The Usual Suspects (DVD, 2009, Repackaged) Reviews
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The Usual Suspects (DVD, 2009, Repackaged)

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The Coolest Suspects

Jul 12, 2008 (Updated Jul 13, 2008)
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Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Bryan Singer's breath taking direction and Christopher McQuarrie's screenplay.

Cons:None of note.

The Bottom Line: A slick and stylish caper with a Mamet like twist at the end. Bryan Singer's best film.

I'll admit, I've been extremely hard on director Bryan Singer post Usual Suspects. The Usual Suspects was his debut as a director, by the way. I guess what I want from director Bryan Singer is something that resembles the opening montage of his very first film. A night shot of the harbor, the light reflecting off of the water as the credits slowly roll behind John Ottman's haunting piano sonata.

Unlike his two X Men films and his dreadfully inane reworking of "Superman...." "The Usual Suspects" is actually.... fun. It moves with a certain swagger, a certain sense of confidence. It seems like director Bryan Singer really trusted Christopher McQuarrie's screenplay.... at no point does he try to draw attention to a given moment or make an attempt at ham handed symbolism. One need look no further than ham handed symbolism that Singer's last studio picture, "Superman Returns." In my review, I mentioned that Singer treats us to a silent montage of Superman rapidly falling to the earth admist a sea of wide eyed patrons. When I say that Singer seems to trust Christopher McQuarrie's screenplay, there's one moment that comes to mind; when Keaton and the other five cons are released on bail after being interrogated about a missing truck loaded with weapons. Singer's camera work is so fluent, the camera seems to function as a sponge of some sort. I love how Singer zeroes in on the face of the one con, McManus (Stephen Baldwin) before he cuts back to Keaton's face. This sequence has minimal dialogue but I absolutely love it. The quick pan of the camera.... McManus and another con... Fenster (Bencio Del Toro) watching Keaton on one corner.... two more cons, Hockney (Kevin Pollack) and Verbal (Kevin Spacey) watching McManus and Fenster as they watch Keaton. This sequence is polished off extremely well by John Ottman's ominous musical mix of cello and piano.

I'll admit, I've been disappointed by the career path that director Bryan Singer has taken since "The Usual Suspects." It started with the X Men series and continued with his dreadful adaptation of a Stephen King novella, "Apt Pupil." It was the dreadful "Superman Returns" that made me wonder if Christopher McQuarrie's screenplay was truly the driving force behind my immense love for "The Usual Suspects." Of course, this theory loses steam when one looks at how Singer handles the twist that McQuarrie's screenplay provides at the end of the film. If Singer were a hack director, odds are, he would've completed bungled the twist; thereby, torpedoing the whole film. But Singer doesn't bungle the twist. No, he carefully cloaks it within the framework of the plot, never revealing the card that the last act of the film will ultimately play. In the hands of director Bryan Singer, Christopher McQuarrie's little screenplay "twist" becomes a gotcha moment reminiscent of the master himself, David Mamet. We see but we don't see.... the sleight of hand moment at the end of Singer's debut film is as brilliant as it is delicious.

Plot: A massacre has occurred at the San Pedro harbor. Agent, Dave Kujon (Chazz Palminteri) has hit the scene, trying to figure out the where's and whys of it all. The lone survivor is a crippled named Verbal (Kevin Spacey.) Verbal has already agreed to tell the LAPD everything he knows but Kujon thinks that he's holding back something. After some give and take, Kujon is given clearance to re interview Verbal before he makes bail.
And Verbal's take begins....

Keaton (Gabriel Byrne)-McManus (Stephen Baldwin)-Fenster (Benecio Del Toro)-Hockney (Kevin Pollack) and Verbal (Kevin Spacey) are all small time cons who end up in the county lock up after a truck full of weapons goes missing. The local cops want answers and they think that one of the cons they have locked up can clue them in as to where the missing weapons are.

Fast forward a bit... after a couple of days of beat downs and interrogations, McManus can't wait to hit the streets and plan his next job. The other guys are down for some action but Keaton, who is trying to go legit, wants no part of McManus' plan.

Fast forward a bit. After deducing that the police won't give him a moment's peace, Keaton (Byrne) reluctantly agrees to join McManus (Stephen Baldwin) and the others in a little smash and grab job. Problem is, the job nets the crew a bag full of heroin that isn't theirs. The heroin, in fact, belongs to a mysterious underworld figure named Keyser Soze. Instead of having them killed, Soze has his lawyer, Kobayashi, track the crew down so he can offer them a deal. Kobayashi (Pete Postlethwaite) informs McManus and the crew that they have been ordered to whack a out member of a rival drug crew; a crew that has landed on Soze's turf. Soze's terms are simple.... carry out the hit or die. I'll stop there, you can decipher the rest of the plot on your own.

I must say, I loved truly Pete Postlethwaite's work in "The Usual Suspects." What Postlethwaite does with the role of Kobayashi is, without question, acting 101. Check out the moment where Kobayashi arrives at the hotel to meet Keaton and the other cons. The way he chews on his dialogue here is absolutely extraordinary, he plays the whole sequence with such confidence. It's absolutely beautiful to watch. It's a textbook example of an actor evoking a mood without even breaking a sweat. It's the way that Postlethwaite chews on his dialogue that makes you realize what a cold blooded shark Kobayashi is; how indifference he is to the fate of McManus and the rest of the cons.

While we're chatting up the performances here.... I can't think of one weak link in the cast. Not a one. Kevin Pollack, a comic actor by nature, has no trouble slipping into the skin of a maverick thief like Todd Hockney. It's not a stretch to watch the Hockney character smile his way through a police interrogation or direct an "F" bomb at anyone wearing a badge.

I'll admit, I don't think of Stephen Baldwin when I think of top tier actors, but..... he has that same sense of confidence that Pete Postlethwaite does. I love how Baldwin carries himself here, the way he just takes his dialogue and runs with it. Example? The scene at the beginning of the film, the scene where McManus talks to Keaton and the rest of the cons about the score he's planning. That little gesture he makes when he tells Keaton he's simply "exercising his right to free assembly;" that confident way he moves about while he's drawing up the plan in his head. Terrific, absolutely terrific.

Byrne and Spacey? They do what they usually do, not a bad thing. Byrne is one of those actors that doesn't need to push things in order to portray a shady character like Keaton. It's in his voice, the way he moves. I'm thinking of that scene out in the desert, where McManus' contact asks Keaton about a friend of his.... a friend he messed over way back when.

Contact: "Was it business or was it personal?"
Keaton: "Maybe a little bit of both."

The payoff is all centered around the look that Keaton gives the contact. Again, Singer's camera is like a sponge. As soon as we see Keaton's face, we know exactly what's at stake. This is yet another example of an actor filling up space by doing so very little.

As far as Spacey's performance goes.... he's effective by simply blending into the foreground. He; s almost over shadowed in this film but this is actually a positive development, seeing as how it only makes the ending even more special. For the ending to work, Spacey can't telegraph ANY aspect of his performance. Fortunately for us, he doesn't.

I'll admit, the flashback heavy nature of Christopher McQuarrie's screenplay might leave a few people flustered. To me though, the flashbacks are extremely well executed. There's hardly a moment in this film where the audience is struggling to figure out what's going on.

My advice? Watch a few David Mamet films before you dive into "The Usual Suspects." Christopher McQuarrie's screenplay seems to be an homage to the sleight of hand magic of David Mamet. I know that the ending definitely is. If you can conquer Mamet, then you'll be ready for this film. Oh how I love it when a screenwriter uses the old David Mamet sleight of hand technique. Christopher McQuarrie has definitely learned from the best.

Recommend this product? Yes

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