Only two movies in and Bryan Singer already had us in the palm of his hands.
The Usual Suspects was a big deal when it came out, mostly because of its cleverly crafted twist, that iconic line-up scene and Kevin Spacey, who really confirmed himself as an actor to look out for. With a strong cast, a slow-burning film noir plot and careful, detailed direction, this was a refreshing thriller in that it didn't go for full-blown action instead sticking to something a bit more cerebral and mysterious, introducing a new type of whodunit. Armed with a razor sharp script by Christopher McQuarrie, The Usual Suspects strives to always be one step ahead of the audience and, unless you know an M. Night Shyamalan-style twist is coming, it does just that very well. Gabriel Byrne plays an ex-criminal who is soon lured back into the game by, ironically, the police and the other "suspects" brought in for a line-up with him. Stephen Baldwin is actually fun as the most energetic and keen of the bunch, Kevin Pollak is as reliable as ever and Benicio Del Toro clearly has a ball as the least intelligible member of the group.
Watching the film now, it really feels like an experiment in storytelling. One that works, for sure, but which is more about the concept and its final development than it is about its actual story. Now, thrillers go out of their way to include hundreds of twists and turns, but here, the film really is about one thing: the build-up to one big heist. Though you could argue it's not really about that at all... More could have probably been done with this premise, more surprises could have been written in but they would have only served to distract rather than enhance the story. As it stands, The Usual Suspects is a small-scale film which nonetheless manages to feel important. When Pete Postlethwaite shows up, speaking for faceless, villainous puppetmaster Keyzer Soze, the latter essentially takes over the show and we're left to wonder what the hell's about to happen even though the first thing we get to see in the film is the ending. It's an old-fashioned mystery told with a modern eye and it's a pleasure to sit and watch Bryan Singer's little cypher unfold.
A clever exercise in putting together a fresh new type of whodunit, The Usual Suspects may mostly be about its concept and its denouement but it does it so well that you'll still be fascinated by what this colourful group of misfits is getting up to.
A slickly made gem.