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The Usual Suspects

Rated R, 108 min. Directed by Bryan Singer. Starring Stephen Baldwin, Gabriel Byrne, Chazz Palminteri, Kevin Pollak, Pete Postlethwaite, Kevin Spacey, Suzy Amis, Benicio Del Toro, Giancarlo Esposito, Dan Hedaya.

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Sept. 1, 1995

The Usual Suspects A movie shouldn't have to be seen twice in order to be understood. Second viewings can certainly deepen an appreciation and enrich our knowledge and experience of a movie. But a second look shouldn't be required in order to have a solid understanding of certain things as essential as who did what to whom… and why? That said, I can't think of a movie the second viewing of which I looked forward to more eagerly than that of The Usual Suspects. When revisited, the movie comes through like a champ and reveals a clarity and overall vision that seemed tentative at first encounter. The Usual Suspects is a movie with style to burn, and, initially, that is this crime drama's most mesmerizing aspect. The plot's convolutions and unexpected surprise ending all seem to be extensions of the film's stylistic flourish. Upon reflection, The Usual Suspects' story line is not all that eventful. The film begins with the elegantly filmed explosion of a boat. The only survivors are a charred Hungarian sailor who fearfully babbles about having seen the face of the devil, a man by the name of Keyser Söze, and a con man with a distinctive limp who's known by the name of Verbal (Spacey). The rest of the film recounts the events that led up to the explosion. A seemingly random roundup of several top New York City thieves tosses five larcenous professionals into a jail cell and when they emerge, the web of heists that seals their doom is set in motion. Out of the group of five, Verbal is the last survivor. The web pulls the audience along, too, because we all become actively engaged in the process of figuring out which one of them is Keyser Söze. The characters contribute so much to the movie's richness. These performances are full of fine nuances, dialogue, and slowly revealed traits. Very little really occurs in terms of the film's essential actions, but everything occurs in the way that these events go down. Everything is so fascinating to watch and piece together. Director Bryan Singer and screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie are high school pals whose first feature film, Public Access, won the Grand Jury Award at Sundance two years ago, though this widely hailed film languished from a lack of sincere distribution. Their second feature,The Usual Suspects, seems destined for greater things.
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