The Usual Suspects (1995) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

I suppose I don't really need to tell you about this movie, which is one of the coolest movies of all time, and a pretty damned good one. It is a noir fairy tale about a criminal boogie man named Kyser Soze, a criminal so ruthless that he killed his wife and kids rather than let them be used as hostages by guys who were trying to muscle in on him. After he killed his family, then he killed the kidnappers, then he killed the kidnappers' parents, then their children, then their friends, then their neighbors, then anyone who ever said anything nice about them.

Scoop - that sounds even more juvenile than the usual adolescent masturbatory fantasy movie! What makes this one so good?


not a thing

First and foremost, it is apparent that the bullshit is bullshit. The framing device of the film is a criminal round-up, line-up, shake-down  and interrogation. Everything we see with our own eyes in the course of the film is sensible. The story of Kyser Soze is seen only through the eyes of the guy who tells the story, and even he tells the cops that it can't be real, but just a bedtime story that criminals tell each other around the campfire. But what a story! And just how much of the story really is true? Is any of it true? Is there a Kyser Soze? If so, who is he? Therein lies the "hook".

Second, it has a surprise ending that is a genuine surprise. In fact, it even surprised most of the members of the cast when they saw it at the premiere. Only one member of the cast knew the mystery of Kyser Soze - because of some scenes he filmed alone. One other actor was mad at the director because he thought he was the star of the film -  he thought he was Kyser Soze - and didn't find out anything different until the opening night. Now THAT is cool.

Third, the characterizations are vivid and so much fun.

It has been released on a new DVD special edition, and it is fascinating to hear the cast and crew talk about their experience on this film. They had a tremendous bonding process between them, and all said the same thing, more or less -

We were part of something special. When I see another member of the cast around town, we nod at each other and talk about where the other members of the cast are. It's like we all went to high school together.

Don't even ask - you have to have the DVD if you have any interest in films. Fogitaboudit. I watched the entire movie again, then listened to the director's commentary, then listened to every one of the featurettes, gag reels, deleted scenes, everything. And there was still another audio track, but I just didn't have the time. Best of all, I liked it just as much this time through, even though I already knew the surprise ending. The best thing about the special features is to see how the project developed as a co-operative ensemble effort, and to see the genuine regard they all have for one another. Kevin Spacey is sincere and generous, Bryan Singer is analytical, Kevin Pollak is hilarious, Gabriel Byrne is ... very, very serious.

DVD info from Amazon

  • Never before seen deleted scenes

  • New high-definition transfer

  • Audio commentaries by director Bryan Singer & writer Christopher McQuarrie

  • Interview with composer/film editor John Ottman

  • Featurettes: Pursuing the Suspects & Keyser Soze, Lie or Legend

  • Original Featurette: Heisting Cannes

  • Gag reel with introduction

  • Trailers, TV spots

  • widescreen anamorphic, 1.85

Pollak or Steven Baldwin said in one of the interviews that they knew they were in trouble when they were filming the line-up scene and the five of them couldn't stop giggling because Baldwin and DelToro were coming in from another planet. I think it was Pollak who said they knew they were in trouble when Gabriel cracked up, thinkin'  - 'here's a man who has never smiled in his life, and he's giggling like a schoolgirl - we're never gonna get this scene on film'.

At first, director Singer was upset that they were being assholes, but when he thought about it, the whole movie hinged upon these guys bonding during the line-up, then committing crimes together. The actors were actually bonding before his eyes, in character, so he left some of the craziest stuff in, including Baldwin's silliest take which was not intended to be taken seriously. Now that's how ensemble should work. 

Just to show you that there is never complete agreement:

Even though the film got 91% positive reviews, and is rated #16 of all time at IMDB, Roger Ebert thought it stunk the place up, and gave it one and a half stars.

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: three and half stars, but look at Ebert! stars. Ebert 1.5/4, Berardinelli 3.5/4, BBC 5/5

The People Vote ...

  • IMDB summary. IMDb voters score it 8.7/10 - #16 of all time
  • with their dollars: took in $23 million in the USA, compared to a modest $6 million gross. I expect it will do many times that in DVD sales and rentals.
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is an A-. One of the best. Exciting, mysterious, surprising, well-performed, well-directed, well-edited. One of the great pure entertainment movies.

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