“Did you see it coming?” I was asked by an Impact colleague; no it was shocking, but less surprising is that at number 23 on IMDb’s Top 250, The Usual Suspects (1995) is a fan favourite and considered one of the best crime films to date. Not knowing a lot about the film prior to my belated viewing, expectations were low, but they should have been set considerably higher. Kevin Spacey in particular delivers an excellent performance and is only helped further by the rest of the crew.
As a brief plot overview, this film follows a group of five men who are brought together in a police lineup. Their resentment towards the force is immediate as none of them are guilty, and so a plan to get revenge on the law is sprung. An operation goes badly wrong, and a criminal mastermind is revealed to be behind the plot; one of the men is questioned as he attempts to retell the events in a police interview.
As a film fanatic, having avoided The Usual Suspects is particularly worrisome, though on reflection, “I just didn’t get around to it”. Originally released in 1994, the film was praised for its clever combination of flashbacks and a contrasting narrative in the present. Whilst technically the majority of the runntime is occupied by a police interview, the story does not feel dull. The action is nicely intertwined with talking scenes to fill in plot and character backgrounds. The real reason for this film’s success is due to its twist, which ought to be experienced rather than read about.
Aside from Kevin Spacey, the lineup ranges from Benicio Del Toro, Gabriel Bryne, Kevin Pollak and Stephen Baldwin, with Bryan Singer orchestrating their arrangement from the director’s chair in a film that is regarded as igniting his mainstream success starting with X-Men in 2000. Singer’s now trademark blend of wit, careful buildup and intensely thought-out characters are suited for this neo-noir thriller which remains a high point of an already esteemed career, and deservedly so.
The Usual Suspects has achieved a cult status in the crime movie genre, and with good reason, but what is the bottom line basis for which this film is so well renowned? The acting to start with portrays such an array of diverse criminals to enjoy, setting a new precedent for the genre. On top of this, the plot is exciting and is still fun, unexpected and impactful to watch now twenty years after its original release. The real reason people watch this film is for the clever games it plays with you, the spectator, and the manipulation of perceptions of characters.
One needn’t be a cinephile who loves to exert their artsy knowledge about film to enjoy The Usual Suspects. Instead, almost anyone should be able to appreciate a well-made film with some great acting, even if just a little late to catching up to a now classic release.