The Usual Suspects (1995)

And like that…he’s gone

And, as always happens when we make a list, our talk of Top 10 Movie Villains put me in mind of notable omissions – Blofeld of the James Bond films, perhaps, Noah Cross of Chinatown (1974), and Keyser Soze of Bryan Singer‘s The Usual Suspects (1995), absolutely definitely. And just what, you might ask, can Picturenose add to what has undoubtedly, definitely already been said about Singer’s thriller, which is, for want of a better expression, genre defining? Probably very little, but God hates a coward, right? Here goes.

Writer Christopher McQuarrie, who was also responsible for Valkyrie (2008), his later collaboration with Singer as director, came up with the crime set-up to beat them all – an ostensible drug deal in San Pedro harbour ends with 27 criminals dead, leaving Roger ‘Verbal’ Kint (Kevin Spacey) as one of the few survivors, and the sole survivor of a ‘random’ police line-up some months earlier, that brought him into the orbit of a further four career criminals – Michael McManus (Stephen Baldwin), Dean Keaton (Gabriel Byrne), Fred Fenster (Benicio del Toro) and Todd Hockney (Kevin Pollack).

McManus is as mad as hell to have been used and abused by the cops in this manner, and the possibility of payback is discussed – which brings them into the orbit of British lawyer Kobayashi (Pete Postlethwaite), who represents mythical crime uber-lord Keyser Soze, and ends with Verbal sat in the office of US Customs Detective Dave Kujan (Chazz Palminteri), who’s very keen to (i) confirm that Dean Keaton is dead and (ii) find out just who the hell Keyser Soze is, as he seemingly played a big part in the massacre. Verbal, a tricksy con-artist, seems willing to co-operate, but Kujan is convinced he knows a lot more than he’s letting on. And, oh, does he ever…

The title, as I am sure most of Picturenose readers will be aware, comes from the final lines of Casablanca (1942), with Claude Rains’ character Captain Louis Renault issuing his order: ‘Round up the usual suspects!’, and what is perhaps The Usual Suspect‘s most famous line (apart from the one I pinched for the headline, that is), ‘the greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world that he didn’t exist’ is the perfect summation of what Keyser Soze may well represent.

Thanks to the singularly marvellous dialogue between Spacey and Palminteri, wonderful, hard-bitten performances from the entire cast and a genuinely thrilling, even scary central premise, this is simply as good as crime gets. And the twist? Well, you tell me – is it, or is it not, simply cinema’s best ever? Over to you.

106 mins. In English and Hungarian.

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