After surviving a boat explosion that killed 27 people, con-man “Verbal” Kint (Kevin Spacey) is brought to a police station, where he is interrogated about events leading up to the deadly conflagration. Kint tells cop David Kujan (Chazz Palminteri) a story involving drug deals and corruption, which examines a group of five criminals, including Kint, himself. Through flashbacks, we see what transpired and ultimately led up to certain destruction. Along the way, mystery erupts about the identity of mob boss Keyser Soze, engulfing the film’s characters and viewers in a sea of suspense. The appearance of a mysterious lawyer (Pete Postlethwaite) complicates things even more, until no one is sure what is what and who is who.
The Usual Suspects is a one of a kind, masterfully constructed film. Its plot structure alone is brilliant, cross cutting between present day and flashbacks. Kevin Spacey’s voice-over is one of the few examples in cinema of good narration. The narration successfully bridges different points in time, while also building character development. Tight editing holds the movie together, making sure it doesn’t burst open at its seams from over-plotting.
Some of the freshest screenwriting and acting can be found here. Christopher McQuarrie won an Oscar for his script, a well deserved win. Working together with the film’s unique narrative structure, McQuarrie’s screenplay has amazing dialogue that gives the actors lines that fit their characters. Additionally, each main character is fleshed out; we get some back story for every one. Spacey is excellent, as are the actors who portray his criminal partners, including the talents of: Stephen Baldwin, Gabriel Byrne, Benicio Del Toro, and Kevin Pollak. Supporting actors Pete Postlethwaite and Chazz Palminteri bring more to their roles than one would expect, mainly due to the movie’s clever writing.
As good as the film’s dialogue is, McQuarrie’s greatest accomplishment is his story. This is a true thriller, featuring plenty of suspense, mystery, and twists. From opening shot to mind-blowing final sequence, the movie keeps you hooked with its strange situations and 360 degree plot turns.
Talk to any Alfred Hitchcock fan, and you’ll learn that a good thriller needs a great director. Bryan Singer takes on the tough task of directing such a complex film, and succeeds with flying colors. Singer precariously drives the Usual Suspects vehicle, never crashing, never stopping for rest. The movie’s 106 minutes zooms by like a rocket, a result of near-perfect direction, combined with John Ottman’s editing. By the way, Ottman is also responsible for the film’s (severely underrated) score, a cinematic component that deliciously merges with the rest of the film-making.
The combination of the acting, direction, and writing, results in Bryan Singer’s masterpiece. This is one of the best movies of the 1990s, and one of the most effective and well made thrillers of all time. It is a fantastic creation that works on a whole different level than other films of its kind, and gets even better on repeat viewings. Perhaps the greatest praise that can be given to The Usual Suspects is that it takes its title from a line in Casablanca without being blasphemous.