Movie Review: THE USUAL SUSPECTS (1995)
Bryan Singer is one of the better Directors we have out there, SUPERMAN RETURNS notwithstanding. His claim to fame came very early with a very little movie with a great cast. Here is my Movie Review of THE USUAL SUSPECTS…
Blank Page Rating:
5 out of 5 Stars
A brilliant story, told with a very simple yet effective narrative device, which delivers on many levels, is how THE USUAL SUSPECTS presents itself. A story about a group of felons, with conflicting personalities, getting together to do a job due to their individual circumstances. However, this one job ends up being a lot more complicated, than any of them could have realized, as they are blackmailed and threatened to do yet another job, for a mysterious, but legendary mob boss, who is not to be trifled with.
THE USUAL SUSPECTS does a great job of blending action, mystery, thriller and drama effectively, without going over the top. Singer is very subtle in how the story unfolds, messing with the conventionally linear storytelling by having one character narrate the story in flashbacks after the fact. This allows for Singer to show the audience exactly what he wants, carefully enough for each scene to be burned into our memories, making the final reveal that much more effective. The entire story is layered and subtle, without being convoluted.
Having a more than capable cast, portraying characters that all bring something to the table, enhances the story that much further. Gabriel Byrne is the veteran criminal trying to straight. Stephen Baldwin is the muscle. Benicio Del Toro as the unintelligible Latino partner to Baldwin. Kevin Pollak is the car thief who pretends to be legitimate. And rounding out the crew is a Kevin Spacey as a cripple who specializes in fraud.
The 1st scene sets up the entire film as we see one of this group of characters being murdered in cold blood on a boat, while another, the sole survivor, recounts the entire story in flashback for the Police. What follows is a whodunit style thriller of epic proportions, keeping the audience on the edge of the seat, analyzing every monotonous line and every mundane scene in search of answers. The narrative flow is further punctuated, as outside of the flashbacks, we are treated to other supporting characters, running around trying to figure out what happened on that boat, along with the audience.
Singer directs with a flair for combining film noir with mobster movies into a modern setting with ease. The dialogues and narration have a hint of 1950’s gangster era charm, while keeping the audience engaged. Singer uses a lot of effective techniques to ensure that the audience is there, witnessing and experiencing the more riveting moments. Moving long shots, slow pans as characters walk away from each other, mirroring each direction, off camera action during a stationary shot… all brilliant ways to enhance the tension of the drama that unfolds. Singer is also able to get the best out of this ensemble cast, each with bringing their unique talents to the table.
Gabriel Byrne’s inherent sense of brooding and intensity that so far can only be matched, coincidentally, by an older Del Toro. Stephen Baldwin is loud and brash, fitting with his character of being the thug. Kevin Spacey is probably the stand out here, as the pathetic and scared ‘little guy’ of the bunch, with his obvious handicap and frail demeanor. Spacey is amazing in giving us equal measures of fear and doubt. THE USUAL SUSPECT revels in keeping the secret until the last few frames, while the entire movie has the audience guessing, and creating wild and elaborate theories as to ‘what happened’. That is truly the mark of a good thriller.
THE USUAL SUSPECTS has become a movie that has been ingrained into pop culture due to many reasons. Del Toro’s incomprehensible lines. The back and forth, different perspective flashbacks. A modernization of the gangster film. This movie can also seen as a pioneer when it comes to the modern day ‘twist’ ending. It’s not difficult to see why it’s great. An engaging thriller, suspense filled mystery and a film featuring some of the better storytelling of the 90’s is what THE USUAL SUSPECT really is.
Abbi · July 11, 2013 at 6:56 AM
Great review. I love this movie.
Shah Shahid · July 12, 2013 at 1:33 AM
It’s a classic for sure!
lauren · July 11, 2013 at 7:04 AM
Often imitated never bettered. So many films have tried to copy The Usual Suspects by having a twist ending but they forget that what so good about The Usual Suspects is that everything makes sense at the end and even on repeated viewings it’s still a great film to watch. Great review!
Shah Shahid · July 12, 2013 at 1:34 AM
The trick was though, to have all those connecting pieces seem mundane and casual when we see them throughout. Only to reveal how importance each sequence, interaction and dialogue was in the grand scheme of things. Imitations miss that crucial point.
Thanks for stopping by Lauren.
ruth · July 23, 2013 at 10:23 AM
Awesome review Shah! I saw this years ago so the details are a bit hazy but Spacey’s performance was WOW! No wonder he went on to be one of the best actors working today, whether in films or TV (with House of Cards). I also like Gabriel Byrne in this.
Shah Shahid · July 23, 2013 at 10:50 AM
I miss Gabriel Bryne. I remember him mostly from STIGMATA. That dude was like… intense. He always looked like he was sad, but deadly!
Spacey is just great. It’s a given. Thanks for the comments Ruthie! :p
ruth · July 23, 2013 at 10:54 AM
Oh Mr. Byrne’s still got a lot going on, he’s doing a variety of indie flicks and also on the TV series VIKINGS. He’s great in the Coens’ Millers Crossing, definitely worth checking out. Yep, very intense with piercing blue eyes that go straight to your soul 😀
Shah Shahid · July 23, 2013 at 12:50 PM
He also did that Cable TV Series ( I forget which channel ) as a therapist too didn’t he?
I wanted to watch that JUST for him.
sanclementejedi · July 24, 2013 at 10:30 PM
It’s been way too long since I checked out this film. I am pretty sure I would look at it with a more critical eye after 3 years of writing about film. Nice review and thanks for the reminder to check this out.
Shah Shahid · July 25, 2013 at 8:03 AM
No worries man.
It was the other way around for me. I first saw it and was like ‘meh’. It was only after I started reviewing and appreciating movies that I truly saw the genius behind this, and why Bryan Singer was so revered. Before this I only knew him from the X-Men movies.
sanclementejedi · July 25, 2013 at 8:26 PM
Bryan Singer really I had no idea he was involved in this.
Shah Shahid · July 25, 2013 at 10:28 PM
He directed this. Wait, was that sarcasm?? I. Can’t. Tell.