The Usual Suspects (1995)
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Kevin Spacey, Gabriel Byrne, Chazz Palminteri, Kevin Pollak, Louis Lombardi, Stephen Baldwin, Benicio Del Toro, Giancarlo Esposito, Pete Postlethwaite, Dan Hedaya, Suzy Amis, Paul Bartel, Peter Greene
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You Can All Go To Hell
Favorite Movie Quote: "Well I believe in God, Agent Kujan, and the only thing that frightens me is Keyser Soze."
The original tagline for The Usual Suspects - the movie that showcased the talents and launched the Hollywood careers of writer Christopher McQuarrie (who won an Academy Award for the script), director Bryan Singer, and editor/composer John Ottman - is the statement I reserve for anyone that doesn't recognize this film for the gem that it is.
Usual Suspects kicks off amidst the aftermath of the film's sequence of events, on an old ship in port as dead silent as the bodies littered about. Among them is Dean Keaton (Gabriel Byrne), apparently wounded as he tells a shadowy man in a hat in coat, "I can't feel my legs... Keyser." Thus we are introduced to the question of the film: Who is Keyser Soze?
Various law enforcement agencies are on site the following morning, including FBI agent Jack Baer (Giancarlo Esposito), the boat a smoldering ruin as the flatfoots keep a running body count. Baer is directed to the hospital where lays one of only two known survivors, a paranoid and badly burned Hungarian mobster, someone that claims to have seen and thus can identify the person responsible for the deaths at the pier, Keyser Soze. The other survivor, Verbal Kint (Kevin Spacey for which he took home an Academy Award), awaits release at a local P.D. precinct after cutting a quick deal with the local authorities.
As a known accomplice of dirty cop turned full-blown crook Keaton, Kint's tale - specifically as it relates to the death of Dean Keaton - is of interest to US Customs Agent Dave Kujan (Chazz Palminteri), who has some kind of personal and professional vendetta against Keaton, whom Kujan had tried repeated to put in prison. No body has as yet been discovered and, with Keaton having faked his death in the past, Kujan isn't buying it. "Convince me," he retorts when Verbal says that he's sure Keaton's dead. Thus, we are regaled by Verbal Kint's epic tale of how he, Keaton, and three other notorious career criminals, McManus (Stephen Baldwin), Fenster (Benicio Del Toro), and Hockney (the underappreciated Kevin Pollak), came to be among the participants in a shootout that caused the chaos at the harbor.
The frame story in which Kujan interrogates the clearly hedging Kint is a verbal chess game brilliant in its 'simplicity'. Both Palminteri and Spacey have never been as good as they are here, sparring, manipulating, and leaning on one another in an effort to control the conversation. Just when it looks as if Kint hit his stride, he's tripped up with the arrival of FBI Agent Baer with questions about the - by Kint - heretofore unmentioned Keyser Soze. Kujan strong-arms Verbal into telling more than he's been letting on.
The series of flashbacks - Kint's story brought to cinematic life - is where we get the majority of our information. It starts with a line up regarding a stolen truck, and while incarcerated for a few hours the crooks talk shop catapulting them on one job after another until they are blackmailed, threatened, and/or cajoled into trying to take the ship at the harbor to break up a drug deal for the sinister Soze, middle-manned by the nearly equally mysterious Kobayashi (Pete Postlethwaite). Kint's ever-expanding and changing story has holes - for which Kujan browbeats him mercilessly - but it seems to eventually lead to the truth that Kujan is looking for.
The Usual Suspects, flawless in design and execution, is a movie that expands in scope with each successive viewing. Spacey's performance in particular is a clinic on acting, adding layers only realized though repeated viewing (though repeated viewing is not a prerequisite for enjoying the film or his performance). Suspects is also some of Byrne's best work, and actors otherwise considered afterthoughts, like Baldwin and Pollack, illustrate their considerable talents as dramatic actors. In addition to Spacey, it marks the start of (Academy Award Winner) Del Toro's mainstream career, and has been Palminteri's high point.
So who is Keyser Soze? The answer is as simple as it is complex and will remind you not to believe everything you see.
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