The Usual Suspects

Year: 1995
Director: Bryan Singer
Starring: Kevin Spacey, Gabriel Byrne, Chazz Palminteri, Stephen Baldwin, Benicio Del Toro, Pete Postlethwaite
Written by Jakob Lewis Barnes

I’m often guilty of neglecting the “classics”. I tend to convince myself that “I will watch them soon” and that “they will always be there to watch another time”. But when ‘The Usual Suspects’ appeared in two of our writers’ top 5 films of all time, I knew I had to watch this one. I’m only 20 years late. Director Bryan Singer is responsible for the X-Men films of which I’m not so keen, so forgive me for being apprehensive. But Kevin Spacey is brilliant at everything he does, so along with the hype of my peers, and the pair of Oscars the film won back in 1996 – for Best Actor in a Supporting Role and Best Original Screenplay – I had pretty high hopes.

The film processes a chain of events from the account of one Verbal Kint (Spacey), taking us through a story full of twists and turns right from the moment five conmen are wrongly apprehended for a truck hijacking. The suspects then join forces to get revenge on the police, before being forced into a much bigger, more dangerous job by the strange influence of the mythical Keyser Söze. Back in the present day, Agent Dave Kujan (Chazz Palminteri) interrogates Kint as the lone survivor of a heist which left 27 victims, including his accomplices. Under intense pressure to uncover the dark dealings of his friend Dean Keaton (Gabriel Byrne), and to identify the fabled Keyser Söze and his lawyer Kobayashi, Kint tells all he can to gain immunity from the police and walk free. But he leaves plenty of mysteries still unsolved.

Kevin Spacey is outstanding as ever. The dry, sardonic humour and flat tone of voice which have become synonymous with Spacey are evident here, long before his ruthless ‘House Of Cards’ persona. I’m not sure what competition he faced in the 1996 Best Actor in a Supporting Role category, but I’m confident he deserved the Oscar. The dark, suspicious air surrounding the character of Keaton owes much to the performance of Gabriel Byrne, who brings a mean, authoritative and dangerous edge to the role. He was definitely my suspect for the man-behind-the-myth, but for those of you who don’t know the identity of Keyser Söze, I won’t spoilt it for you by saying if I was right or not. Chazz Palminteri, who you may know as Shorty in ‘Modern Family’, offers a fantastic, at times funny, chemistry opposite Kevin Spacey. He plays the bad cop role perfectly, whilst maintaining the dark, humorous tone of the film.

I found myself feeling very confused for much of the film; maybe I’d had a long day and wasn’t ready for such a perplexing experience. As much as I lamented the predictability of ‘Days Of Future Past’, Singer certainly kept me guessing with ‘The Usual Suspects’, teasing me until revealing all at the end. Through flashbacks and jumbled, deceitful recollections, the whole narrative became distorted until I didn’t know what to believe. I suppose the ongoing ambiguity is all part of the fun, they want you to sit there scratching your head, trying to figure out whodunit, and the more I think about it, the more I did enjoy the guessing game.

I read on the IMDb reviews for ‘The Usual Suspects’ that you need to watch the film twice; “First time is for entertainment. Second time is for art”. I think I need that second viewing. I was definitely entertained on my maiden viewing, if not a little lost. Now I know what’s coming, I can just sit back and enjoy an exceptionally clever and fascinating, well-made film, with acting of the highest quality and a dark, thrilling plot. I will reserve judgement on whether to brand this one a “classic” until that all important second viewing, but I can absolutely agree that this is a brilliant film nonetheless.

Jakob’s rating: 8.2 out of 10