Entertainment

‘Usual Suspects’ Offers Intriguing Lineup Of Characters In Mob Story

Bryan Singer’s complex thriller “The Usual Suspects” is either a great way to end a so-so summer or a perfect transition into the fall movie season.

Either way, it makes for an enjoyable two hours.

Singer, who is just 27, is among a new breed of filmmaker interested in re-inventing old forms. Here, with the help of screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie, he does a new take on a traditional genre: the heist movie.

Five guys are called in for a police lineup. Though apparently innocent of this particular crime, each has some sort of a record, and this seemingly chance meeting hands them a golden opportunity to team up for a really big score.

That job involves robbing a freighter in Los Angeles’ gloomy San Pedro harbor - at night, at gunpoint, at risk.

Everything goes right, then everything goes wrong and then everything gets re-examined through the eyes of one ostensibly minor character as he is interrogated by the proverbial tough cop.

And that’s when things start getting confusing. How confusing? Count the number of times I used the word apparently or seemingly or ostensibly in the preceding three sentences. Now, try to imagine the maze of a plotline where understanding can shift at whim.

“The Usual Suspects” is a kind of “Rashomon” of heist films. Nothing is as it seems.

This isn’t always for the good. At times Singer and McQuarrie get a little too clever for their own good; the film’s intricacies are a bit too Byzantine, and its pacing is often too quick for easy comprehension. Even so, observant fans may be ahead of the game when the identity of a mysterious player is finally revealed.

But such complaints are really minor. For what by modern standards is a minuscule budget (a reported $5.5 million), Singer has made a film that puts most mainstream efforts to shame.

He gets a lot of help from his cast. Kevin Spacey (“Outbreak”) is the narrator, through whose eyes we see one, then two and perhaps even three different versions of events that we accept, each time, as fact. Chazz Palminteri (“Bullets Over Broadway”) is effective as the cop who grills him.

As the gang leader, Gabriel Byrne is the perfect leader - intense, brooding and dependable. His henchmen, each a peculiar blend of deep-rooted rage and beguiling sociopathy, include worthies Kevin Pollack, Benicio Del Toro and Stephen Baldwin. They shamble through the movie, tossing off witty lines as if they were torn-in-half Lotto tickets.

Unusual for a gangster film, the level of violence in “The Usual Suspects” is kept at a minimum. Perhaps that had to do with Singer’s limited budget. But, too, maybe it had to do with his own take on modern moviemaking.

For, as Singer explained in June at the Seattle International Film Festival, he labored with McQuarrie through the screenplay’s nine drafts. And just as his love of movies shows up in virtually every frame (cinematography by Newton Thomas Sigel), so too does his individual style - which has less to do with Quentin Tarantino-type explicit bloodletting than mere old-fashioned suspense.

Whatever, Singer, like Tarantino, is less into mining new film themes than in re-inventing old ones.

And the way he does so shows full well that there is still a bit of life in the old mob movie yet.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo

MEMO: 2 sidebars appeared with the story: 1. “The Usual Suspects” ***-1/2 Location: Newport Cinema Credits: Produced and directed by Bryan Singer, starring Gabriel Byrne, Chazz Palminteri, Kevin Spacey, Kevin Pollack, Stephen Baldwin, Benicio Del Toro, Suzy Amis, Pete Postlethwaite and Giancarlo Esposito Running time: 1:45 Rating: R

2. Other views Here is what other critics say about “The Usual Suspects:” William Arnold/Seattle Post-Intelligencer: Depending on how you choose to look at it, “The Usual Suspects” is either one of the most audacious shaggy-dog stories ever perpetrated by a filmmaker or the most original and provocative thriller to come along in years. Kenneth Turan/Los Angeles Times: “The Usual Suspects” is a maze moviegoers will be happy to get lost in, a criminal roller coaster with twists so unsettling no choice exists but to hold on for the ride. Patricia Bibby/Associated Press: In the press notes for “The Usual Suspects,” the director speculates that viewers will enjoy his film even more the second time. That’s because you need a scorecard to keep track of this thriller the first time around.

2 sidebars appeared with the story: 1. “The Usual Suspects” ***-1/2 Location: Newport Cinema Credits: Produced and directed by Bryan Singer, starring Gabriel Byrne, Chazz Palminteri, Kevin Spacey, Kevin Pollack, Stephen Baldwin, Benicio Del Toro, Suzy Amis, Pete Postlethwaite and Giancarlo Esposito Running time: 1:45 Rating: R

2. Other views Here is what other critics say about “The Usual Suspects:” William Arnold/Seattle Post-Intelligencer: Depending on how you choose to look at it, “The Usual Suspects” is either one of the most audacious shaggy-dog stories ever perpetrated by a filmmaker or the most original and provocative thriller to come along in years. Kenneth Turan/Los Angeles Times: “The Usual Suspects” is a maze moviegoers will be happy to get lost in, a criminal roller coaster with twists so unsettling no choice exists but to hold on for the ride. Patricia Bibby/Associated Press: In the press notes for “The Usual Suspects,” the director speculates that viewers will enjoy his film even more the second time. That’s because you need a scorecard to keep track of this thriller the first time around.



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