When I picked The Usual Suspects for the Blind Spot series I did so hesitantly. Obviously the scandals with director Bryan Singer and actor Kevin Spacey make it somewhat of a controversial choice. Well, as someone who tries to always separate the art from the artist I thought it would be a good test case and since I knew it was available for free on Cinemax this month I wouldn’t be giving them any extra money to purchase/rent it. All that said, what did I think of this classic neo-noir mystery film? Unfortunately I walked away feeling very underwhelmed by most aspects of it. The Usual Suspects proved to be an overwrought, cluttered and dull film.
The story begins with a criminal named Keaton (Gabriel Byrne) meeting his maker by the hands of a mastermind named “Keyser Soze”. This ultimate criminal has killed 27 people, including Keaton and the police are trying to put the pieces together and figure out who he could be and what his motivations are.
Then the narrative goes back 6 weeks, and we meet 5 suspects arrested in a police lineup (Byrne, Stephen Baldwin, Benicio del Toro, Kevin Pollak and Kevin Spacey). Spacey plays a man nicknamed “Verbal” who has cerebral palsy and walks with a limp. The detective, Kujan, doing the interrogating, is played by Chazz Palminteri.
The setup for The Usual Suspects is fine for a mystery. You have a crime committed, several suspects and an officer looking into the case. I even thought the big reveal at the end was fun enough and surprising. Unfortunately the in-between stuff is so cluttered it failed to engage me. There are too many characters and they all have motivations, and I guess we are supposed to love them as a scrappy band of criminals, but it was too much. I felt bored because we’d be spending time with characters I didn’t know, doing things I didn’t care about and that didn’t seem to relate to the over-all case well.
The film should have been about the search for Keyser Soze but it moves away from that so often with this bland story of a giant cocaine heist it is frustrating. There is also a character named Mr Kobayashi (Pete Postlethwaite) that is under-developed and at best a distraction from the search for Keyser Soze. I guess we are supposed to think they are one and the same but that was clearly not the case so it wasn’t a very good red herring.
The only compelling scenes in the film are between Kujan and Verbal. However, because the movie keeps getting distracted from these 2 with stuff I didn’t care about, they weren’t as effective as they otherwise could have been. Kevin Spacey does a good job with the dialogue (and if anything his current problems add a level of creepiness to the role, which is mildly interesting) but while impressive dialogue performance, it doesn’t build the case very well or create much of a mystery. It’s just two guys shouting a lot and explaining things I wish the movie had shown.
Roger Ebert was also not a fan of this movie and he also complains about the cluttered script in his review: “Once again, my comprehension began to slip, and finally I wrote down: “To the degree that I do understand, I don’t care.” I completely agree. The characters aren’t interesting and the mystery isn’t well done, making it a rather bland experience. It’s certainly one I will never watch again.
I should add this film definitely earns its R rating with language and violence.
3 out of 10