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USA 1995
Directed by
Bryan Singer
106 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

The Usual Suspects

Although Bryan Singer has brought a confident hand to The Usual Suspects it is Christopher McQuarrie’s superior Oscar-winning script that is the key to the film’s success. It uses the classic thriller device of a before-and-after time-frame in which a narrator in the present takes us back to the event in question in order to tell us what transpired but introduces a novel twist that folds that past back into the present thanks to McQuarrie’s clever narrative sleight of hand.

Kevin Spacey is the unreliable witness, Verbal  Klint, a gimp grifter who is being questioned  by a U.S. Customs Special Agent Dave Kujan (Chazz Palminteri) about an apparent drug-deal gone wrong in a big shoot out on a boat. Klint tells the story of  how he got involved with Dean Keaton (Gabriel Byrne), an ex-cop-gone bad whom Kujan has been trying to bring down for years, and three other career criminals (Stephen Baldwin, Kevin Pollack and Benicio Del Toro), the film switching between the interview and related investigatory event going on simultaneously with it and a recreation of Verbal’s account of how his colleagues all ended up dead.

Singer nicely paces the mounting tension of both threads which we know are leading to some kind of big reveal which has been briefly alluded to at the film’s beginning when we see Keaton being shot by an unknown assailant.  It is a nicely planted seed that grows as film progresses and the mysterious figure of  Keyzer Soze emerges. I wasn't entirely sure that the plot (or perhaps it was Verbal's story) made complete sense (who, for instance, terminated Hockney and McManus?) but perhaps the unusual fact that the film's editing and score was by the same person (john Ottman) means that we are swept along by its compelling momentum. This is so despite the fact that at times the film takes on an almost English style of League of Gentlemen (1960) heavy-handedness in carefully delineating its band of thieves, particularly with the character of Pete Postlethwaite’s Kobayashi,

Spacey who won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role as Verbal make one of his more memorable roles and although I’ve never been convinced by Gabriel Byrne as any kind of tough guy he brings a measured presence to proceedings whilst the rest of the cast fill their feistier typological roles with faultless professionalism.

The Usual Suspects is a superior thriller and deserves its following. 




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