Friday, 2 September 2016

The Usual Suspects

Year of Release:  1995
Director:  Bryan Singer
Screenplay:  Christopher McQuarrie
Starring:  Stephen Baldwin, Gabriel Byrne, Benicio del Toro, Chazz Palminteri, Kevin Pollak, Pete Postlethwaite, Kevin Spacey
Running Time:  106 minutes
Genre:  crime, thriller

This became one of the iconic films of the 1990s, launching director Bryan Singer and stars Kevin Spacey and Benicio del Toro into the front ranks of Hollywood.  Following a horrific gun battle which leaves twenty seven dead, the sole survivor, small time con man "Verbal" Kint (Spacey) tells FBI agent Kujan (Palminteri) of the events leading up to the massacre, starting six weeks earlier in New York City, when Verbal met thieves McManus (Baldwin), Fenster (del Toro), Hockney (Pollak) and Keaton (Byrne) at a police line-up.  In the holding cell they come up with an audacious robbery, that brings them into contact with lawyer Kobayashi (Postlethwaite) who claims to represent the mysterious and legendary criminal mastermind Keyser Soze.

The film is mostly constructed in a flashback structure moving between Kujan's interrogation of Verbal and Verbal's telling his story.  It's a fast-moving and intriguing story that mostly seems to be moving one way, telling a story that will doubtless be familiar to any thriller fan, but then takes some real turns, leading up to what is one of the most famous final twists in movie history.  Writer Christopher McQuarrie won the Best Original Screenplay Academy Award.

The film has some great performances, Kevin Spacey won Best Supporting Actor at the Academy Awards.  However, the casting of white English actor Pete Postlethwaite as the apparently Indian Kobayashi strikes something of a false note, although the false note might actually be intentional.  Also the only prominent female character, Keaton's lawyer girlfriend Edie played by Suzy Amis, barely has any screentime, and really has nothing to do.

The film is full of quotable lines, and Singer directs with a distinct style, creating some memorable images.  Several scenes have really entered the annals of pop-culture.  It's not a perfect film by any means, many of the characters are quite cliched and, aside really from Verbal and Keaton, the rest of the gang of crooks just seem to be there to fill up space.  It's worth watching though, because it is very entertaining, and the climax is still effective.

 Round up The Usual Suspects: Kevin Pollak, Stephen Baldwin, Benicio del Toro, Gabriel Byrne and Kevin Spacey


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