Hailed somewhat misleadingly on its initial release as "Tarantinoesque", to compare director Bryan Singer's teasingly tortuous second feature with Reservoir Dogs on account of its heist movie core is to miss the myriad of sinful pleasures afforded by this, one of the most inventive thrillers to emerge for many, many years. For The Usual Suspects is a morbid, disturbing, labyrinthine journey into the darker recesses of the criminal psyche and a dazzlingly proficient piece of filmmaking at that, confirming Singer as a truly remarkable, prodigious talent.
And while the big screen is always a preferable venue on which to view movies, video is, in fact, the ideal medium for Singer's complex cinematic conundrum, allowing one to review the events unravelled within the film's elaborate narrative and offering the viewer ample opportunity to uncover the identity of the mysterious criminal mastermind Keyser Soze, whose presence hangs over the film like a leaden cloud.
The facts are as follows: a quintet of criminals are brought in on a trumped-up charge of robbery for a line-up in New York. They are Gabriel Byrne's former, and very bent cop Dean Keaton, Baldwin and Benicio Del Toro's comic burglary double act of McManus and Fenster, Pollack's wisecracking explosive expert Hockney and Spacey's loquacious cripple "Verbal" Kint.
As narrated by Spacey in voiceover and to Chazz Palminteri's customs agent David Kujan, screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie's detailed narrative slowly unfolds, beginning with an explosion on a boat in California that leaves 27 people dead, and flashes back to the line-up in the Big Apple and the five's decision to take on one job to get back at the cops, chronicling their seemingly inexorable connection to the legendarily underworld figure of Keyser Soze, the mere mention of whose name is enough to strike fear into the most hardened criminal heart. But all is very definitely not what it seems, as duplicity follows duplicity, and second, third and even fourth viewings leave one even more perplexed as to what's exactly what, and moreover who the hell is Keyser Soze.
While much praise has justifiably already been lauded on director Singer plaudits aplenty must also go to screenwriter McQuarrie for his intelligent, densely plotted script, the very fine ensemble cast — and Spacey, in particular, who deserves a supporting actor nod surely — and to editor/composer John Ottman for his skilful manipulation of image and sound. An extraordinary piece of filmmaking, this is that infrequent treat, a film that borders on the genius.