The Usual Suspects (1995)

the usual suspects poster 1995 movie
8.0 Overall Score
Story: 8/10
Acting: 9/10
Visual: 9/10

Great ending, great cast

The actual story within the movie isn't that compelling

Movie Info

Movie Name: The Usual Suspects

Studio: PolyGram Films

Genre(s): Mystery/Suspense/Drama

Release Date(s):  January 25, 1995 (Sundance)/August 16, 1995 (US)

MPAA Rating: R

the usual suspects line up stephen baldwin gabriel byrne benicio del toro kevin pollak kevin spacey

A line-up for disaster

Keaton (Gabriel Byrne), McManus (Stephen Baldwin), Fenster (Benicio Del Toro), Hockney (Kevin Pollak), and Verbal (Kevin Spacey) find themselves pulled into a police line-up, but a group of criminals gathered together could brew another plan entirely.  When everything goes sideways and a boat explosions leaves people dead in Long Beach, Detective Dave Kujan (Chazz Palminteri) tries to question Verbal about what really happened between the line-up and the deal.  Detective Kujan has a theory, and Verbal could be the only one left that could corroborate his story.  As Verbal begins his tale of crime and deceit, a questions hangs over the entire investigation…who is Keyser Söze?

Directed by Bryan Singer, The Usual Suspects is a crime thriller mystery.  The film was released to mostly positive reviews and quickly gained a cult following.  The film was nominated for two Academy Awards:  Best Supporting Actor (Spacey) and Best Original Screenplay.  It won both.

The Usual Suspects came out at the right time.  It was released as independent movies were booming and scripts with clever twists and plotlines were all the rage.  I had a poster of The Usual Suspects in my college room…but oddly enough, I didn’t watch it very often.  Due to the plotline of the film, a ******spoiler alert****** exists for the rest of the review.

the usual suspects chaz palminteri dan hedaya

We’ll get our guy…what could go wrong?

The plotline for The Usual Suspects is told in flashbacks from a few different sources including Verbal and Detective Kujan.  This automatically creates a non-reliable narrator.  Kujan wants to nail Keaton and Verbal professes that Keaton is his friend…both are telling their own version of the story.  The story itself isn’t the greatest.  It is a dull tale of a crime gone bad.  What works however is the twist ending in which Kujan’s blindness to the bigger picture allows Keyser Söze aka Verbal to walk free.  It is a shock and a surprise, but it also feels a bit like a play that someone like Keyser Söze wouldn’t make.  He is a chameleon, but now everybody knows his identity because it is part of the police records.  He gets away, but it doesn’t feel like he really does if you consider what would happen next.

The cast is part of what makes the movie work.  Byrne’s character is brooding and trying to escape this criminal past, Benicio Del Toro’s character is just bizarre, Stephen Baldwin is gruff, and Kevin Pollak is job oriented.  Kevin Spacey’s Verbal is the odd man out among the group but that is also explained in the reveal at the end…he never was the odd man out.  The “Usual Suspects” are backed up by a great supporting cast including Chazz Palminteri, Pete Postlethwaite, Giancarlo Esposito, Dan Hedaya, and Clark Gregg and Paul Bartel in a small roles.

the usual suspects keyser soze

Who is Keyser Soze?

The movie is kind of flashy despite the bland core story.  Most of the “flash” is once again related to the ending of the film.  To appreciate the storytelling and visuals given in Verbal’s tale, you have to go back and watch the movie again to see (and question) what was actually real at all.

The Usual Suspects at points feels like it is written only to have the twist ending with the story developed around it, but it also has a bit of a legacy issue.  Due to sexual assault criticisms against both Kevin Spacey and Bryan Singer, the movie feels tainted.  It raises the usual question about The Usual Suspects and the separation of art and the people who make it.  Can you enjoy art that is made by a person who may (neither have been convicted) have abused their power over others?  Does The Usual Suspects have to be wiped from existence even if they are ever convicted?  I don’t agree with that, but it is a point of debate that unintentionally follows the film.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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