Movie Club: The Usual Suspects

Even if the twist ending for Bryan Singer and Christopher McQuarrie’s almost twenty-year-old classic The Usual Suspects strikes you as fantastically impossible, and it has indeed struck that chord with certain viewers, it’s hard to get angry at the ride. When the film was released in 1995, a few people actually did. Most notably, Roger Ebert put the film on his “Most hated films” list.

Some people felt cheated by the twist ending. Others just didn’t understand what all the hype was about. Elements of the movie became pop culture references. Through all this, The Usual Suspectshas endured as something considered by a large portion of people to be one of the best movies made in the 1990s. Cast members like Kevin Spacey and Benicio Del Toro continue to work steadily in high-profile gigs.

Long after the pre-Internet (largely) hype and discussions about the controversial ending have died down, The Usual Suspects stands as an immensely entertaining film. It’s not a huge surprise that Bryan Singer went on to do several installments in the X-Men movie franchise. He shows a knack here for juggling an elaborate story with a range of strong actors playing a diverse assortment of personalities. Here, he also shows his ability to establish a strong sense of momentum right from the beginning, and then building on that to a fever pitch that leaves most of the audience pleased. His best films appreciate the beginning and end of the journey, as much as they do for the part in the middle. Without question, The Usual Suspects is one of his best films.

19 years is a long time for a film. The Usual Suspects doesn’t feel a product of its time that has to reach just a bit too far to remain relevant. It is still a well-crafted, well-acted ride. It’s still a lot of fun. The ending retains its shock value for first-timers in 2014 that it did for first-timers in 1995. If you are watching it for the first time, you’re going to come away with a favorite character, as well as an appreciation for how well it tells its ambitious story. If you’re a fan who hasn’t seen The Usual Suspects in a long time (it’s available on Netflix and elsewhere), you’re going to find that everything holds up nicely.

Once again drawing some parallels to Bryan Singer’s work on X-Men, there is a subtle comic book quality to The Usual Suspects. That’s not to say the movie is elaborate fantasy, but there is a slight-yet-distinct exaggeration to everything. Characters played to perfection by actors like Chazz Palminteri and Gabriel Byrne (and we sure as hell cannot forget the late, supremely great Pete Postlethwaite) are played big. Not so big as to overwhelm the story, but big enough to feel like marginal embellishments in a drama that understands two things. The first is that the devil is very keenly in the details. Secondly, the fact that how the story is told is just as important as the story itself. The Usual Suspects expresses this understanding through Kevin Spacey’s character. It also expresses this understanding in the way everything that makes up its DNA is just about perfect.

Join us this THURSDAY, September 25th, at 8pm EST (5pm PST), as we live-tweet The Usual Suspects. Feel free to watch along with us, and join in the discussion, by tagging your tweets with the hashtag #dmmovies