Some times, the best way to hear about a movie is word of mouth. If a movie gets a lot of good word of mouth among people, then their friends will be more likely to go see it. That is definitely the case with today’s movie. Everyone that I knew who had seen it had enjoyed it and I ended up seeing it myself. But that word of mouth extended even further when it came out on video, as even more people were talking about it who missed seeing it in theaters. I liked this movie and would always watch it when it came on TV, then finally decided to go ahead and get it on DVD after a while. So let’s enjoy today’s movie, The Usual Suspects.
The plot: On a freight ship docked in San Pedro, California, a badly wounded man, Dean Keaton, lights a match book and drops it to the ground, setting fire to a trail of gasoline. As the flames head towards the gas tanks, the flame is put out by a man urinating off of an upper deck. The man then approaches Keaton, who calls him “Keyser”, and the two talk briefly before Keyser shoots Keaton, then drops a lit cigarette onto the gasoline, reigniting it and causing the ship to explode as the man leaves. Some time later, Roger “Verbal” Kent, a con artist with cerebral palsey, is being interviewed by the police. Verbal tells them that the whole thing started 6 weeks ago when a shipment of guns was hijacked and while the drivers didn’t see anything, they heard one of the thieves speak. The New York Police Dept. pick up Verbal as well as Keaton, Michael McManus, Fred Fenster, and Todd Hockney, and placed in a police line up and each are made to read the line on a card before beginning to interrogate them. When they are placed in a holding cell, McManus and Hockney discuss the rumors about Keaton going straight since hooking up with a criminal defense attorney. They then all discuss why they are there and realize that they are being set up as the police have no real idea who stole the guns and McManus wants to get back at the cops. Back in the present day, FBI Agent Jack Baer arrives at the dock and asks one of the officers if there were any survivors and learns that there were two; one who was badly burned and taken to the hospital, and one, Verbal, who was taken into custody by the police. Baer heads to the hospital and learns that the injured man had regained consciousness and as he goes in to try and speak to him, he recognizes him as Arkosh Kovash, a Hungarian Mobster. Baer makes a call to arrange for a security detail and an interpreter but as he is on the phone, Arkosh starts yelling out the name “Keyser Soze”, making Baer pause briefly before telling the person on the other phone to locate Dave Kujan. U.S. Customs Special Agent Dave Kujan has flown down to San Pedro to question Verbal but learns that he is going to be posting bail and released the next day. Kujan manages to get in to talk with Verbal before he is released and asks him what happened after the police line up in New York. Verbal explains that McManus had come up with a plan but they needed 5 men to pull it off and Verbal goes to try and convince Keaton to help them. The men all work together to rob some crooked cops that operate an illegal taxi service, robbing the recent customer of some jewels he was carrying, then torching the police car. Keaton calls in an anonymous tip and the media arrives and they end up bringing down the whole ringing, which extends all the way to the chief. McManus plans on heading to California with Fenster to meet with a fence that he knows but Hockney and the others don’t like the idea of them going alone and decide to go with him. Back in the present, Baer has his superior and the interpreter brought into the room and when he learns that Arkosh has seen Keyser Soze’s face, he has a sketch artist brought forward so they can get a sketch from Arkosh’s description. Back in the San Pedro Police Department, Kujan continues to question Verbal and Verbal tells him that after they arrived in California, they met with the fence, Redfoot, who paid them then offered another job. Keaton didn’t want to do it at first but finally relents and goes through with it. They go to steal a suitcase from a courier but unlike the police heist, this time they end up having to kill the men they were stealing from. When they open it, they find the suitcase contains heroin instead of jewels and McManus gets upset and when they meet with Redfoot, he accuses him of setting them up. Keaton calms him down and then questions Redfoot about who hired them and says he wants to meet him and Redfoot says the man has already said he wants to arrange a meeting. Back in the present, Baer heads to the station and meets with Kujan, telling him that according to Arkosh, the Hungarians were meeting with some Argentinians to buy some cocaine when Keyser Soze showed up and killed everyone. When Kujan returns back to the room and asks Verbal about Keyser Soze, he gets visibly upset. Verbal explains how they met with a lawyer named Kobayashi, who tells them he works for Keyser Soze. Kobayashi explains that Soze wants them to do a job for him, which could kill them but if they survive, they will get $91 million to split between them. When Keaton starts to refuse, Kobayashi explains that all of them have stolen from Soze at one point or another, and the only reason they are alive is because they didn’t know they were stealing from them. Soze feels this is simply making things even between them, and Kobayahsi leaves his suitcase on the table and leaves. When Keaton opens it, he finds envelopes with each of their names on them, with details of their lives contained in each one. Back in the present, Verbal tells Kujan a story he was told about how Soze was simply a low level dealer in Hungary when the mob wanted to expand into his territory. They held his wife and children hostage and killed his son in front of him, demanding he turn over his territory or else the others die. Soze proceeds to kill two of the mobsters, then kill his own family, telling the lone survivor he would rather see his family dead. After letting the man go and burying his family, Soze proceeds to go after the mob, killing their children and wives in retaliation, which led to him becoming a myth among criminals. After meeting with Kobayashi, Fenster decides to try and run but he is killed by Soze and Kobayashi tells the others where to find the body. As they argue over what to do, they bury Fenster, then decide to go after Kobayashi but he warns them against killing him, saying that their loved ones will end up dead, showing that he has brought Keaton’s girlfriend to be part of a trial and telling Keaton that the bodyguard he arranged will kill her if he turns up missing. Realizing they are trapped, Keaton and the others head out to the dock and await the meeting between the Hungarians and Argentinians. When the men show up, Keaton, McManus, and Hockney head out to deal with them, leaving Verbal, due to his disability, to cover them. The three men proceed to kill the guards outside and as Keaton and McManus head onto the boat, Hockney heads to a nearby van and finds it full of cash but ends up getting shot. Keaton and McManus make their way through the ship but find no sign of any cocaine on board. Verbal is tired of waiting and goes trying to help but when he finds Hockney’s body, he closes the van doors and goes to drive off but is unable to find the keys. Meanwhile, McManus is stabbed in the neck and as Keaton checks on him, he is shot in the back, which paralyzes him and brings us to the beginning of the movie. Back in the station, Kujan asks Verbal why he didn’t help his friends and he says he was too scared of Soze. Kujan then tells him that there were no drugs on the ship, but it was a witness who had knowledge of Soze, including who Soze really was. Kujan believes that Keaton was really Soze and tries to convince Verbal of that and turn state’s evidence but Verbal refuses and leaves, as his bail has been posted. After Verbal leaves, Kujan is talking with Sergeant Jeff Rabin about the situation and as he looks at the cork board behind Rabin, he realizes Verbal had lied to him, using names and elements from the cork board for his story. Kujan goes chasing after Verbal, just as a fax comes in from the hospital, with Verbal’s picture being listed as Keyser Soze. Outside, Verbal reveals that his disability was faked and he gets into a car that Kobayashi is driving and they drive off, leaving Kujan standing there frustrated at ebing unable to catch Verbal/Soze.
The Usual Suspects met with high praise from the critics, holding a certified fresh rating of 88% on Rotten Tomatoes. The critical consensus on the site is, “Expertly shot and edited, The Usual Suspects gives the audience a simple plot and then piles on layers of deceit, twists, and violence before pulling out the rug from underneath.” The line-up scene was scripted as a serious scene, but after a full day of filming takes where the actors couldn’t keep a straight face, director Bryan Singer decided to use the funniest takes. A making-of documentary shows Singer becoming furious at the actors for the constant cracking-up. The movie was a modest hit at the box office, earning $34.4 million off of a $6 million budget and would win the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay and while Kevin Spacey would win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.
This is a great movie but I will admit that the ending was a little predictable. The acting was great, with Kevin Spacey, Gabriel Byrne, and Chazz Palminteri doing great jobs in the roles of Verbal/Soze, Keaton, and Kujan respectively. Stephen Baldwin, Kevin Pollack, and Benicio Del Toro were also good as McManus, Hockney, and Fenster while Pete Postlethwaite did a great job as Kobayashi. The story was interesting and I liked the concept of the mysterious puppet master pulling the strings for all of the events. However, I did think that it got predictable that Verbal was really Soze before the “big reveal”. I did like that they showed Kujan realizing that he had been played and chasing after him before the sketch of Verbal gets faxed in, as his reaction and the slow motion showing all of the names Verbal had used was revealed was definitely a good way to start the close of the movie. The drama was well choreographed and the special effects in the final fire fight and explosions were well done. This is definitely a solid thriller of a movie and one that everyone should watch at least once.
Rating: 4 1/2 out of 5