The Usual Suspects

Directed By: Bryan Singer

Starring: Stephen Baldwin, Gabriel Byrne, Benicio Del Toro, Chazz Palminteri, Kevin Pollak, Pete Postlethwaite, and Kevin Spacey

"The greatest trick the devil ever pulled is convincing the world that he didn't exist.  And like that, poof.  He's gone."
-Verbal Kint (Kevin Spacey)

There's a thin line between genius and insanity, and criminal masterminds flirt with it all the time.  The stories, schemes, and crimes they concoct are things that could only be conjured by a madman.  One of the sickest, smartest criminals in the film world is Keyser Söze in Bryan Singer's The Usual Suspects.  This guy can walk and talk circles around anybody!

One night on a ship in San Pedro Bay, a mysterious menace known as Keyser Söze shoots a former police officer by the name of Dean Keaton (Gabriel Byrne).  After taking out his final victim in a murderous rampage, he burns the ship down.  However, there are two survivors--crippled con artist Roger "Verbal" Kint (Spacey) and a Hungarian crook known as Arkosh Kovash (Morgan Hunter).  The next day, several officers, namely FBI agent Jack Baer (Giancarlo Esposito) and Customs Agent Dave Kujan (Chazz Palminteri) arrive on the scene of the crime to begin an investigation.

Baer and Kujan split interrogation duties.  Baer goes to interrogate Kovash and is able to get one name out of him, Keyser Söze.  Meanwhile, Kujan interrogates Kint.  What he gets is an elaborate story that begins with the cops bringing five criminals together in a suspect line: ex-cop Dean Keaton, thief Michael McManus (Stephen Baldwin), thief Fred Fernster (Benicio Del Toro), hijacker Todd Hockney (Kevin Pollack), and Kint himself.  The story ends with Kint's tale of that bloody night on the ship in San Pedro Bay.

The Usual Suspects is one of the most unpredictable crime thrillers I've ever had the pleasure of watching.  Director Bryan Singer feeds the audience the bare minimum amount of information they need to understand it.  He gives nothing sparingly.  There's no way you can tell where this one is going, except into a web of lies and deceit.  It's one of those movies that merits a second (and maybe third) viewing to make sure you fully understand the nuances of this film.

The actors portraying these crooks bring quite a bit to the film.  The dynamics between Byrne, Baldwin, Del Toro, Pollak and Spacey are downright hilarious.  They all play off each other so well that it's hard to say that there's a standout.  Each actor gets a chance to step up to the plate in this one.  They're at their best when they're paying the NYPD back for throwing them all in a bogus suspect line and when they're in any scene with Pete Postlethwaite's no-nonsense Mr. Kobayashi.

For a good chunk of the film, we get a front row seat for the interrogation of Verbal Kint.  That means we get to watch Kevin Spacey and Chazz Palminteri go toe to toe.  We've got two big problems.  Spacey's Kint is not a rat, so he won't rat out his partners.  At the same time, a rumor is not a rumor that doesn't die, so Palminteri's Kojak is not going to let up once he hears word of Keyser Söze.  Their verbal sparring is incredibly tense and utterly captivating. It really makes the movie.

The Usual Suspects is a powerful, intelligent crime thriller with a huge twist at the end.  As much as I love it, I don't think it stands in the company of some of the other great crime flicks, and I have to differentiate them somehow.  I know I'll get some heat for this because it's such a beloved film.  Nonetheless, The Usual Suspects gets a strong 0.03% rating.