Friday, 23 June 2017

The Usual Suspects (1995)

Fig 1 - The Usual Suspects Poster
In 2014 I wrote a review of The Usual Suspects on this blog to determine the conclusion of my first viewing of the film, ultimately deeming it "a Tarantino screenplay taking itself too seriously". Having now revisited the film, I can safely say it does nothing remotely as innovative as Tarantino would with the same material. Having said that, I did enjoy the film a touch more this time around. Perhaps this was due to my knowledge of the twist, which similarly allows films like The Sixth Sense (1999) to have it's subtleties examined upon repeat viewings. Perhaps I was more able to concentrate on the convoluted narrative and barrage of faceless names than I was the day I first saw it. All I know is that I was more convinced of it's grandeur this time, though I did still take issue with it.

Essentially, the plot boils down to the retelling of a boat heist by one of the only known survivors, named Verbal (Kevin Spacey). He tells the police of how he and four other criminals were brought together for an identity parade six weeks prior, where they decided to plan a jewel heist on a private taxi company. Following this, a man by the name of Kobayashi (Pete Postlethwaite) confronts the group as the representative of a mysterious "Keyser Soze". He tells them how their actions have previously harmed Soze's business and blackmails them into carrying out a boat heist after revealing documents of their true identities. It then becomes clear that "the devil himself" has infiltrated the group, leaving only one question - who is Keyser Soze?

Fig 2 - The Usual Suspects - Verbal
For me the film stands solely on Kevin Spacey's socially-disengaged performance, in which his meek presence and patience-testing actions allow the audience to symapthise with his attempts to fit into the troubled collective. It was interesting to note the power-plays Verbal makes in his vulnerability upon second viewing. The subtle ways in which he wraps the police around his finger by starting irreverent tangents, boldly requesting coffee and hopelessly igniting a lighter with his crippled hand make every move notable on a repeat watch. In his questionable telling of events, the film is somewhat reminiscent of Rashomon (1950) in which we are also shown the differing perspectives of a crime in flashback sequences. However, for certain reasons, it is difficult to pinpoint exactly just how much of the truth we are getting and thus, difficult to know exactly how much we ought to care. With this, I imagine the film could have been edited down a tad since certain elements made little or no difference to the plot. If not, the situation was often discussed in such rapid-fire language it felt like sitting in the waiting room overhearing a story which, out of context, made no sense to an outsider.

Overall, I think The Usual Suspects shouldn't have to require a second viewing to appreciate, but it does. It's reliance on narration is telling of the confusing narrative on which it relies (and basically could have been trimmed). The structure and inevitable reveal are creative enough in their unfolding, however it lacks the common-man element of films like Resevoir Dogs (1992) and became a frustrating slug by the end of my first viewing. It may not be Tarantino, but it sure as hell takes itself too seriously.


Fig. 1 The Usual Suspects Poster (1995) From: The Usual Suspects - Directed by: Bryan Singer

Fig. 2 The Usual Suspects Screenshot (1995) From: The Usual Suspects - Directed by: Bryan Singer

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