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The Usual Suspects (1995)

Five Criminals . One Line Up . No Coincidence

Directed by:

Bryan Singer

Rating: 9/10

Running Time: 106 minutes

US Certificate: R UK Certificate: 18

On DVD

Country: United States, Germany

The nineties were a heyday for the American thriller. There was Se7en, Fargo, L.A. Confidential and The Silence of the Lambs to name but a few. To my mind, the pick of the bunch was The Usual Suspects, an unassuming piece of cinematic quality from a rookie Director.

The well-thought out, satisfyingly complex story begins (or ends) when a boat is destroyed in a seemingly gang related incident and only one man, Verbal Kint (Spacey), is found at the crime scene. This (slightly) crippled con-man is hauled before Detective Kujan (Palminteri) and is forced to tell his story beginning when five career criminals – friends Fenster (Del Toro) and McManus (Baldwin), corrupt ex-cop Dean Keaton (Byrne), fiery hijacker Hockney (Pollak) and himself – are bought together in a police line-up. Whilst stewing in the cells, the five men hatch a plot to take down the corrupt New York Police Department and make a lot of money in the process. After successfully negotiating their plan they come to the attention of mythical crime kingpin Kaiser Soze and his associate Kobayashi (Postlethwaite) and so comes their involvement with the boat.

Much has been made of the jaw-dropping climax which due to its subtlety and intelligence turns a decent detective thriller into a very good one. Luckily, its the kind of ending that you can’t really give away without your victim watching most of the film in the dark anyway. It’s not one of those shock tactics that just appear from nowhere instead a lot of groundwork goes into making it as plausable as possible. The characterisation is excellent, the meandering story is engrossing and the simple, yet fitting style is just right.

Bryan Singer has assembled a fantastic ensemble cast to play the slew of charismatic well-fleshed out characters. The portrayal of the incomprehensible Fenster pretty much made Del Toro which stands in contrast to Stephen Baldwin – smooth here but given some pretty cheesy lines – who never quite hit the big time again. Kevin Spacey enjoyed that late-Nineties golden period of which this performance was the icing on the cake.  Even Pete Postlethwaite – that guy from minor Brit flick ‘Brassed Off’ – turns up and puts on an accent that can only be described as ‘foreign’.

I may as well spoil it seing as most people already know of the twist. Turns out that Verbal Kint is actually dead himself. No, that’s not it. Oh yeah, McManus is really Fenster’s father. Nope, those are lightweight rubbish, The Usual Suspects does it much better.

It's Got: Perfect pacing, excellent characterisation, a jaw dropping finale.

It Needs: The element of surprise - although techinically I have blown that one if you in-fact didn't know about this movie. Sorry.

DVD Extras Audio Commentary with Bryan Singer and Christopher McQuarrie, Audio Commentary with John Ottman, Never-Before-Seen Easter Eggs, TV Spots, Trailers, "Doing Time With The Suspects" Featurette, Original "Heisting Cannes with The Usual Suspects" Featurette, Gag Reel with an Introduction by Bryan Singer, Never-Before-Seen Deleted Scenes With John Ottman Introduction, "Pursuing The Suspects" Featurette, "Keyser Soze - Lie Or Legend" Featurette - enough to keep you occupied for a while DVD Extras Rating: 8/10

Alternatives:

Fargo, Se7en, The Departed

Summary

A good detective thriller made great by an eye-opening ending. It’s just such a shame that, unless you’ve been living in North Korea or in Josef Fritzl’s basement for fifteen years, no-one will come to this movie untouched by the hype.

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