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Saturday, May 14, 2016

The Usual Suspects (Reviewed by Ben)

What a surprise that The Usual Suspects is a great movie!

After all, it only stars Kevin Spacey in one of the most convincing performances ever, has a complex storyline worthy of Quentin Tarantino, gives a ruthless inside look on the life of gangs, and has one of the greatest plot-twist ending ever.  In fact, the shocking scene that pulls the whole film together is just the biggest surprise in a story packed with surprises.

The film begins near the end of the story (after most of the characters have been killed in a boat shootout), at which point the out-of-order storyline returns to the beginning when a group of men from different places in life are hauled into a police station for questioning regarding a truck hijacking. This misfit group of known mobsters includes Keaton, a retiree from “the business” who keeps on being dragged back in, the nutjob McManess, the slippery cliche gang man Hockney, the well-dressed oddity Fenster, and the quiet, low man on the totem pole: “Verbal” Kint (played by Spacey).

Kint is only guilty of wanting to be known in the world of gangs and the police believe he is the best person for questioning about the boat shootout, given that he was always watching, but never really getting in on the action (which may explain why he’s the only survivor to question).

He  tells a story of the team (McManess, Fenster, Keaton, Hockney and Kint) setting up a drug heist on a boat. As this job becomes more and more problematic, it is revealed that a “head of all gangs,” named Kaiser Soyzee, was behind it all, and that the boat shootout which killed off most of the cast was a plot of his.

As Kint tells Detective Kujan his story, he makes it clear that Kayzer Soyzee is almost mythical in the mob world, even if Verbal had never even heard of him before the heist. As the story unravels, we don’t know if we should believe he might have been mistaken about his friend Keaton (who might really be Soyzee) or if there was even a Soyzee at all. At the end of the film, we have heard a crazy story of gangs and heartlessness, and a blameless Verbal Kint (who might actually be one step ahead of all of us the entire time).

The script is organized so cleverly that we are being lead one way until we wonder if everything in the film is just director Bryan Singer’s “trick of the light.” The story is such a mystery that we can barely be sure if any of the story is real

Gabriel Byrne, playing Keaton, gave an impressive performance as a good man being dragged into a life of crime. Chazz Palminteri blew me away with his extreme confidence and acting ability. Stephen Baldwin is convincingly insane, however it is Kevin Spacey in such a convincing performance as a total loser that makes Spacey one of the all time greats. He is impressive throughout the film, and the casting such a good actor in the role might be a clue that Kint is the best actor of the bunch.

I consider The Usual Suspects to be one of the best films ever made. Even if we don’t know what’s real or not, we get an inside view on the gang world that is frighteningly realistic. With these ingredients, who can be surprised that The Usual Suspects is anything but an amazing film.

Dad Replies: Long-time readers of this blog have probably realized that the kids have outgrown Flipper and The Great Mouse Detective.  Usual Suspects is definitely not a “kid flick,” but as Ben noted it is one of the greats.  And given the amount of cartoon violence that takes place in multiplex fodder with unimaginative plots and thinly-drawn characters, Usual Suspects shows how tight and careful plotting anchored with well-drawn characters turns rough language and action into background noise in a film that grips you, pulls you this way and that, and gets you talking about it for years to come.  

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