The Usual Suspects (1995)
Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery
Directed by: Bryan Singer
Starring: Kevin Spacey, Gabriel Byrne, and Chazz Palminteri
Plot: A sole survivor tells of the twisty events leading up to a horrific gun battle on a boat, which began when five criminals meet at a seemingly random police lineup.
Movie Trivia: Kevin Spacey had to read the script twice when he first received it, to make sure he fully understood it.
I am very excited to watch this one! As a cinephile for a number of years I know all about this film although I have yet to actually watch it myself. I know about the twist ending, I know about the final plot, but nonetheless I am very excited to finally add this to my watched list so I can discuss it in more detail in my cinephile communities.
The movie opens up with a beautifully morose scene of moonlight reflecting on water with violins and pianos composing a lullaby of sorrow while the opening credits fade in and out. The music has a hushed yet hurried quality to it, calling it mind classic crime, almost mafia-esque. Now that could be due to my foreknowledge of the film, but it is what I hear regardless. The music is cut off suddenly by the strike of a match. The way the light from the line of fire illuminated small details of the scene is very well done. The death and destruction. As Keyser douses out the flame, proceeds to kill Keaton, and then relights the liquid, you cannot help but see a huge insight into his character. It is almost as if he does not want to allow Keaton the satisfaction of blowing up the boat, especially without gaining the satisfaction of killing him first, for whatever reason. The dialogue is simple and chilling as Keaton asks for the time before the kill is made. He wants to know the time of his death and through that small question you can imagine in an instant what all could be going through his head.
The fade away cut to Spacey in what looks to be a courtroom of some kind looks surreal, almost dreamlike. The harsh light shining down directly above him and the quality of the audio (I do hope my sickness isn’t adding to this), seems to me as if it is an exaggerated portrayal of truth, a biased truth, like you are not intended to truly trust what you are about to be told during this monologue. The cutaways, flashbacks and quick pacing of the scenes leading up to the famous lineup made for a refreshing and at times comical introduction to the people we will be dealing with in this film. The lineup scene itself did not disappoint either, it was funny and furthered the understanding of each character, intriguing you as to what happened between this day and the night on the boat.
Although the scenes of the five guys being interrogated look very similar to the scene with Spacey, the hue of the overhead light is remarkably different. It is more golden and natural here, where the blue/white light on Spacey seemed otherworldly. The scenes following are interesting but nothing popped out to me as notable until Verbal begins his interrogation. You see quickly how he got the name Verbal and Spacey does an amazing job adding small quirks to the character. It feels almost like Norman Bates in a way.
The extreme close up to Verbal’s eye leading to the fade in of the next scene was like poetry. His slow sip of the coffee, the angle of the camera, it felt as if we were whooshing into his mind. The way Keaton is so distracted by the lingering looks of the other conmen for the lineup is very telling. You can see the electricity jumping between them and you can see that despite his own reservations he will be joining the crew. The conversation between Keaton and Verbal seems to solidify this, especially as Verbal milks the disability to gain sympathy from Keaton. Spacey portrays this character so very well, walking down the stairs, the tensing of his arms, you can tell he practiced this stance religiously to get it just right. His hard work paid off in a big way.
At the halfway point of the film, we have seen two jobs go down. One was successful and the other not so much, leading the team to realize that Redfoot might not be as trustworthy as McManus has led them all to believe. Through it all you are brought to Verbal and Keaton being the two main characters of the crew. Everyone else seems to be a supporting character in the plot while these two seem to be dodging and playing one another just right. Again, this could be due to foreknowledge of the film, but I sense Verbal playing Keaton throughout, twisting him to feel like he is in charge when really it is Verbal who is the mind behind the entire operation, pulling each string without anyone being the wiser.
As more is revealed about Keyser Soze you see the true depth of Spacey commitment to his character. Every single word drips with conviction and truth. Th extent of the web Keyser Soze controls is terrifying in its mythical nature. It is very much an urban legend kind of power, and since we are getting the complete story from the horses mouth, so to speak, it is hard to sort through what is exaggeration and what is truth.
As the movie builds to the climax, you are riveted to the screen with the choreography of explosions and special effects. The sequence is almost completely devoid of dialogue, using camera angles, lighting and special effects to move the story along now. The brief break to go back to the interrogation room is a good reminder to the viewer that this is still just one side of the events from a sole “survivor”. As the ending draws closer, you are given much more solid clues as to the identity of Keyser Soze. The fantasy film noir style of the vision of Keyser Soze falls very much in line with Verbal’s own self image, playing into what he knows the cop wants to hear to let him go.
I feel like I am saying this a lot, but yet again Spacey is absolutely flooring me with his performance. The despair of betrayal is so real, so attainable. You truly feel sorry for him in that moment. The violins bring us into the ending, completing the circle as the cop realizes his horrible mistake and seeing Soze slip into a car to walk away free as a bird.
I am very glad to have this movie under my belt at last and I definitely see the appeal that it holds over others in my cinephile community, but I am not sure I am as wowed by it as I probably would have been had I watched it sooner. Nonetheless, it was artistic, entertaining and a movie that I will not soon forget. This solidified my opinion on Spacey’s talent, it was one of the best performances I have seen in a while. I give this movie 4/5, and would recommend.