Number 20 on my list of Top 20 Films is The Usual Suspects.
The key element that this film relies upon is that of the unreliable narrator. By the time the film has reached its end, you have to question what if anything you can really believe. Was the narrator telling the truth? Was anyone in the story telling the truth? When the film ends, there’s an immediate desire to re-watch and see exactly what it is that you missed…what can you believe, what can you acknowledge was less than factual, and what really happened.
The film throughout has a disturbingly eerie tone. Even upon first viewing, there’s something that you can sense is not quite right. It’s more than just the fact that we are viewing the events through the eyes of criminals. Everyone involved seems fearful of Keyzer Soze, even those who readily confess that they don’t even believe in his existence.
This is as much to the credit of the writing of Christopher McQuarrie as it is to Singer’s direction. Too often we think of films as the products of the director and forget the involvement of the writing, at least when these jobs are taken on by different individuals. McQuarrie weaves a deceptively simple story that’s far from simple. A group of small-time criminals meet at a police lineup and are soon put together on a job which leads to a bloody gun battle.
But the fact that all evidence points to the fact that the mysterious, powerful, and deadly Keyzer Soze was among those killed in the battle does little to comfort lone survivor Verbal Kint. As Verbal recounts the events to a skeptical police detective, certain things are not adding up and it becomes clear that Keyzer Soze was hiding in plain sight among the group. But who was he and how did he integrate himself among these low-level thugs?
And if he’s in fact real, is he as powerful and dangerous as everyone thinks? Or is it just a legend that’s been built up over time?
The Usual Suspects is among a group of films that became more popular long after its initial release (a common thread that runs through my Top 20 Films). Its cast of eccentric and unique characters make it a film that relies on looking for hidden clues to completely decipher everything that happens. The complex events borne about by such a simple start make it a unique film which has had heavy influence on cinema since.