100 Movies to See Before You Die- “The Usual Suspects”

The Usual Suspects is a 1995 film directed by Bryan Singer and written by Christopher McQuarrie. It featured an ensemble cast and starred Stephen Baldwin, Gabriel Byrne, Benicio del Toro, Chazz Palminteri, Kevin Pollak, Pete Postlethwaite, and Kevin Spacey. It is a neo-noir film that was influenced by such greats as Double Indemnity, Rashomonand Citizen Kane. The film was shot on a small $6 million dollar budget and went on to be a modest box office success with a $23.2 million box office take. The film was generally well received by critics upon release with special praise being given for the performance of Spacey and the complex story. The film was nominated for Academy Awards in “Original Screenplay” (McQaurrie) and “Supporting Actor” (Spacey) and both took home the trophies for their respective categories. So does this modern neo-noir film live up to the lofty pedigree that helped influence it? Is it a classic?

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Should this film be considered a classic? I have to confess that I am really conflicted with this one.  I came into this film a blank slate. I knew nothing more about it than a few vague references to a character named “Keyzer Soze” from a buddy who had chosen the moniker for his PlayStation network handle. On the one hand, I was 100% engaged by the characters and story. This is a brilliant story. Complex but not up in your face about it. What I mean by that is that the complexity is real but it manages to pull all the story threads together in the end and it makes for a very story. Some complex stories leave a lot of threads unresolved. This one offers resolution and does it in a tight 106 minute run time. The characters are also colorful, engaging, and distinctive. In terms of story and characters this is a film firing on all cylinders. So why the hesitancy to slap a “classic” label on it and move on with my life? Say what you will about me and my “prudishness” (which has noticeably increased since becoming a dad), the copious amounts of language lessened my enjoyment of the film tremendously. Look at the classics that influenced this film. They are classics and they manage this feat of timelessness without all the swearing.  This is a well made, well written, well acted film that captures the neo-noir look and feel with panache. So ultimately, I’ll say this one is deserving of the label and can hold its own among the all time greats.

Would I own this film? Unfortunately, I would not. The biggest reason being the language. I really did enjoy the movie and loved how well written the characters were.  I might even watch it again just to try and catch some of the nuance of the story that I missed the first time. That said, it is not one I want to keep in the house because of the pervasive language.

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