#15: The Usual Suspects — dir. Bryan Singer
Christopher McQuarrie wrote this over five months while working in a law office. Let that sink in. It all started with the line-up above. That was the idea that grew into this masterpiece. It’s sort of entered in the cannon of mindfuck films — with a dynamic twist that doesn’t feel like a cheat at all. And yet has been sort of lampooned and such, just like The Crying Game and The Sixth Sense.
The cast is so bizarre. You’ve got Gabriel Byrne, Kevin Pollack, Benecio Del Toro, Stephen Baldwin, and Kevin Spacey. All amazing in this film. All a strange collective of actors. It was on set that the hatred between Pollack and Baldwin got into effect. Allegedly, because Baldwin needed to stay in character so he would wander around badgering and bullying the other actors. Kevin Spacey won an Oscar for playing Verbal Kint. He glued his fingers together and filed down his shoes to best replicate Verbal’s cerebral palsy. Stephen Baldwin went on to become a giant fucking douchebag. So there’s a question of commitment.
I hate flashback stories. Ones where the entire thing is told as a flashback to someone else. Because it’s a cheat to me. It tells you — this guy survived. So there’s no drama associated with the lead. He’s not going to die. And yet, because of the inherent twist, it’s why this works so well. There are so many intricate easter eggs buried in this film — from Verbal almost giving the whole thing away, to a slipup by a translator that basically allows Keyser Soze to escape, to McQuarrie’s cameo at the end of the film as a police officer staring at the camera and laughing after the reveal.
There was a chance this was going to be one of those dynamo casts: big names were circling the pot — Pacino, Walken, De Niro. Hell, Johnny Cash was approached to play Redfoot. But this one of those collective flicks where the stew benefits from the offbeat ingredients. Del Toro’s character was supposed to be an older guy, a Harry Dean Stanton type. And he came in and started doing the mush-mouth Fenster spiel. And in this, for this, it just totally works.
I can watch this every time. And the key to a good mystery is when you know the twist and can go back and see how it runs through the whole store like a silver thread, buried in plain view the entire time. In little glances, and in little asides, mix-ups, gestures, seemingly throwaway lines. But it’s a perfectly and carefully crafted structure.