life. The only truly notable acting credit indeed has to go to Kevin Spacey given how his narrative just ties everything together, but beyond that I'll have to admit that I wasn't too tied to the individual actors. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, mind you. It just means that we didn't have scene-stealing moments or things like that.

At times the plotting can get a little freaky though and if you don't keep up with the story and some of the time-shifts and jumping around across characters, you can get a little lost. I don't see this as a tremendous barrier to enjoying the movie, but it does sort of give it a bit of a learning curve, if you understand my meaning. Take that bit as you well.

If you like these kinds of tricky, plot-centric movies, then The Usual Suspects is going to be a movie that you'll enjoy a lot. Otherwise, you may need to scale things down to something more action-oriented or something - or whatever. The movie rates a good 4 seemingly random statements Verbal inserts into his story out of a possible 5.


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