Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Usual Suspects (1995)

Director: Bryan Singer                                   Writer: Christopher McQuarrie
Film Score: John Ottman                               Cinematography: Newton Thomas Sigel
Starring: Gabriel Byrne, Kevin Spacey, Kevin Pollak and Benicio Del Toro

I like Kevin Spacey. I have a lot of his films and I enjoy his performances in most of them. But I don’t think he’s a very good actor. What I mean to say is, he seems like the kind of a guy who can be an absolute jerk in real life, and when he plays those kinds of characters I find him very convincing. But when he attempts to play vulnerable, sniveling, or crippled, I don’t believe it for a second. Buddy Ackerman in Swimming with the Sharks? Oh, yeah, that’s Kevin Spacey. But Quoyle in The Shipping News, or Verbal Kint in The Usual Suspects? Not for a second; he’s totally phony. The first time I watched this film it bothered me the whole way through.

I’m also not a big fan of L.A. drug bust stories. Tequila Sunrise, anyone? The plot is full of complications and unbelievable situations. In the first place, five big-time thieves are simply arrested in New York and then thrown into the same jail cell where they can talk together. Really? And of course they get together for a big score in L.A. But, surprise, surprise, once in La-La Land they find the whole thing’s been engineered by the master criminal, and angel of death, Keyser Söze. Evidently all of them had unknowingly robbed shipments that were operations he was running. Now, to pay him back, they need to destroy one of his competitors in the drug smuggling business in Southern California.

It sounds straightforward enough, but the story is told in bits and pieces by Spacey, the only survivor of the melee. The narrative of the caper is intertwined with the DEA and the New York police and a bunch of other people who want information about the heist, lawyers, district attorneys, FBI, you name it. It’s convoluted, but needlessly so. And yet, the Academy decided to award the best screenplay to Christopher McQuarrie for the film. The most disappointing thing about the script is that it’s not a legitimate caper film because of the cheat ending. The confession that Spacey gives is a lie. So the fact that the real story turns out to be different isn’t really clever . . . it’s just a lie.

I’m almost convinced that if Kevin Spacey had not been given the ending of the film in his script that he would have been more convincing. But, of course, he obviously didn’t need to be as he earned an Oscar for his performance as well. I know it doesn’t make much sense but, for all that, I don’t think it’s a bad film. It’s just a film that didn’t grab me. It had some good performances, Billy Baldwin aside, and I know a lot of people found the story compelling. The Academy certainly did. For me, however, I can only give The Usual Suspects that most damning of descriptions: overrated.

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