The Usual Suspects might be the most underrated film of the 1990s. That’s not to say that it got bad reviews. In fact, it was lauded by critics when it was released, and even won two Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actor (Kevin Spacey) and Best Original Screenplay. I just can’t get over how many people have never seen it, or even heard of it. It’s a shame because The Usual Suspects is a movie with exceptional characters and an ingenious storyline that keeps you guessing until the very end.
The story revolves around five criminals who meet after being brought into a police lineup surrounding a stolen truck with guns on it. After their interrogations, they decide to take advantage of the situation they have been placed in and agree to do a job together. This eventually escalates into more jobs, until they are forceably brought into an “impossible” job by the mythical king of the underworld, Keyser Soce, in which they are to stop a 91 million dollar drug deal which is being performed by one of Soce’s rivals. This whole story is retold by Verbal Kint, played by Kevin Spacey, as he is being interviewed by Customs Agent David Cujan, portrayed by Chazz Palminteri. During the interview, Cujan is trying to figure out what exactly happened during this supposed 91 million dollar drug deal which left just about everyone involved, other than Kint, dead. As the interview progresses and the story unfolds you begin to think you understand what happened. And then, just when you think you’ve figured it out, the last three minutes of the movie unfold and your jaw drops to the floor.
Christopher McQuarrie, who won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay does a masterful job of weaving many different characters in and out of the plot while continuing to move the story along in a way that gives you just enough information to think you know what’s going on. At the conclusion, the pieces all come together and you immediately want to watch it again to pick up all the tidbits you missed the first time. I’ve seen The Usual Suspects dozens of times and still manage to pick up new pieces of information each time I watch it.
While the story is amazing, the characters McQuarrie writes are equally outstanding. Each character is unique and brings something different to the movie. Along with Spacey and Palminteri, the cast is rounded out by Oscar winner Benicio del Toro, Gabriel Byrne, Kevin Pollak, Stephen Baldwin, and Pete Postlethwaite. All of these actors bring to life characters who seem incredibly real, and produce a perfect chemistry, especially within the crime team which consists of Spacey, Byrne, Pollak, Baldwin, and del Toro. While each member of the team is talented in their particular area of expertise, their flaws, and therefore their humanity, are also quite evident. We find ourselves rooting for them, but at the same time we can’t help but feel they are going to be overmatched by the the mysterious and powerful forces they are facing.
The Usual Suspects is a must see. Anyone who enjoys a good mystery or enjoys movies that keep you guessing can’t help but enjoy it. I guarantee if you see it once, you’ll want to see it again. (Rated R, 106 minutes)