OCTOBER 20, 2008
In the mid 90s, there were a whole bunch of “cool” gangster movies. They all had twisty narratives, hip dialogue, etc. Most of them sucked. But one that stuck out then and now is The Usual Suspects, and I continue to consider it one of my top 5 films of all time, and nothing bums me out more that neither Bryan Singer or Christopher McQuarrie (or even a lot of the actors) have done anything since that even comes close to matching it in terms of quality, entertainment, or just plain awesomeness.
I also credit the film with making me realize that EW critic Owen Gleiberman was a fucking idiot. He said the film was one of the year’s worst films, and the only reason I can think someone would feel that way is that they just didn’t understand it. I mean, if you sit down to watch a crime film, why would you not be entertained by the bulk of this film, which features all the hallmarks of the genre: some top notch acting (Stephen Baldwin, for example, gave what may be his only good performance ever in this film), cool guys doing cool shit, dirty cops getting fucked over, and Chazz Palminteri. That’s like sitting down for a comedy and being pissed that it’s funny. But on top of all that, you get this amazing and crafty mystery that doesn’t require a 2nd viewing to understand, but REWARDS repeat viewing in a way that few other films have done since (I think Sixth Sense and Memento are the only ones that come close). Everything is spelled out nicely at the end, but if you choose to go back, you can marvel at all the little things that take on new meaning.
Take, for example, the scene where they are all being arrested. You don’t think much of it at the time, but on a 2nd view, you’ll probably notice that you never see Verbal being arrested. Or the look on his face when he’s waiting for Kujan in his office; is it boredom (1st view) or study (2nd view)? Plus, the dense plotting is rife with details that don’t even really matter, but again, flesh out the movie on a 2nd view. In this day, when video games always have books and comics and webisodes to “flesh out” the story that the game itself is lacking (see Halo), it’s interesting that to see how it can be done all in the actual "flagship" component of a particular entity, if you chose to pay attention. Game designers should look to this film for ideas.
I also love how the movie is engaging before Soze is even mentioned. I was already totally into the tale of five thieves banding together to get back at those who wronged them, but then Soze is added into the mix, and its like you’re getting two movies for the price of one! And there’s still some stuff that they could have done MORE with. One of my favorite characters is hardly in the film, the FBI guy played by Giancarlo Esposito, and you can almost make a version of the film that’s told entirely from his perspective.
Something I noticed for the first time today – a lot of my favorite movies are pretty much female-free. Usual Suspects has ONE female in the entire movie (Suzy Amis – what the hell ever happened to her?), and a lot of my other top 10s (The Thing, Pulp Fiction, Armageddon, Dawn of the Dead) have a severely unbalanced male/female ratio as well. I guess Halloween balances things out.
I also miss when Kevin Spacey was a welcome presence in a film. 1995 was a great year for him; Seven, Swimming with Sharks, and this continue to be among his best work, but ever since he won an Oscar for American Beauty he has become increasingly dull, appearing in lousy movies to boot.
The special edition DVD is very generous with extras, much more than I thought. There are two commentaries, one with McQuarrie and Singer, the other with editor/composer John Ottman. I only listened to the former, but I will definitely get to Ottman’s soon, as it’s incredibly rare to hear an editor speak. Also, Ottman went on to make Urban Legend 2, which is on the complete other end of the spectrum for amazing endings to a movie. The first track is a lot of fun, as they both point out... well, pretty much everything involved with the film. They almost never shut up and everything they say is pretty interesting. Then on the other side of the disc is a collection of featurettes that run a total of 75 minutes (you can play all, wooo!), some deleted scenes, the overlong trailer, and an Easter egg of a 20 min interview with Ottman. There is also a gag reel but it’s fucking annoying; skip it.
It’s a shame that Singer went from this to a rather bland version of Stephen King’s Apt Pupil before heading off to comic book land. I like his X-Men movies (the less said about Superman, the better), but I want him to make another smart movie like this. McQuarrie has been completely MIA for the past 13 years, except for his low-key, sort of OK thriller Way of the Gun. They have reteamed on the upcoming Valkyrie, but early word suggests that its hardly a return to greatness for either man. I also love their film Public Access (which came before Suspects), so I know they aren’t one trick ponies. Come on guys, come back!
What say you?