12 The Usual Suspects

17 Jun

Every 15 to 20 years or so a film will come out in a genre that will become the standard for other films in that genre to live up to. For the noir/heist/mystery genre, “The Usual Suspects” is that film. “The Usual Suspects” presented a throwback to old-school storytelling with quick-talking, quick-drawing, lively characters in the underworld of crime.

The film, directed by a young Bryan Singer, revolves around a whimpering, crippled, low-level thug named Verbal Kint (Kevin Spacey), who is brought into a police station to be interrogated about a heist on a merchant ship gone wrong. Kint weaves an  intricate story about the four other men he was hired with for the heist by a mysterious legend of  the crime-world named Kaiser Soze. The four other men, Michael McManus (Stephen Baldwin who went on to do many other films that no one has ever heard of or cares about), Fred Fenster (a much younger Benicio Del Toro who you will need subtitles to understand), Todd Hockney (Kevin Pollack), and Dean Keaton (Gabriel Byrne over-compensating in badassery after his role in ‘Little Women’), are brought together at a police lineup due to one of them supposedly knocking over an armored truck and from there are led down a dizzying path of crime which leads to the merchant ship heist in California.

“The Usual Suspects” breaks one of the rules of detective fiction created by the great detective fiction writer of the 1920’s, Raymond Chandler, by providing an unreliable narrator. While some screenwriters had tried to do this before, they had fallen short and proved that the rule is there for a reason because the audience would just feel cheated. “The Usual Suspects” makes an incredible exception to the rule by making it known throughout parts of the story, however un-remarkable at the time, so that the viewer does not feel like they were just the victim of a terrible practical joke. This is primarily the reason why this film was groundbreaking in the world of screenwriting because it found a way to effectively “break the rules”.

Everything about this film is great, from the strong performances (especially by then relatively unknown Kevin Spacey), to the intricate and complex story, to the witty dialogue, the entire film is firing on all cylinders. I enjoy watching this film over and over again because there is so much to pick up on and you learn something new about it every time. Plus, it updates the film noir concept and tips its hat to some of my favorite crime films from the 40’s like “The Maltese Falcon” and “High Sierra”.

Another great aspect of this film is that there hasn’t been a sequel. You would expect a wildly popular crime film with so many memorable characters to have been jumped upon by Hollywood to find some way to make more money off of it, but this one escaped from that and maintained its purity. If you haven’t seen this film, this is one that you need to move to the top of your “must see” list because it is so well done and will have you thinking about it, for weeks, months, and years to come. This film is unforgettable.

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