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The Usual Suspects

tn_usualsuspects

RELEASE DATE: August 16th
RELEASE DATE: August 16th

Do you guys know about these “Usual Suspects”? They’re this group of criminals who get rounded up one day for a line up for some crime none of them had anything to do with, and it pisses them off so much that they decide to pool their resources for a job that will get them some diamonds and humiliate the police by exposing their corruption. As a bonus it will also allow them to terrorize an uptight Paul Bartel and blow up his car. But when they go to fence the jewels they realize they’ve been pulled into this whole other thing with an infamous boogie man super-criminal who now says they owe him and have to do a job for him or their loved ones will be assaulted and killed. Or at least that’s what this lawyer Kobayashi (Pete Postlethwaite, INCEPTION) tells them. Or at least that’s the story that Verbal Kint (Kevin Spacey, MOON, The Equalizer) tells Customs Agent Kujan (Chazz Palminteri, BERRY GORDY’S THE LAST DRAGON) when he wants to know what led up to the burning ship full of dead bodies discovered last night.

Yeah, actually this movie is pretty complicated, and that’s just the basics there. There’s also the whole thing about a Hungarian burn victim survivor of the boat fire and the FBI agent (Giancarlo Esposito, DO THE RIGHT THING, The Equalizer) bringing in a translator and sketch artist before surgery to try to get him to tell what he knows about the mysterious Keyser Soze and trying to get the information to Agent Kujan in time and etc.

To get through the maze you better enjoy the company of this crew of crooks. Keaton (Gabriel Byrne, END OF DAYS) is the serious guy, kind of the leader. He’s an infamous corrupt cop turned crime boss (or something) who now is in love with his lawyer (Suzy Amis, FIRESTORM) and planning to go straight until this lineup incident convinces him it’ll never work. McManus (Stephen Baldwin, POSSE) is kind of a loose cannony tough guy, the brash one. Since Baldwin is now known as the conservative Baldwin brother it’s funny that his character wears a Confederate flag hat in one scene and uses the word “fag” in another. His partner is Fenster (Benicio Del Toro, THE HUNTED), the scene stealer of the movie. He’s bizarrely made up, dresses like Scarface and mumbles in a made up accent. Del Toro decided, correctly, that none of his dialogue was important, and that it was better to sound interesting than be understood by the audience. (On disc you can turn on the subtitles, though.)

mp_usualsuspectsAnd then, weirdly, the comedian Kevin Pollak (END OF DAYS) plays Hockney. This may be a coincidence, but it came at the height of Tarantino fever, when we were starting to see counter-intuitive casting choices for tough guys. That’s how we ended up with Billy Connelly the trenchcoat wearing gunman of the BOONDOCK SAINTS saga. You can put Pollak in a flight jacket but he still looks small and out of place with this group. And I kinda like that.

Dan Hedaya (TIGHTROPE, The Equalizer) has a supporting role – it’s his office where Kujan interviews Kint. I mention it because remember he was the dad in CLUELESS earlier in the summer. It’s cool to see him show up again.

Also in the cast is Jack Shearer (END OF DAYS).

It’s not really a heist movie in the sense of having alot of planning and build up. The robberies are sudden and quick. The gang look pretty scary with different types of masks, they smash windows with crowbars and don’t hesitate to shoot. Even Verbal shoots a guy in his own story (I woulda left that part out if I was him). One of the more exciting moments is when they decide to terrorize the lawyer Kobayashi, and we don’t know what they have in store for him. He’s in an elevator with two other men, presumably heading up to the floor where the shit will go down. But before they get there the lights go out in the elevator, there’s a sound of silenced gunfire, and when the light comes back on the two men are on the floor with splatters of blood on the wall behind where their heads were. McManus is up above with a gun, smiling.

The filmatism is strong and confident, especially compared to director Bryan Singer’s lower profile debut, PUBLIC ACCESS, which I didn’t like at all. He’s a young director with a real-movie budget for the first time (only $5.5 million, but not a student film) and he shows little restraint with the dramatic crane shots and slow zooms into actor’s faces as they’re thinking and of course if you’ve seen it there’s a meticulous figuring-shit-out montage at the very end (kinda the basis of the SAW franchise in my opinion). Show-offy shit, but it works. I think a big part of it is the score by John Ottman. It’s eerie and elegant, gentle piano solos with a tinge of CANDYMAN that build into something bigger and even more foreboding. It probly doesn’t hurt that Ottman is also the editor, so he can be hands on in timing the image to the music swelling.

And of course Singer has put together a powerhouse cast and given them a bunch of stuff to chew on. Spacey (whose name is way down in the credits) was the show-stealer, a smart guy and fast-talker, but meek compared to the browbeaters he’s now known for playing. He sells both his physical weakness and his emotional breakdown when Kujan tries to convince him that his hero Keaton was setting him up and might be Keyser Soze. He’s in control of the whole story and still convinces us he’s pathetic.

Watching it this time I think my favorite non-Del Toro acting moment is from Palminteri. He does alot of exposition dumping and stuff but the great moment is after he’s let Verbal go and he’s sitting on the desk drinking his coffee and staring at the bulletin board. And it’s not even the moment when he sees something on the board that makes him realize Verbal was pulling his chain. It’s before that, the look of satisfaction. The well, we didn’t win this one, but we gave it our best. Just enjoying the moment.

On the surface this is a pretty timeless movie. The clothes and hair are never specific to the ’90s, there’s no contemporary music, and cultural references are to, like, the JFK assassination, not “U Can’t Touch This.” But it also really captures a moment in time because of the cast and where they were in their careers right then. For both Spacey (who won an Oscar for best supporting actor) and Benicio del Toro it was the huge breakout role that turned them into A-list actors. For Byrne it was another movie, along with MILLER’S CROSSING, that would earn him huge respect – though I feel like that has kind of gone away over time. Am I wrong? It doesn’t seem like people think of him as much these days.

It was also the breakthrough for Postlethwaite. We’d seen him in ALIEN 3: THE REVENGE OF ALIEN, but this was the start of a brief period in the ’90s when he was everywhere. In the following two years alone he was in JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH, DRAGONHEART, BRASSED OFF!, ROMEO + JULIET, THE LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK, AMISTAD and a couple others. And it was maybe a career peak for Baldwin (who gets top billing) as a leading man. I guess maybe BIO-DOME and THE FLINTSTONES IN VIVA ROCK VEGAS changed his image too much to get away from being the low rent Baldwin. (Although I liked him in CUTAWAY in 2000).

At any rate, this would be the last time Baldwin and Del Toro could play partners and Del Toro is the one that dies in the middle.

And a sure sign that this is a ’90s crime movie is the (uncredited) appearance of Peter Greene as Redfoot. He had already done LAWS OF GRAVITY, CLEAN, SHAVEN, JUDGMENT NIGHT and PULP FICTION (and was the bad guy in THE MASK). All of this was obviously done as a practice run to prepare him for the big leagues in his following role, Mercenary #1 in UNDER SIEGE 2: DARK TERRITORY. He would also play Detective Artie Pluchinsky in TICKER.

(By the way, Wikipedia has a long list of actors who were supposedly offered the small part of Redfoot, the most interesting being Johnny Cash.)

So does that mean it holds up well 20 years later? Yes and no. But I think the difference isn’t so much that it’s 20 years later as it’s that I’m 20 years older. This is alot of posing and puzzling that’s still fun to watch, but not as deep as it probly seemed to me when I was younger. I don’t really think the idea of the invisible super villain is as awesome as it seemed back then. It kinda seems dorky, like when a young man who shall remain nameless discovered that some other kids were using the same fort as him in the park so he left a threatening note from a fictional older kid named “Ace.” From what I remember those kids were skeptical, and I’m not sure I buy that people would fear Keyser Soze so much given that the scarier stuff (having files on everybody) they don’t know about until it happens to them. And I don’t think I follow why he even did this whole complicated scheme with the people in the police lineup. It was to kill that one old guy that had seen his face, right? I feel like he could’ve done that with less time and resources wasted. But I guess if he likes games and stuff? It was probly pretty fun hanging out with those guys and doing role playing.

One kinda interesting touch is the names, which seem kinda self conscious and young-screenwriterly. What kind of a name is “Verbal Kint”? And a British guy named Kobayashi? So it’s kinda fitting when some of them turn out to be phony names made up on the spot by the same guy.

I’m glad that screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie (who won an Oscar for this) has toned down all the complications over the years. I suppose VALKYRIE, JACK REACHER and ROGUE NATION all have complex plots, but they don’t seem as much like a triple back flip underwater reach around pretzel twist quadruple fakeout maneuver as this.

The parts I really like are the simple parts. Like the scene where a bunch of characters die and we don’t even see what happened to them. Keaton finds McManus and asks him what’s going on.

“The strangest thing…” McManus says. Then he collapses forward, revealing the knife in his back.

post-script:

THE USUAL SUSPECTS was a small movie, opening on 42 screens, but in its third week (on 506 screens) it cracked the box office top ten. In its fifth week it moved up to #5, just below more mainstream newcomer HACKERS. It was still in the top 10 in October when SEVEN opened and introduced another famous plot twist involving Kevin Spacey.

Singer followed this up three years later with the Stephen King adaptation APT PUPIL starring Ian McKellan. But in 2000 he would make his biggest mark on pop culture by directing X-MEN. It was the first white Marvel Comics movie to really take off, setting the stage for the modern comic book movie era. It also pioneered the formula of respected indie director doing a big super hero franchise (see also Christopher Nolan).

Though USUAL SUSPECTS was not in the mode of a summer event movie, that has become Singer’s primary output. He’s done one historical drama (VALKYRIE), one failed fantasy (JACK THE GIANT SLAYER), four X-MEN and a SUPERMAN (with Spacey).

McQuarrie has also entered the arena this summer when he directed MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION. He also directed two impressive crime/action movies, WAY OF THE GUN and JACK REACHER.

Ottman continues to edit and score, including for most of Singer’s movies. He also directed URBAN LEGENDS: FINAL CUT.

SUMMER OF 1995 NOTE: MORTAL KOMBAT came out on August 18th, here is my old review of that one.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, August 18th, 2015 at 11:40 am and is filed under Crime, Reviews, Thriller. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

66 Responses to “The Usual Suspects”

  1. I’m planning to revisit this one for a while, but to be honest, I doubt that it really holds up if you know the twist. I’m sure there are still the performances and certain moments of suspense and shit, but when you have a movie that leads up to that one single reveal, it’s always hard to watch the 2nd time around.

    Anyway, Gabriel Byrne, yeah, he kinda disappeared. Although he was for a few years the star of IN TREATMENT, which apparently was a show that nobody watched, but everybody talked about to seem smarter. I heard it actually IS a good show, though.

  2. I’ve probably seen this movie a half a dozen times. It’s been a number of years since I last sat down and watched the movie, but my experience has been that it holds up even if you know the twist. The actors do a wonderful job of playing off each other, and the unexpected casting works surprisingly well. Even Stephen Baldwin is pretty good. The dialogue has so many great hard boiled lines and exchanges. (Cop: “You know what happens if you do another turn in the joint?” Hockney: “Fuck your father in the show and then have a snack? Are you going to charge me dickhead?”).

    One other part of the film that sticks with me, though, is Singer’s use of light throughout. It’s really impressionistic, and it seems to be his way of trying to translate film noir black and white chiaroscuro into color film. We get such a sense of what’s going on in people’s heads just from the light.

    I was really obsessed with this film for a while, and I should probably revisit it. Even at the time I loved the dialogue, and I was really excited about Christopher McQuarrie’s first directorial film, Way of the Gun, which is less flashy than The Usual Suspects but damn near as good.

  3. “GIMME THE FUCKEN KEYS YAOW FUKIM COCKSUCKAH! WHAT DE FUK?” is probably the most quoted movie line of my 8th grade existence back in those days.

  4. Wasn’t Postlethwaite’s big breakthrough IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER? And IN TREATMENT was very good. Sad that Byrne got lost in the Hollywood shuffle.

    KPCS: Christopher McQuarrie #9

    Christopher McQuarrie on "Kevin Pollak's Chat Show"

    Worth watching, an early episode of Kevin Pollak’s worthwhile interview show with McQuarrie talking about the history of the project and what he’d done up to writing it.

    I still like this one though it’s been awhile since I’ve seen it, but it’s one of those films that’s seared into my memory because I absolutely didn’t see the ending coming. And this was in like 2002, when the special edition DVD had been released. I knew of it’s reputation because it was (and still is I believe) one of the top films in the IMDB 250 which seemed like a big deal at the time. And I absolutely agree with Vern that SAW ripped this off left, right and center.

    I love Ottman’s score too, but it is quite evident to me that they used James Horner’s work on SNEAKERS as temp because some of it is quite similar.

  5. I didn’t watch this until 2007-08ish, there was a dude on a forum I used to go to who completely spoiled the twist for me with his username and avatar. If I had never seen that gimp then I guess I would of enjoyed the ending a lot more.

    BTW has the ending of this been spoiled in any other media like Family Guy did with The Sixth Sense? (Which I had also not seen and got pissed off about at the time).

  6. Really enjoyed the late Roger Ebert’s take on this film and its plot: “To the extent that I understand it, I don’t care.” While I don’t hate it like him, must confess that I’m not much of a fan and find much of the alleged “cleverness” of the mystery and the twist to be pretty damn silly. But Del Toro is still great.

  7. I guessed the ending of this movie in the first 5 minutes. The golden lighter, the repeated urine references and verbal smoking, but being unable to use a lighter seemed very placed and inorganic. Of course, I knew there was a twist going in, so…

    Still, a great flick.

  8. I watched some of the first season of IN TREATMENT and found it pretty disappointing. It didn’t seem to realise psychotherapy is fascinating enough in and of itself, and fell back on some very obvious dramatic cliches.

  9. I’m baffled that people used to think this movie was clever. The twist isn’t original, and McQuarrie is lazy about integrating it into his script (some of the stuff we see in flashback couldn’t possibly come from Verbal’s narrative). To the extent that the movie works, it’s in spite of that nonsense ― Del Toro is still really fun to watch.

  10. Can’t believe it came out this early in August. I must’ve seen it during the 500 theater expansion. It was my first week as a college freshman and having access to indie movies blew my mind. Best thing I saw at that theater was Bound a year later.

    Glad to hear I wasn’t crazy thinking aside from the cool twist, it wasn’t some mind blowing next level film. It’s a solid crime drama but yeah, double crosses, twists, etc. Still in Singer’s top three tho maybe behind Superman and X2.

  11. I miss movies like this and MEMENTO, ya know, those little sleeper hit movies that lots of people saw because of how clever they were, not through big budgets or anything like that, I swear it seems like the general public was more adventurous with the movies they watched back in the day of video stores, now with shit like Netflix when you have thousands of movies at your fingertips it seems to cancel it all out and people just go back to binge watching some TV show, too many options lead to people choosing nothing instead of taking a risk on an usual movie they heard about through word of mouth, whereas a trip the local Blockbuster or whatever would lead to a “well, I have to rent something” mindset.

    Of course this had it’s downsides, it was that mindset that led to my mom somehow renting JULIEN DONKEY-BOY once which obviously got turned off right quick.

  12. Griff, if you haven’t seen it go check out THE GIFT, that’s probably the closest you’re going to get to one of those old sleepers this summer

  13. Kennerado: AMERICAN DAD did.

    Al Pacino said in an interview somewhere the role he regrets turning down most was the Palminteri one.

  14. I recently watched WAY OF THE GUN. It´s been what, 15 years since. It´s been almost two months since my second watch and I still can´t remember anything from it.

  15. Shoot – Are you trying to say that you have no memory of Sarah Silverman calling Benicio Del Toro and Ryan Phillipe baby fuckers? That I have a hard time believing.

  16. You are right. I should have. But I don´t. I don´t even remember she was in it. The most memorable part of the whole movie is how little I actually remember of it.

  17. Saw this one at the theatre, and even as a kid I felt it was kind of overhyped. The twist was surprising (even though I’ve seen variations before), but it’s also a cheat and renders so much of the movie moot, and instead of being fun to pick over and try to figure out what’s real and what wasn’t, I kinda just didn’t care (or maybe that’s the point). Still very entertaining and full of great performances.

    On another note: Anybody remember Dr. Detroit? The Dan Aykroyd mistaken-identity pimp comedy? I have a feeling McQuarrie is a huge fan since his scripts for both The Usual Suspects and The Tourist seem to riff pretty heavily on it. (I seem to be the only one who thought The Tourist was underrated and a lot of fun, with a really strong villain performance from Steven Berkoff).

  18. “Shoot – Are you trying to say that you have no memory of Sarah Silverman calling Benicio Del Toro and Ryan Phillipe baby fuckers? That I have a hard time believing.”

    Hah, yup. When i think of that movie (which is more than usual lately, since McQuarrie’s been in the press promoting Mission Impossible) that’s what I think of. Sarah Silverman saying they “fuck baby heads,” and Ryan Phillipe saying “Shut that cunt’s mouth, or I’ll come over and fuck-start her head” — and then beating the shit out of her instead of her boyfriend! So insanely vulgar. The kind of thing that’s so atrociously offensive that it circles back ’round to being funny (for me, at least).

  19. The Original Paul

    August 19th, 2015 at 1:05 pm

    Ahhh, THE USUAL SUSPECTS. My favorite film that I almost didn’t see because it has one of the worst names in cinema history. Seriously, “The Usual Suspects”? Who came up with that? Might as well call the film “This movie has nothing new to offer.” Which is far, far, far from the case.

    The name aside, this is a great film, a classic one, and one of my all-time favorites. I’ll try and articulate why this is the case.

    First of all, what you get is a fantastic cast of actors and behind-the-scenes talent, many of whom would never reach these heights again. John Ottman (URBAN LEGENDS 2) did the score. (Yeah, the I, ROBOT score is fantastic too.) Bryan Singer (SUPERMAN RETURNS) directed. Kevin Spacey (also SUPERMAN RETURNS) stars, along with Gabriel Byrne (VAMPIRE ACADEMY), Stephen Baldwin (THE FLINTSTONES), Kevin Pollak (HOSTAGE), Benicio del Toro (FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS), Chazz Palminteri (RUNNING SCARED), Suzy Amis (erm… TITANIC? Seriously, I had to check IMDB for this one and I can’t see anything she’s done after the year 1999). What I’m trying to get at is that these guys’ legacies, post-USUAL SUSPECTS, have been spotty at best. I think Spacey’s fared the best – he recently did the exellent MARGIN CALL, which felt like a huge return to form from him – and Palminteri gets a lot of work in both TV and films although I’m not sure of the quality of much of his output – but the thing that strikes me regarding most of these actors, Spacey and Del Toro aside, is that they just not “names” any more.

    Baldwin and Byrne give career-best performances in this one, by the way. Stephen Baldwin is a revelation as McManus especially.

    As regards the “twist”… I have no problems with it, and I didn’t see it coming. But then I enjoy films that have complex structures that reward multiple viewings (I think I’ve made this clear in my thoughts on the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE series). This is a film that gets me on every level that I want a film to “get” me – intellectually and emotionally. But I recognise that not everyone will agree on that. So let’s talk about some other things that are great about the film.

    Firstly, the soundtrack. You guys know I’m a soundtrack nerd and I absolutely love this one. Apparently most of Europe’s TV producers agree with me because, holy shit, this thing is everywhere. It’s up there with the DOCTOR WHO score or the opening themes of THE BONE COLLECTOR and I, ROBOT (that last one was also done by Ottman). I don’t know if the Teletubbies TV show was European or not, but if it was, I bet part of it had THE USUAL SUSPECTS’ soundtrack on it. Just a whole bunch of use scoring TV programs in countries where the licensing laws are – less severe, shall we say? – than they are in the USA (although that didn’t stop COMMUNITY’s “conspiracy theories” episode from basically copying one music cue from TUS almost beat-for-beat). To give you guys some idea of how far this goes, part of the soundtrack was still used in the Dutch series WIE IS DE MOL back in January of this year. From a twenty-year-old film.

    Secondly the cinematography. Man, this thing is beautiful. It’s up there with HOLY MOTORS and LOST IN TRANSLATION for fantastic use of the cinematic language. And while people have pointed out various “clues” to the twist throughout the movie, let me add a slightly more esoteric one: check out the scoring and the visuals for the “Alice down the rabbit hole”-type scenes – in particular everything to do with Redfoot. The music subtly changes to something more “foreign” – I’m pretty sure Ottman throws in some mandolins at one point – while the cinematography also subtly changes to add deeper colour “hues”. A lot of the mid-section of the film has a “dream-like” feel to it. This is superbly done. But aside from that, it’s just a celebration of the cinematic art.

    There’s so much subtle, intelligent stuff here that goes unnoticed. Like the fact that as Keaton gets more and more embroiled in his old life, he’s always shown separated from Edie by panes of glass. Or the use of a beam of light from a lighthouse to emphasize one specific point on the beach. There are so many little character cues that for me have an intense emotional “hit” – and smartly, most of these take place during the sections of the film that can be fairly presumed to be “real”. Keaton’s statement to Edie after the police let him go – “they broke me” – still hits me. As does the burial of Fenster. (As Vern points out, Del Toro does a fantastic job of taking a character who really has no function other than to be sacrificed to raise the stakes, and giving him personality.)

    The other fascinating thing is the character of Keyser Soze. Just how much of what we see of him is real? How much does he truly share with the others thieves, and with Verbal specifically? There’s lots of little moments that “mirror” the two – and not just obvious clues like the cigarette lighter – we’re told that Keyser waits to see his family buried before starting his vendetta, for example, and not long afterwards see Verbal helping to bury Fenster. The film is full of little moments like this that give insights into the characters of those involved.

    If I were to criticise this film, I’d say that subjectively I wish it hadn’t started with a piss-shot (I know there’s nothing inherently bad about this, it just reminds me of so many bad films that use toilet humour; I would’ve liked to have seen somebody stamp out the flame instead maybe) and I also don’t like the character of Jack Baer much. He’s kinda the exposition guy to show that the police have already heard of a Keyser Soze through rumour only, but the way he goes about establishing this feels really clunky. It’s just straight exposition and not particularly well-handled.

    But those very very very minor points aside, this is a classic film and a great one. If anything I think its intelligence is underrated by most people, with so much analysis going into “the twist” that they miss a lot of the more subtle cues and nuances that the film has to offer. It has a great cast of characters played by a group of actors who have in many cases never been better, great cinematography, a score that’s still being used on foreign TV shows today, and a satisfying emotional and intellectual “hit”. I find it endlessly rewatchable.

    Yeah… I really love this one.

  20. The Original Paul

    August 19th, 2015 at 1:06 pm

    Also, fuck me! Is it possible to fix those italics? I have no idea how that even happened, I only meant to italicise “under” in underrated!

  21. Paul I don’t mean to call you out or anything and I’m not sure it translates the same in Europe, but The Usual Suspects was a line in Casablanca. So it did have some cinematic homage to the title.

  22. The Original Paul

    August 19th, 2015 at 2:26 pm

    Fred – I didn’t realise that and I certainly won’t contradict you. But my point is that EDGE OF TOMORROW, which many people have criticised, sounds like the most interesting film ever in comparison to THE USUAL SUSPECTS. It’s just a bad title for a movie. Or pretty much anything really. The fact that it’s a reference to something else doesn’t really change that.

  23. If you don’t know the origin of the phrase, “the usual suspects” I can see thinking it’s a dumb or boring title. But understanding where it comes from, I think, makes it a great, succinct piece of poetry. It comes at the end of CASABLANCA where the French policeman knows Bogart’s character is the one who shot the guy, but tells his underling to round up the usual suspects to question about the crime.

    In just that one line we’re painted a picture of the poor saps who are getting hauled in to answer for a crime the investigator knows for a fact they didn’t commit. It not only touches on the guys getting hauled in, and possibly being made scape goats, but also the lazy or apathetic or corrupt police force who are supposed to be keeping our societal structure in order.

  24. The Original Paul

    August 19th, 2015 at 6:31 pm

    I’m not denying that, at all, if you get the reference. But how many people will? It’s been twenty years since I watched CASABLANCA and I couldn’t remember it. And it just does not seem like good sense, if that was the intention, to make the title of your movie a reference to a sixty-year-old movie that a heck of a lot of your audience probably haven’t seen. (I’m not trying to insult CASABLANCA here, by the way. From what I can remember, it’s a fantastic film. I just question whether it’s good sense to make a reference to another movie – even that one – the title of your movie.)

    Anyway, I don’t want to get hung up on what’s essentially a marketing point. The film itself is fantastic, better than it’s given credit for I think (and it’s given a lot of credit).

  25. The Original Paul

    August 19th, 2015 at 8:13 pm

    Oh yeah, forgot to mention this earlier.

    Vern’s review says:

    “They’re this group of criminals who get rounded up one day for a line up for some crime none of them had anything to do with”

    While the line-up was a setup to get the criminals together, it turns out that one of them DID do the crime they were brought in for – specifically Hockney, who stole the truck in Queens that (as it’s revealed later on in the movie) contains goods belonging to one Keyser Soze. Which, if you recall, is the crime that they were arrested for in the first place. It’s why everyone reacts strongly to Kobayashi’s revelation of Hockney’s crime the first time the criminals meet him (and why Hockney looks so smug). Fun fact: when I first watched the movie I kinda guessed this (it’s one of the few things about the movie I did guess) from the scene at the start, from Hockney’s reaction to Fenster’s asking “Who stole the truck?” Given that I missed just about everything else, including both of the reveals at the end, I probably shouldn’t have felt so satisfied at myself for that one. But oh well.

  26. Paul, had you ever heard of “the usual suspects” just as an idiom or an expression before?

  27. I mean, just as in “the persons predictably involved in a certain context (usually a criminal or suspicious context)” — did you just know it from it being used an expression for that? Or had you never heard it before?

  28. The filmatism is strong and confident, especially compared to director Bryan Singer’s lower profile debut, PUBLIC ACCESS, which I didn’t like at all.

    McQuarrie, who wrote it, wasn’t even impressed:

    …Bryan called me and said that these people had seen “Lion’s Den” and really liked it and had asked to see another script. And he made up a three-second pitch off the top of his head, which evolved into Public Access. … He asked me if I wanted to write it. And I said, sure. He said, “Okay, I need it in 15 days.” So I bought this shitty little Panasonic word processor — I didn’t know how to type — and I wrote a draft in 15 days. … Bryan then got Michael Dougan involved in the writing, and he came in and took this basically glorified episode of Murder, She Wrote and really darkened it up. I took a look at his rewrite and was like, “Oh, you mean I can be dark with it…”

  29. Another interesting factoid, McQuarrie wrote THE USUAL SUSPECTS exactly the same way Verbal Kint made up his story, by the seat of his pants staring at a bulletin board in a break room:

    I had no idea what I was going to write. I was working in a law firm in downtown LA, and I was smoking at the time. I went into the break room one afternoon to have a cigarette and was sort of doodling on a piece of paper – coming up with names for characters, really racking my brain. Right in the middle of sitting in this dingy white room with a table and two chairs, I realized it looked kind of like an interrogation room. I was just running through dialogue, trying to find something that caught, and I came up with this character who was being interrogated, who was babbling – he had diarrhea of the mouth. As I was doing this, I looked up, and there was a bulletin board just to come up with stuff. And I started calling this guy in my head ‘Verbal’ because he was talking so much. The name of the office manager of the law firm was Dave Kujan, and I decided to throw his name in as Verbal’s interrogator; I figured I’d think up another name later. I noticed the bulletin board was made by a company called Quartet in Skokie, Illinois, and I started to spin a little tale about being in a barbershop quartet in Skokie, Illinois.

    And then the idea hit me that this is what the guy, Verbal, is going to do in the film. A few days later, I was introduced by my boss at the time to a lawyer at the firm, and she said, ‘This is Keyser Sume.’ The first thing I said to him was, ‘You have a really cool name. You’re going to be the villain in a film some day.’ And he was like, ‘Yeah, okay, great.’ He was a very nice guy, very unassuming – much like Verbal in that he didn’t really fit the name. From that point on, I began to pull names from other attorneys at the firm for the characters: there was a Fred Fenster, a Jeff Rabin. One of the guys I worked with was named Oscar, so he became Oscar Whitehead. The story really came together much in the way Verbal made it up. I just was pulling ideas from my environment.

  30. Yeah, maybe it’s an American idiom. I didn’t know until I read it that it came from CASABLANCA, but it’s a fairly common phrase. Of course, now the movie is so popular that I can’t use Google to prove this.

  31. The Original Paul

    August 20th, 2015 at 4:53 am

    JTS – I’m pretty sure it meant nothing to me at the time I saw the film, although I’ve heard of it now.

  32. While I think the convoluted plot could be explained away (the line up may have been a part of Soyze’s general modus operandi and only later does he figure he’ll use this group to get rid of his witnesses), I ultimately don’t think this matters too much because the film is ultimately about the nature of narrative. Verbal is spinning a story in the same way that the film is. The movie is about the power of storytelling and the difficulty of finding truth in it. For a lot of people the idea that what you’ve seen may or may not have happened is a deal breaker. But for me it’s an integral component of the film. I don’t remember hearing that story about McQuarrie spinning his narrative in the same manner as Verbal, but I think think this backs up my reading of the film. Thanks for that, Baraka.

  33. The Original Paul

    August 20th, 2015 at 9:39 am

    Oh yeah, forgot to mention BR’s points. I’ve actually seen them before, as extras in the USUAL SUSPECTS screenplay, which I own in book format. (Yeah, I have the soundtrack, the script… pretty much everything to do with this film.) It’s a fascinating read.

    I completely agree with RBatty on this one, especially about Singer’s use of light. (My favorite example of this is the light from the lighthouse on the beach, subtly hitting Keaton and then Verbal in quick succession right about the time Keaton says: “I’m doing this for me.” It’s a wonderfully subtle hint about who’s truly pulling the strings.)

  34. I didn’t see this movie until years after it came out. I managed to stay unspoiled as to who Keyser Soze for most of those years, but unfortunately did find out before seeing the movie. Even so, I really liked it. I thought the noir style was updated excellently. The acting, dialogue, cinematography, all of that was a really nicely done and I had a great time watching it.

  35. I knew the term “The Usual Suspects” came from CASABLANCA. It’s one of that movie’s many memorable lines. The title of Bryan Singer’s next movie APT PUPIL is more obscure. It’s from the Alfred Hitchcock classic VERTIGO, at the end where Jimmy Stewart is taking Kim Novak up the tower steps telling her he knows she and her accomplice set him up and he’s saying sarcastically “You were a very apt pupil”.

  36. I heard X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST was from a line in a Francois Truffaut film.

  37. I swear I heard “Oh shit, Superman returns!” spoken by a woman in the John Holmes skinner Sweet Cheeks.

  38. And, of course, everyone knows FOOTBALL WIVES comes from an Ingmar Bergman film. He obviously has a thing for the Bergmans.

  39. The Original Paul

    August 20th, 2015 at 10:20 pm

    Let us not forget Orson Welles’ immortal words in Carol Reed’s THE THIRD MAN: “Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked!”

    …Too far?

  40. The Original Paul

    August 20th, 2015 at 10:29 pm

    …Sorry guys. I’ve just checked IMDB, and as it turns out, that classic modern proto-noir film ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS: CHIPWRECKED was not, in fact, directed by Bryan Singer. I don’t know how I could have got that one so wrong. My illusions have been shattered.

  41. The Original Paul

    August 21st, 2015 at 11:33 am

    …And if this were a game of Cluedo (or Clue for you non-do-ing Americans) it would be Paul, who killed the conversation, in the Usual Suspects thread, with a bad Chipmunks pun.

    I’m really sorry. :(

  42. The Original Paul

    August 23rd, 2015 at 1:10 pm

    …So let’s resurrect it for a bit, shall we?

    I’ve just got both CAPE FEAR movies on DVD and, since I’ve never watched them together, thought I’d try a compare-and-contrast kinda deal. See which is scarier and which holds up the best. (My guess: Mitchum and Mitchum, respectively. The guy is just flat-out scarier than De Niro. Although I do recall De Niro’s version of Max Cady having some really, really creepy interactions with teenage Juliette Lewis. So there’s that.) Anyway, I searched the site for CAPE FEAR to post in one of Vern’s reviews… and found nothing. Nada. Zip.

    Is it possible Vern hasn’t got around to reviewing these two movies yet?! Man, I thought I’d even read Vern reviews of ’em, way back when. But I can’t find ’em.

  43. I remember reading somewhere that Scorchese hadn’t specified what roles he wanted Nick Nolte and Robert De Niro for, and I bet that Nolte would have made a scarier Max Cady.

  44. I remember watching Harrison Ford being interviewed by Bob Costas once and he said DeNiro called him up about doing CAPE FEAR, and saying he would have preferred to play the Cady role himself, to laughter on the other end of the phone.

    And there’s something on IMDB saying that if Pacino and De Niro weren’t available, Michael Mann would have used Nolte and Jeff Bridges (maybe even Don Johnson) as the leads in HEAT.

  45. The Original Paul

    August 24th, 2015 at 10:19 am

    Pegsman – that’s interesting. I do think it’s nice to see Nolte playing the normal guy for once though – so often he seems to get lumbered with the villain roles. (In all fairness he does do them very well on occasion.)

  46. I love this movie. I can understand the critiques of it being over hyped or over praised, perhaps those critics just went nuts because they went to a lot of summer 95 films. After seeing; Dangerous Minds, Virtuosity, The Net, Water World, First Knight and Batman Forever, some people walked out of The Usual Suspects saying – my god that was the best movie ever!!! Hey man did you see that movie Kids? Dude, that was some fucked up repugnant shit, I liked it a lot better than Casper though. I believe some of these Summer 95 movies were so bad it led a small group of European film makers to create a movement, Dogme 95 or Anarchy 99 or something.

    They weren’t all innocent of the crime that led to the line up, Hockney did it.

    neal2zod – That has to be one of the most bizarre film theories I have ever read. I’m going to work “mistaken identity pimp comedy” into my regular conversation. I’m going to have to check out The Tourist, and where is Dr. Detroit 2: The Wrath of Mom? Going to have to see Dr. Detroit again, get it on and have a party, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E5ONAXGZyq8 call the doctor https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s7OemIMKj6s

  47. Midway through watching this again …. You could argue that it’s some kind of metafictional comment, but casting Pete Postlethwaite as a guy named Kobayashi and having him speak in some kind of stage-Chinese accent is still pretty tacky.

  48. The Original Paul

    August 26th, 2015 at 9:03 pm

    Matthew – the weird thing is that, watching this even now, that doesn’t really bother me. I’ve heard the criticism before though.

    Maybe it’s because I still occasionally play videogames, where the accents tend to be a helluva lot worse (there’s a game called COUNTERSTRIKE: GLOBAL OFFENSIVE where the “terrorist” voice actors sound like the white-guy-playing-Indian-nerd from the SHORT CIRCUIT movies). So weird accents like Malkovich’s in ROUNDERS or Kingsley’s in SNEAKERS or Postlethwaite’s in this just don’t affect me at all. Occasionally I have problems with understanding what I’d consider to be “weird” accents (I watched TRUCK TURNER and couldn’t understand what most of the characters were saying) but that’s more of a comprehension thing, not a racism thing.

  49. I always thought his accent sounded more Indian than Chinese. I’m with Paul when it comes to accents in general, they don’t bother me as much as long as the actor and performance is good enough to overcome that (like the examples he cited). It’s interesting to me that we see Kobayashi at the end but don’t hear him speak. That sort of signals to me that it was a deliberate disguise to the Suspects as well as the lawyer/Keaton’s girlfriend.

  50. I mean, I don’t think we’re meant to believe that Postlethwaite is actually an Asian man. The point is the weird dissonance between his name, his accent, and his appearance (and the way things end up, it seems likely that he was affecting all those things anyway). So it’s not exactly Micky Rooney or something.

  51. Also, we learn in the end that 1. Kobayashi is a made up name (came from the coffee cup if I remember right) but 2. Keyser Soze really does have an accomplice who looks like Pete Postlethwaite (he picks him up after he leaves the police station). So we can assume that we’re seeing in the movie is some mixture of the truth of what happened and the lie.

  52. It’s very likely that the Suspects knew him by his real name, but since they’re all dead by the time the story is being told it doesn’t matter.

  53. What if the coffee cup he was handed had been from IKEA? That would have been a game changer.

  54. “My name is Önskedröm. I work for Keyser Soze.”

  55. I get that we see him again at the end of the movie, we don’t necessarily know his real accent, and “Kobayashi” isn’t his name. But, I mean ― would Singer have cast Postlethwaite as a lawyer called Mathumba speaking in a mock-Jamaican accent? ‘Cause if not, maybe this wasn’t such a hot idea either.

  56. Are we of the opinion he was doing some kind of accent? I didn’t mean to agree to that. Definitely didn’t occur to me at all on this viewing or previously.

  57. The Original... Paul

    August 30th, 2015 at 3:25 pm

    Vern – if you mean Postlethwaite… he sure as heck didn’t sound like that in THE TOWN or BRASSED OFF. I think he was trying to alter his voice for the performance but I don’t think it was being deliberately racist or anything. I don’t think it sounded “stereotypical-Asian”.

    I guess what I’m saying is, rewatch SHORT CIRCUIT or BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S or something. I don’t think anybody would claim there’s not a hint of racism in the “white guy playing Asian / Indian characters” in those.

  58. The Original... Paul

    August 30th, 2015 at 3:30 pm

    And not just Asian / Indian characters, but borderline-offensive stereotypes of Asian / Indian characters played by white guys. Especially TIFFANY’S.

  59. He was definitely doing some kind of accent. The vowels were off, and his l’s and r’s were a little weird (not a full blown “vely solly” thing, though). And onthewall is right, he had a sing-song intonation that sounded vaguely Indian.

  60. I definitely got the impression Postlethwaite was going for an Indian-like accent. They had darkened his skin and hair too, and that’s more troublesome I think.

  61. Well,he sure wasn´t going for a Norwegian accent.

  62. Actually Vern, you can use Google to look at the historical usage of “usual suspects.” (I realize I’m late to the party as usual, but this seemed like something I should share.)

    If you use Google Books’ Ngram Viewer, you can see the relative popularity of any phrase used in print over a long period of time. Here is a link to the results for “usual suspects” from 1900 to 1996 (it works even better if you wrap the phrase in quotes and re-enter it):

    As you can see, the phrase popped up in the mid-to-late 1940s, likely due to its use in CASABLANCA. Then it disappears, only to reemerge with increasing frequency until the time THE USUAL SUSPECTS came out.

  63. Thanks – that’s really cool. You can also see that it was used increasingly in the ’70s and ’80s before the movie.

  64. Recently rewatched most of SEVEN. Vern briefly mentions it at the end, but I honestly think Spacey was just as good, if not better in that. Especially considering how little screen time he has.

  65. There is a movie I ran across while searching for movies on Fullscreen, one of the Amazon channels. It’s a film called H8TRZ. I know, it’s a stupid title. I watched the trailer and you’ll notice right away that the lead in the film is a boy character but it’s played by a girl. My first thought is that somebody is stealing from The Color of Night. Turns out they are stealing from a different movie all together. That movie is The Usual Suspects. However, when I watched the end to see how they show that the boy character is a girl, I discovered the writer/director out right STEALS from the Usual Suspect.

    So it looks like the whole movie has the boy character, who is considered the “gimp” of these teens that were stealing money from the charity of a girl that committed suicide, is being interrogated by another character. To make a long story short, there is a character that is burnt from a fire that identifies the boy as the girl who committed suicide, there is flashbacks showing that the boy was really the one behind everything all the while they are using dialogue from previous scenes but probably done slightly different to like in Usual Suspects. And to top it all off, the boy character gets off scott free, they figure it out, you see the boy character changing into a girl and, I shit you not, the last line in this movie is the exact same line as the end line in Usual Suspects. Normally I wouldn’t but I tweeted the director Derrick Borte asking him if he has ever been sued for completely ripping off Usual Suspects. It’s so blantant. I had to share.

    H8RZ | Official Trailer HD

    NOW AVAILABLE ON DEMAND: VHX: H8RZ.vhx.tv iTunes: http://apple.co/1DqTHqE High school friends face the consequences of their criminal actions when a mysterio...

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