THE USUAL SUSPECTS is a fascinating movie that will reward the
careful viewer, but may leave the dilettantes dazed and confused. The
star of the show is the Escher-print style script by Christopher
McQuarrie. The plot is dense, but intriguing. It keeps your eyes
glued to the screen.
An excellent director, Bryan Singer, assembled a wonderful
ensemble cast that has a stronger second string of players that the
stars of most movies. As the movie starts, Dean Keaton (Gabriel
Byrne), Todd Hockney (Kevin Pollak), Michael McManus (Stephen Baldwin),
Fred Fenster (Benicio Del Toro), and Verbal Klint (Kevin Spacey) are
five crooks that have been rounded up by U. S. Customs Special Agent
Dave Kujan (Chazz Palminteri) for a lineup. The five think something
is up because, with the exception of Verbal, they are all big time
crooks whom the police would never put in the lineup together.
Moreover, they do not think the cops believe they are responsible for
the crime, so why are the cops doing it? This is one of the delicious
enigmas of the story. Stay with it and pay attention for there are
many more. The plot has more twists than Lombard street in San
The interaction of all the characters is both fascinating and
unusual. A typical scene is the start of the interrogation of Verbal
by Agent Kujan. The agent boasts, "Let me tell you something. I'm
smarter than you are. I'm going to get it out of you whether you like
it or not." To which, Verbal retorts, "I'm no rat" and promptly
attempts, unsuccessfully, to shut up.
The actors were finely tuned and well controlled by the director.
Only Gabriel Byrne gave just a pedestrian performance. The others were
quite good. The biggest surprise for me was Stephen Baldwin who gave a
performance reminiscent of James Woods. Baldwin was giddy and hyper in
every scene, and you felt like he might explode at any minute. Chazz
Palminteri was compelling as a tough but very smart cop who was
constantly being outfoxed. Kevin Spacey played a part slightly out of
character for him, but he was excellent at it. Nevertheless, I have
liked Spacey better in other movies; see, for example, his wonderful
role of The Other Man in CONSENTING ADULTS.
I refuse to say more about the plot other than its central theme
revolves around a character known as Keyser Soze (pronounced Kai-'zer
Sue-'za). This guy is likened to the devil in the movie, but the
closest character in fiction would be Professor Moriarty from Sherlock
Holmes. As the movie unfolds, it is not clear whether Keyser Soze
exists or if he is just a legend. Moreover, for those who might be
inclined to believe in him as Agent Kujan does sometimes, it is even
less clear whom he might be. An enigma wrapped in an enigma as they
say. This conundrum alone was worth the price of admission.
The ending makes the show. I am not good at nor I do not enjoy
trying to guess whodunits. In THE USUAL SUSPECTS I got part of it
right but only part. Stay to the end even if you hate the show.
The supporting cast, especially Jack Baer (Giancarlo Esposito),
Jeff Rabin (Dan Hedaya), and Kobayashi (Pete Postlethwaite), as
previously mentioned was quite strong. The best was Pete
Postlethwaite. How he got his name of Kobayashi as one of many
mysteries that is wrapped up in the last few minutes of the show. In
tiny parts were Suzy Amis as Edie Finneran and Paul Bartel (from EATING
RAOUL) as an unnamed Smuggler. Let me say that EATING RAOUL should be
required viewing for anyone interested in film as it shows how funny
and innovative a low budget picture can be.
The camera work (Tom Sigel), the editing (John Ottman), the music
(Larry Groupe) and to a lesser extent, the sets (Howard Cummings) were
other parts of the movie that gave it high energy and made it so
unusual. A typical scene would have sharp cuts to tight close-ups with
dramatic music to accentuate the cuts. The lighting was frequently
such that part of the character's face was bathed in light and the rest
of the scene was naturally dark. Frequently the camera angles were
strange and the editing was at times and at a pace that surprise you.
THE USUAL SUSPECTS runs a fast 1:46. The movie is rated R mainly
for funny, but quite filthy dialog. Like GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS, the
dialog worked. Profanity, in my book, is not bad in a movie per se, it
just depends. There was a lot of violence of the seeing the blood on
wall kind, but I found none of the violence excessive. I think the
movie would be fine for mature teenagers. I recommend this picture to
you if you like obscure plots where you have to pay close attention,
and I award it ***.
Copyright © 1995 Steve Rhodes