movie film review | chris tookey

Usual Suspects

Unknown - all rights reserved
  Usual Suspects Review
Tookey's Rating
8 /10
Average Rating
7.50 /10
McManus .......... Stephen Baldwin , Keaton ........... Gabriel Byrne , Dave Kujan ....... Chazz Palminteri
Full Cast >

Directed by: Bryan Singer
Written by: Christopher McQuarrie

Released: 1995
Origin: US
Colour: C
Length: 106

Federal authorities are trying to piece together the truth about an explosion which has destroyed a ship just south of Los Angeles, incinerating many millon dollars worth of cocaine and 27 people - most of them riddled with gunshot wounds. Whodunit?
Reviewed by Chris Tookey

Bookmark and Share

The only witnesses are two survivors. One is a badly burned Hungarian, drifting in and out of consciousness. He lays the blame on "Keyser Soze", a master-criminal whom he compares to the Devil.

Over in the District Attorney's office we meet the other known survivor - Roger "Verbal" Kint (Kevin Spacey), a crippled con-man who looks like a rat but sings like a canary, as long as he gets legal immunity. Despite Verbal's eagerness to dish the dirt on his accomplices, a sceptical Special Agent (Chazz Palminteri) believes Verbal is trying to protect the real mastermind behind the slaughter - not some mythical "Keyser Soze" but Dean Keaton (Gabriel Byrne), a cool, corrupt ex-cop who has faked his own death before.

Little by little, Verbal is bullied into being less economical with the truth, and acknowledging that he and his gang were obeying orders from Keyser Soze - but that they dealt with him through a mysterious Mr Kobayashi (Peter Postlethwaite), who seems - despite his Japanese name - to be a sinister Anglo-Pakistani.

Love it or loathe it, this thriller will have you arguing for days after you've seen it. Is the twist at the end a masterpiece of post-modernist ingenuity? or a case of the Emperor strutting his new clothes to the empty adulation of the trendies?

As the poster suggests, it's aimed at the sort of people who enjoyed Reservoir Dogs. Like Tarantino's breakthrough movie, it is about a heist that ends in carnage, it contains a lot of swearing, and it's structured as a series of flashbacks. Unlike Reservoir Dogs, the plot is ferociously complicated and contains more red herrings than a burning trawler.

The one thing that kept baffling me was how Verbal could describe certain events and conversations which he couldn't possibly have witnessed, and why his sceptical inquisitor didn't pick him up on this.

When the final revelation does come as to Mr Soze's identity, I was surprisingly unsurprised (it had to be the most unlikely suspect, and it was). I was also unconvinced - would a criminal mastermind be so lax and under-prepared that he would commit the kind of mistakes which finally lead to his unmasking? I continue to think not.

Bryan Singer directs with a nice feeling for suspense and film noir, and his cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel underlights to just the right extent.

Suzy Amis can't do much with a thankless role as Gabriel Byrne's lawyer girlfriend and Postlethwaite struggles as the preposterous Pakistani, but the other leading actors all carry conviction. Kevin Spacey - who had been brilliant in a couple of under-appreciated films before this, Glengarry Glen Ross and Hostile Hostages - is again terrific. (He deservedly won an Oscar for Best Supporting actor.)

The film draws you into the amoral mind-set of professional criminals as cleverly as any picture since The Asphalt Jungle. But its main appeal is as a puzzle picture - a small, intellectual sub-section of the thriller genre, headed by a very few masterpieces, such as David Mamet's House of Games and Homicide, and Billy Wilder's Witness for the Prosecution.

Though Christopher McQuarrie's script won an Oscar and a BAFTA Award, it has its defects and - unlike that other overcomplicated thriller The Big Sleep - fails to make us care enough about the characters to tolerate the rococo intricacies of its plot. A good twist ending clarifies all that has gone before. Dodgy twists raise more questions than they answer, and this one will leave many people feeling cheated and dissatisfied

But it's refreshing to see a thriller that actually overestimates its audience. You have to admire its style and ambition - seldom can a shaggy dog story have been told more intriguingly.

Key to Symbols