Monday, 16 August 2010

THE USUAL SUSPECTS (1995) - 4 STARS

"Five Criminals . One Line Up . No Coincidence"


The experience of watching a mind-boggling film can place you in the mind of the writers and directors who make these types of films and how they plan them especially when one like this is an original story. That is what director Bryan Singer and writer Christopher McQuarrie achieved with THE USUAL SUSPECTS, which some may treat as your typical heist thriller but with a strong ensemble cast including Gabriel Byrne, Benicio Del Toro and an Oscar winning performance from Kevin Spacey. This plus clever writing as well as one of THE greatest twists in film history it leaves you feeling confused but eager to watch the film over and over again. Highly praised by many film critics and fans over the last fifteen years, it has gained a major following through the well written story (which won McQuarrie the Oscar for its screenplay) and the twist that is part of film folklore alongside other famous film twists including OLDBOY (2003) and THE DEPARTED (2006).


The film traces between two different time-scales firstly introducing us to the modern phase where a ship has been blown up on a harbor killing 27 people. Only two people have survived the scene, one being a Hungarian worker who has suffered severe burns and the other being a man suffering from a gimpy leg and arms named Verbal Kint (Kevin Spacey) who has witnessed the incident. Verbal becomes the emphasis of the film as he sets the story up, whilst being questioned by Agent Kujan (Chazz Palminteri), through telling flashbacks in the past phase about how he and four other men were connected and the how the build-up to the ship being destroyed took shape over the previous six weeks. These four men have all committed robbery and other minor crimes but after they are arrested for one particular crime, it would seem that no matter how much they will be interrogated by police, they will still be performing more jobs. However one of the men, Keaton (Gabriel Byrne) insists on no more jobs because he wants to stay clean and live a quiet life with his lawyer girlfriend (Susy Amis). Unfortunately fellow thieves McManus (Stephen Baldwin), Fenster (Benicio Del Toro) and Hockney (Kevin Pollack) are determined to get involved in one of Verbal's missions and after they pull if off, the ambition to carry out more jobs becomes a fascination for the team with Keaton deciding that he'll never shake it off. The web of intrigue from Kujan in the present tense adds to his frustrations of trying to connect the men with the boat explosion and he finds it compromising to get anything out of Verbal who throughout the film is seen as the innocent member of the group.


As he continues his story, he reveals that the group were approached by a mysterious lawyer named Mr Kobayashi (Pete Postlewaithe) who informs them that his client named Keyser Soze wants them to do a job for him. Soze is a strange and mysterious person who a couple of men are familiar with, but Verbal refers to him being a bloodthirsty psychopath who always proves that he may not exist like the devil (hence the film's famous line), but in the modern tense, Kujan and the police are unaware of his true identity and for the second half of the film, it becomes the set-up for Soze's objective that he wants the team to undertake. The group's reluctance to do the job for him though leads to one of them being dead, and soon they are all forced to take part in the mission which leads to how the film opens with the men getting on board the vessel containing drugs and trying to remove it while having to fend off Hungarian guards. It is this that sees the men's fate being decided and when we do think that Agent Kujan's original theory of who Keyser Soze is, could be true, it is an almost disappointing and predictable conclusion, that would almost warrant a similar finish to a poor 1970's/80s cop show. However that is until he Kujan reads into something that leaves him and us absolutely shell shocked....


'The Usual Suspects' leaves such a long-lasting impression on the viewer that it takes advantage of the gullibility of the audience and for the first 100 minutes we are delivered an intriguing and complex story to which there seems no easy answer. When the final piece of the puzzle seems to be in place the entire film is turned on its head by the amazing twist. This final revelation initially leaves you speechless and then shortly after we then realize that we've fallen for a brilliantly inspired trick. The second great trick that this film plays on its audience is making us think that by watching it again we'll be able to understand slightly better what was really going on. The truth is that the more you try to make sense of it, the more confusing it becomes. It's probably best not to try to look for any concrete answers and just accept that we fell for the filmmakers tricks, hence why Bryan Singer's reputation as a director has been successful even if has been doing superhero films over the last few years. The cast themselves adds complacency to the film's story, Spacey deservedly claimed his Supporting Actor Oscar for his honest but suspected role as the gimpy criminal who tries to recollect his own side to the story. Byrne also plays his role very well as the subtle reluctant leader who wants to give up his past despite his relationship but can't walk away. One problem is that Spacey and Byrne overshadow the other actors in the team with Del Toro, Baldwin and Pollack being given the simple task of shouting and cursing about their predicaments, not really adding much to the acting stakes. Palminteri is effective as the determined agent trying to uncover the truth about Keyser Soze but finding it hard to get through Verbal's story, another underrated actor in such an intelligent film.


Adding to the genius of the film in general is the technical aspect which is balanced by clever editing and rivetting musical score from young composer/editor John Ottman who clearly had a lot to do for the film at his age but pulled it off brilliantly. The scenery for the film also gives the condensed atmosphere of it with the boat and the police office lending the imagery a clear focus on how crucial these settings are for the key scenes of the film. Upon second viewing the film is much better to embrace though a couple of negative points would be the lack of any major background with Keaton's relationship with his girlfriend which doesn't really add much sympathy from the audience, while experienced British actor Pete Postlewaithe uses a strange accent which nobody can really tell what it is, but he still gives decent support for the film's cast. Summing it up, the success of the film is mainly thanks to the sense of satisfaction the audience is left with at the end of the film that the idea of a story when you're not sure who you can really trust, becomes part of the realization that the film's most shady characters are the filmmakers themselves. And just like that, it disappears......

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