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Wednesday, 1 May 2013

A Forgotten Great: The Usual Suspects

It's crazy, I almost forgot about The Usual Suspects. It used to be one of my favourite films. It's just that over the years I've been so busy watching other films that I haven't gone back to rewatch this masterpiece.

And that is what The Usual Suspects is, a masterpiece. Be in no doubt. This is why I love this guest post by Amila Gacanica - It reminded me of how special this film is. Her passion and genuine love for The Usual Suspect leaks all through this piece.

Have a butchers. 


When I first saw the Usual Suspects in my A-Level film studies class, it completely transformed the way I watched movies. I was already a big film enthusiast, but Suspects made me want to look deeper into films. After Suspects, I was more analytical of every bit of information offered by the director.

When people ask me about my favourite film, I base the answer on the impact that film had on me. Sometimes I’ll mention Nightmare on Elm Street, simply because I watched it when I was 9 years old and it truly scared the crap out of me when it came to bedtime.

But The Usual Suspects is by far my favourite film, because as soon as it finished I left college, bought the film, and watched it again. I was so amazed by the ending.


The Usual Suspects (1995!!!) tells the story of five criminals brought together for an interrogation (fun fact: all the actors were drunk in the famous interrogation scene) about a truck hi-jacking. While held for a crime they didn’t commit, they hatch a plan to get their revenge on the police. They pull the plan off perfectly.
While out in LA, a lawyer called Kobayashi gets in contact with them on behalf of a legendary criminal mastermind named Keyser Soze. Each one of the suspects has wronged Soze at one point and to excuse their past wrongdoings he has set them a mission. The survivors of this extremely dangerous mission stood to earn a split of a massive $91m jackpot. What criminal could decline? The mission was to interrupt a massive drug deal that’s taking place on board of a boat, docked in San Pedro. They are instructed to destroy the cocaine onboard and of course take the money afterwards. Obviously.

The story is told through a series of flashbacks by one of the survivors, a crippled small time crook, named Verbal Kint (Kevin Spacey). He tells his story to a police detective, Officer Kujan. Kint is one of two survivors telling the tale, the other is in hospital with 65% of his body badly burnt, describing how Keyser Soze looked like while FBI attempt to construct a picture.


There is so much going on in this film. On one hand it’s a great action adventure film, but there are hints of film noir peppered throughout it. Bryan Singer does a great job directing this film in a superb style, making what could have been an average caper storyline seem unique.

The Usual Suspects made such a cultural impact that even for some who haven’t seen the film, they know who Keyser Soze is. He is described as an international underground criminal, who uses people like “pawns" to carry out his work. Almost all the people doing his bidding do not know they are working for Keyser Soze. The film does a great job in building this mythical persona, this puppet master that you are left asking the question pretty early on 'Who is Keyser Soze?'

“The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.” 

Even the cast didn’t know who he was. All five suspects thought they were Soze at one point. Gabriel Byrne was particularly shocked at a film screening that he is said to have had a few words with the director.

As the story nears to its end, Officer Kujan presses Verbal to admit that Keaton (Gabriel Byrne) is Soze. Keaton was the only one (being an ex-cop) that could have all the information on the five criminals, and have the knowledge to set-up the whole botched mission.

Verbal buys Kujan’s story. I bought Kujan’s story and I thought it was an amazing end to an amazing film.

But what happened next blew me away.

Verbal is distraught after talking to Kujan and refuses to accept police protection. As he leaves the police station, the FBI is faxing a photo-fit picture of Keyser Soze provided by the other survivor in the hospital.

Kujan is seen talking to his colleague facing a board with unsolved cases on it. Suddenly the camera is drawn to specific cases, and words and phrases on the board - words and phrases that have been used by Verbal during his interview with Kujan. Kujan finally realises that he’s been had and (in shock) drops his mug of coffee. What’s written on the bottom of the mug? The word ‘Kobayashi’ (Kujan, you’re a mug mate).

For moral reason, I cannot tell you what happens next, just in case you haven’t seen it. But you've probably guessed.

This film was ahead of its time in 1995 and that is still the case today. It leaves you with a lot of questions, one of them being, was Verbal that clever? Was the whole story false?
When the film was over, I jumped to my feet and started clapping and when a film makes you want to physically do that, you know you’ve seen something special.

Thank you to Mr Bear for giving the opportunity to ramble on about this fantastic film. If you haven’t seen it, what is wrong with you?