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Saturday, February 14, 2015

My 40 Faovirte Films of the 90's - 12 - The Usual Suspects (1995)

The Usual Suspects; 1995,
Polygram Filmed Entertainment
Director: Bryan Singer
Writer: Christopher McQuarrie
Starring: Gabriel Byrne, Benicio Del Toro, Kevin Pollak, Stephen Baldwin, Chazz Palminteri, Kevin Spacey

I’m not usually a huge fan of ensemble films.  They are often pretty bad.  To me they always harken back to the likes of North or the Ocean’s Eleven sequels (the first one wasn’t really all that bad).  The movies are selling themselves on their cast alone, with little effort in the actual script or direction.  There are always exceptions to this rule, however as we will see in a few entries.  That brings us to the Usual Suspects.  For audiences today, this is a major cast, but in the mid-90’s… Well, many of these guys were known but were not huge stars.  The biggest gets in this movie by far were Gabriel Byrne and Chazz Palminteri, who were already well-regarded and praised actors at the time and they sort of held the unofficial position of being the main draw for audiences.  This was also only the second feature directed by soon-to-be X-Men director, Bryan Singer.

The Usual Suspects just may be the best heist movie of all time.  If it isn’t THE best, it’s up there.  This movie has a great cast of characters you believe were career criminals.  They knew the drill and it showed.  They were cynical, untrusting and just aggressive as Hell to everyone, especially each other.  They were brought together to pull a major job as commissioned by the enigmatic Kaiser Sousse, a shadowy figure that is often the subject of thieves’ lore.  The entire movie is told in flashback as a mentally challenged man named Verbal (Spacey) conveys the tale of a heist gone really, really bad to the impatient Det. Kujan (Palminteri).  He tells the story of the characters, who they were, how they were brought together by the mysterious Sousse and how the job became a total disaster.  

This is a damn-smart movie.  The film scored an Oscar for McQuarrie’s clever, fast and naturalistic screenplay and he deserved it.  He was a regular collaborator with Bryan Singer in the 90’s but sort of fell off the earth for nearly a decade.  He’s made a comeback in recent years, though.  He wrote/co-wrote a few would-be Hollywood epics like the box-office bomb Valkyrie and another Tom Cruise-headed flop The Edge of Tomorrow.  This is sad because, judging by The Usual Suspects, he is a damn-good writer.  The foul-mouthed, quippy and aggressive screenplay to Suspects really highlights the ideas of the 90’s, which were influenced heavily by Spike Lee and Quentin Tarantino, and drew from the grim attitude and gritty action of police films of the 70’s and 80’s like The French Connection and Prince of the City.  These influences in the 90’s led to a pretty solid series of b-grade actioners and high-quality independent films like this one.  If you like action, heists and a brilliant script, you will like The Usual Suspects.

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