Movie of the Week 6/9/14: The Usual SuspectsPosted: June 17, 2014
While Bryan Singer’s career has become dominated by summer blockbusters of varying quality, there was a point during the ‘90s that he was an exciting new voice in twisty, dark thrillers. The Usual Suspects is the most recognizable of these, and aside from being a great film in its own right, it also holds distinction as being one of the few ‘90s crime thrillers that wasn’t trying to copy Tarantino. As something I’ve been meaning to revisit myself, I thought Shiran might appreciate this twisty little yarn and the great cast that’s caught up in it.
Can I just assume that everyone knows the plot twist at this point? It’s been 20 years, I’d assume you’d know even if you haven’t seen it. If you haven’t please leave now and go watch this thing already. Now, what makes Usual Suspects so intriguing (and potentially infuriating) is that it’s possible that the whole story Verbal tells (to Dave Kujan and to the audience) is absolute bullshit. The whole film is built on an unreliable narrator, and unlike other movies that visually expose the lies of the narrator (Goodfellas comes to mind), Singer and McQuarrie completely go along with Verbal’s story right until the end, willing participants in the con. It challenges the notion that filmmakers are responsible for establishing the world of the film, and ends up being a meta examination of how we let ourselves get sucked into a fictional world, regardless how convoluted or off-the-cuff it seems to be.
It doesn’t hurt that the whole cast is completely committed to the world and to getting at each others’ throats, and while Spacey got an Oscar the whole cast really nails it. The presence of character actors like Chazz Palminteri, Dan Hedaya, Giancarlo Esposito and Peter Postlethwaite also gives the world a great deal of texture without ruining the incredibly tight pacing. It’s also possible that Singer has never visually composed a movie better than this, with great visual storytelling and an impressive lack of explaining to the audience. Furthermore, John Ottman’s ticking-clock score is a standout here, serving as a great metronome for the film’s pace (as set by the film’s editor, who also happens to be John Ottman). In the end, it’s a great little slice of the ‘90s that seems to have lost some buzz of late (probably not helped by Singer’s time with Marvel’s Merry Mutants, or his other, ie worse, tentpoles) but still holds up today.
As for Shiran’s reaction:
I wasn’t sure if my experience watching The Usual Suspects for the first time would be ruined by the fact that I knew the ending going in, and to be perfectly honest I think that sadly it did make the movie a little less exciting for me. While I could objectively see all the things the movie does perfectly to build suspense, from creating tension between the characters to playing with the storytelling structure to a lot of really exciting mini-action sequences, knowing the “truth” about Keyzer Soze inevitably makes all the talk about him feel redundant and boring. That’s not a very fair feeling, because the movie would work well even without the twist ending, but I can’t say that my viewing experience was a bit more lackluster as a result. I do think, though, that going in spoiled makes the concept of our unreliable narrator, and the theme of digging for a truth that may not really exist, hit much stronger and faster than it probably would have if I was seeing this for the first time completely blind.
Shiran will be bringing another (supposed) underrated Generation X gem to the table this week, so feel free to speculate wildly until that post is up!