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Monday, January 21, 2008

The Usual Suspects (1995)

What an unusual name, you might wonder. After all, how easy is it for a movie to get named something like 'The usual suspects' ? Well, if you have seen Casablanca, then you should stop wondering. In the end, when the policeman wants to save the resistance fighter (Humphrey Bogart), he instead tells his men to round up 'the usual suspects' (actually the name of the movie is based on a column in Spy magazine called 'The Usual Suspects'). Besides the unusual name, the movie is also regarded as a neo-noir film. To add to the myth around this movie, it was shot on a $6 million budget and released in 1995 in a few theatres, but gained publicity through word of mouth and good reviews, and was then released in a much wider way. The movie also picked up 2 academy awards, further adding to the fame of the movie. As always while making of such iconic movies, the making of the movie went through many twists and turns in terms of getting the budget, getting the actors, and so on. But it did get made, and turned out to earn $24 million.

The Usual Suspects (1995)
The movie was nominated for 2 Oscars, and won both. The awards were:
* Best Actor in a Supporting Role - Kevin Spacey
* Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen - Christopher McQuarrie
It was nominated and won other awards such as BAFTA. Get the list here.
The movie had a good line up, with the following line-up:
* Kevin Pollak (played Todd Hockney)
* Kevin Spacey (Roger 'Verbal' Kint) - An award winning role
* Benicio Del Toro (Fred Fenster)
* Gabriel Byrne (Dean Keaton)
* Stephen Baldwin (Michael McManus)
These were the 5 members of the gang, seemingly being manipulated behind the scenes by a mega-criminal, a ruthless man. But is the truth what it seems like ? The movie works at different levels, with story being told in flashes; with so many twists and turns. You start with a story, being told cleverly, but are never very sure about what is true or not. Miss parts of the movie, and you may not be able to identify what is going on in the movie when you get back ! The Usual Suspects is a gripping story, very cleverly told (although you will find critics who are dismissive of a movie that seems too clever). There is a good chance that you will start reading every gesture, every glance, and the dialogues to figure out where the story is going. And then the ending. What a story !
The central theme of the movie is one of detection: Who is the criminal mastermind Kyser Söze ? This is the character who is the mover behind the scenes, who manipulates a group of criminals like puppets on a chain, and about whom nobody really knows as to who he is.
Imagine a squad of policemen who reach a boat on a pier, and find a mini-battle has happened, with 27 people dead and a massive amount of heroin found. The only 2 wounded survivors are a Hungarian who fears a mass-killing master criminal known as "Keyser Söze", who was in the boat killing people. And the other survivor is Verbal Kint (Kevin Spacey), who agrees to cooperate with the police in return for immunity. And this is the guts of the movie !
Kint and 4 others were earlier arrested and taken to a police line-up (with 'the usual suspects' being arrested); incensed over this arrest, they decide to strike back and plan a major robbery that will also implicate the corrupt police officers in the NYPD. The reluctant members are convinced, and the robbery happens without a hitch, and they travel to California to peddle the goods to a fence called Redfoot.
There, they are persuaded to commit another robbery that goes wrong, and they are forced to kill Saul Berg, a purported jewel smuggler and his bodyguards. And what do they end up with ? Not the reported cash and jewelery, instead heroin. When they confront Redfoot, they realize that the orders came from a lawyer called Kobayashi (Postlethwaite), who is in turn working for "Keyser Söze", something that scares them because of his background and supposed ruthless nature.
The lawyer has proof of their activities, and blackmails them into doing another job for Keyser Söze, the destruction of cargo of a rival coming into the port. And then Kint starts to explain to the police who exactly Keyser Söze is (as explained to him by his fellow criminals); a superman of the criminal world, a man so ruthless that when his family is threatened, he first kills his family and then carries on a vicious vendetta against his rivals and all their known people; this done, he vanishes and now only works through henchmen. They try to fight back after one of their own is killed, but back down when facing the ruthless nature of the lawyer and his apparent boss.
The criminals attack the boat of Keyser's rivals, and a major battle starts; Kint is held back to be able to escape and report in case the others do not survive; but things start to go haywire. There is no cocaine on the boat, people are killed who the criminals have not yet attacked, and then the remaining gang members are seemingly killed by Keyser Söze. The police seem to believe that Keaton was actually Keyser Söze, and Kint supports this theory. He gets bail, leaves; leaving behind policemen who slowly start to discover that the story that they have been told is actually bull. The police sketch of Keyser Söze is very close to Kint, but it is too late. He has disappeared in front of their eyes.

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