‘The Usual Suspects’ is a film of utmost style. We all know its ending is still discussed to this day. Over the years, the film has attained an almost cult status in the modern cine-audience as a must watch movie. Scores of blogs and critics have lined up giving their two cents on the movie. But before discussing the film I would like to share my perspective on the background to the movie.
The movie is a gem from the 90s. It was perhaps the most fruitful decade in cinematic history in terms of giving a new direction to the depiction of film. The 60s, 70s and the 80s featured many cult films but these decades were seemingly full with movies that were either some franchises (Star wars, Indiana Jones), or were formulaic in their selection of plot and cast, or had an indelible mark of their filmmakers on them (‘Scorsese-esque’, ‘Kubrick-ish, ‘Hitchcock-ian’, ‘Spielberg-ish’, ‘Copolla-ed’). 90s was a decade that marked the highest point for executing remarkably artistic movies by Indie filmmakers in terms of narration, plot treatment and visual elements.
Perhaps, a decay in the vision for the art of film-making had begun to set in since all the major filmmakers who had excelled in the 60s, 70s and the 80s had stagnated, saving a few places where they managed to come out with something new. It was a decade of ‘Indie’ films that was marred with filmmakers who had small-timed in the previous decade or so and had a fresh new perspective to everything: mystery, drama, crime. It would be a cruelly unfair if I were to say that the veterans didn’t have anything to contribute. They did. Stanley Kubrick made ‘Eyes Wide Shut’, Martin Scorsese made ‘Casino’, Steven Spielberg had an exceptional showing: ‘Schindler’s List’, ‘Saving Private Ryan’, ‘Jurassic Park’. But the decade saw a new breed of filmmakers: Michael Mann made ‘Heat’ and ‘The Insider’, David Fincher made ‘Seven’ and ‘Fight Club’, Quentin Tarantino made ‘Reservoir Dogs’ and ‘Pulp Fiction’, Danny Boyle made ‘Trainspotting’ and Bryan Singer made ‘The Usual Suspects’.
At its core, ‘The Usual Suspects’ is about ambiguity and speculation. These two elements make the movie different from any neo-noir flick or suspense drama. There is one question that forms the core of the movie ‘Who is Keyser Söze ?’ The movie centres around five criminals Deane Keaton (Gabriel Byrne), Verbal Kint (Kevin Spacey), Michael McManaus (Stephen Baldwin), Fred Fenster (Benicio del Toro) and Todd Hockney (Kevin Pollak). They end up in a police line-up apparently on a trumped up hijacking charge and decide to pull off a heist to get even with the police. This leads to another heist which goes bad and they end up working for a semi-mythical crime boss who goes by the name Keyser Söze, via his attorney Kobayashi (Pete Postlethwaite).
The film’s story is told through flashbacks as customs agent Dave Kujan (Chazz Palminteri) and police sergeant Jeff Rabin (Dan Hedaya) interrogate the only surviving member of the lineup, Verbal Kint, a cripple suffering from cerebral palsy. Kint narrates the events that happened after the lineup that finally led them to take out dope worth 91 million dollars from a boat of Argentinian dealers. The movie reaches a supposed climax when Agent Kujan manipulates Kint into believing that Dean Keaton was Keyser Söze . Emotionally devastated, Kint leaves the place and Agent Kujan thinks that perhaps he has solved the case.