VIDEO: The Usual Suspects (1995)

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The Lunatic Fringe takes a look at Bryan Singer’s The Usual Suspects, a mystery/crime thriller about a heist gone wrong that became famous for its big twist ending. Unfortunately, Joshua has some major problems with that ending. Naturally, this review contains major SPOILERS! for a 17 year old movie. And also, Bruce Willis is a ghost.

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  • Muthsarah

    That was a pretty nice deconstruction.  I was never a huge fan of the film, though I do like it and thought the ending was clever – for the record, I didn’t see it coming, but A) I wasn’t looking for it and B) I was fourteen when it first saw it and quite dumb when it came to mysteries.  I do think the movie’s a bit thin and relies too much on making the audience think the cast is a bunch of badasses, but the performances (and the general feel of the visuals) redeemed it.  The cast does a great job.

    You did seriously undermine the center of the plot here, but I don’t think that takes away from the fun of hearing the story being told, even if you can’t trust anything you saw and have to assume it’s all crap in-universe.  I’ve read plenty of books told from the point of view of a single narrator we’re led to believe is unreliable from the start (like that should matter or something), and it has little impact on the quality of the story.  If a story is too silly to believe, should it matter if we’re told the narrator is embellishing or “making stuff up”, or it no less bad for that?  While a pseudo-intellectual could go on about how “all stories are lies, so who cares if a narrator lies”, I think that’s only important if you want to analyze the story for deeper meaning.  If you care a lot about it and want to add your own spin to it, have fun, but I don’t see why that’s something that should be held against a movie unless it was holding itself up as having special meaning.  I don’t think it’s a sin to tell a story that doesn’t hold up under the lens as long as it’s engaging on even a superficial level.

    This film isn’t pretentious (aside from wanting to come off as being super-badass to the point that it really forces it), I just think that its reputation has built it up to be something bigger than it was meant to be.  If it had bombed at the box office, disappeared for years, and was rediscovered by hipsters and film snobs, I’m betting the twist ending wouldn’t really matter to anybody, as it wouldn’t be seen as a fault, just a jarring ending to an otherwise well-made film.  But because this movie won two Oscars (one deserved, one a typical consolation prize for well-made but non-prestige pics) and seems to enjoy the reputation as a Rashomon for the Boondock Saints generation, it’s being put under the microscope and analyzed for faults and meaning.  Though Singer’s name-dropping of comparable(?) classic films is silly, his quotes don’t seem to be comparing his film to those in quality, just in some very superficial ways.  And again, that makes it seem like we’re meant to believe the film is supposed to be deep, and I still don’t think it is.  The over-the-top Soze scenes seem ill-fitting in tone?  Really?  You have two characters that won’t stop swearing, and a third guy who’s comically indecipherable.  The Hungarian witness honestly believes in the legend of Soze, to the point where he completely freaks out.  Kint’s scared of him too, and we’re led to believe he’s never actually met the guy, but he does believe in him, so he does believe in this over-the-top character.  If Kint is supposed to be a meek guy with no place in organized crime, what’s wrong with him believing all these possibly-exaggerated tales, coming up with his own visuals, and trying to convey them to the detective?  Or is your objection with that just limited to the slo-mo, long hair and burning everything a la Robert Rodriguez?  I WAS picturing Banderas in those scenes.

    One thing I do wholeheartedly agree with you on is how the film lacked a real story for the twist to build to.  We are left with basically nothing plot-wise at the end, and it would been a spectacular movie if they had pulled off the twist rather than just leave it as a glorified “gotcha”.  But, well, I don’t mind it THAT much, as it’s only a small part of the story we’re told.  The movie’s like a roller coaster (yes, the Final Destination 3 thumbnail over there made me think of this) in that you end up right back where you started, but the fun is in the ride.  Obviously, since you’re a reviewer, digging for deeper meanings and analyzing structural faults and inconsistencies is where you get much of your meat, but I don’t see the plot, however thin, as a major problem with the film if all you’re gonna do is watch it.  If the movie sucks, by all means, tear it apart from the concept up and leave not a scrap behind.  But if the film’s fun, then the worst thing it can be is overrated.

    One thing you didn’t touch on in this review is whether or not you enjoyed the movie.  Does the Sanity Center also reflect your views, or is that meant to represent what most other people (read: idiots) think of it?

    • The Sanity Center is basically meant to reflect a broad generalization of what seems (to me personally, obviously I can’t talk to EVERYONE who has an opinion on the film) like the general consensus. Most of what I say in this particular Sanity Center, for example, came from arguments make during a forum discussion I once had with the film. The Sanity Center is not meant to mock people that disagree with me, quite the opposite. It’s meant to give the other side a voice, made the video as much of a reasonable, balanced analysis as possible rather than just a rant.

      • Muthsarah

        So you DO think that the ending undercuts the whole movie and leaves it with nothing?  Did you enjoy watching it even the first time?

        •  Not very much. I’ve seen it a total of twice, the second time to make this review. And my reaction was pretty much as described. I guessed the twist almost as soon as they made it clear this would be a whodunit, and once my suspicions were confirmed I was like “wait, that’s it?” I was briefly entertained my the notion of Keyzer Soze and how over-the-top it was, but the second time around it was just annoying because I knew how little payoff there’d be.

  • FYI guys, this episode was made before my Defense of Joel Schumacher video, hence the lack of asylum. You have now seen all of the non-asylum videos of the Lunatic Fringe, so I’ll be back in my straight jacket next time.

  • Something that stuck out for me when I thought about this movie is that we don’t know if Keyser Soze is a ‘real’ person.  We never get confirmation that the story Kevin Spacey told about Soze was true or if the Soze in the story existed in the first place.  Spacey could be a random crime boss just telling certain people he is Keyser Soze to cash in on a scary story. 

    So in the end the only thing we know for certain is that at some point five criminals were arrested, one of those arrested is thought to be Keyser Soze by at least one person and some of the criminals arrested died on a boat at night.

  • Cristiona

    “One, two, three, four, five… Oswald was a fag.”

    I dunno.  I enjoyed it the first time I saw it.  I don’t know how well it’d hold up knowing the twist.

    You mention Fight Club and Memento a few times as examples of good twists.  I’m curious about your thoughts on the Machinist.

    •  The Machinist was a decent twist. Nothing groundbreaking, but it successfully surprised me without making it feel like a cheat.

  • Misinformed

    Some good points here.  I had a couple contrary thoughts.

    1) Your introduction sets this review up as a critique of “the master of mediocrity, Bryan Singer.”  I don’t care for his work either, but pretty much all of the criticisms you make in your review are criticisms of structural problems you identify in the screenplay, which was written by someone else you don’t name in this video (unless I missed it), Christopher McQuarrie.

    2) You sum up by saying “when that twist doesn’t work, it takes the entire film down with it.”  Yet the movie won two Oscars, including one for its screenplay.  The movie also made almost four times its budget at the North American box office alone according to IMDB.  So has the film really been “taken down with the twist,” when it was both a critical and commercial success?  If so, I think most filmmakers would like to be on the receiving end of such a brutal take-down.

    •  Dude, the entire point of the review was that the film was overrated. I said it took the film down in the sense that the film was bad, regardless of whatever accolades it received.

      • Misinformed

        I would have been interested in hearing in the review your theory on why the movie was loved by so many.  I think you identified some real weaknesses in the film, yet something in it (humor, style, atmosphere, I don’t know) caused the film to transcend those weaknesses, at least in the eyes of the people who wrote positive things about it, gave the film awards for its screenplay in the US and UK, and spread good word of mouth to their friends.  No film will be liked by everyone, and while I think you made a convincing case as to why it didn’t appeal to you, I did not get a sense from this review of why you think it’s important to me as a viewer or to the filmmakers that you didn’t like it, given that the film pleased so many other people and was such a boon for the careers of the people who made it.  I didn’t get a sense of important consequences for the weaknesses you identified.

  • maarvarq

    Personally, I thought the twist in Fight Club undermined the entire film, because of one scene. The Fight Club was supposedly founded after The Narrator had a fistfight with Tyler Durden and they recruited the onlookers. These guys were actually inspired by watching The Narrator beat himself up?! Yeah, sure.

    • Tim Terrell

       I agree. I was liking the movie until “the twist”, precisely because of what you said.

  • Tim Terrell

    Obviously the twist did work for most, because 1) people loved it and 2)it brought Singer, fame fortune and the opportunity to helm X-Men and Superman movies.

    This movie was fair at best, and the story meant nothing unless you want to take a message away about the power of myth and legends.  But one thing it did do was entertain. I don’t think most people took this movie as a masterpiece, just an entertaining romp, and yes a bit of a comic book.

    And it was a hell of a lot more entertaining than the 3 overrated messes that you praised: Fight Club, Inception and Memento. Memento made no more a statement than Usual Suspects and Joey Pants exposited twice as much as Verbal. In Inception, the fact that DiCaprio’s character was a ‘devoted family man’ meant nothing, because there was no chemistry between he and his wife. The only contact they had in this movie was his memories of her, which were idealized, and still they were a boring onscreen couple. His kids were McGuffins for motivation, because we never knew or saw them together until the end of the flick. He could be a terrible father for all we know. I think all of Nolan’s flicks are way overrated, save his first two Batman movies.

    And maarvarq stated why Fight Club was a dud, and I agree. To which I add, how can we root for a character when even HE can’t get behind his own cause?

    You praise those flicks but dis one of the greatest SF movies of all time, 2001?

    • Jai

      Firstly, people Do call this movie a masterpiece.
      Secondly, you are part of a minority in calling Fight Club, Inception and Memento “overrated messes”, considering many love these movies a lot.

      on a related note, I think he’s being harsh on the movie. The Usual Suspects is still a great movie.

  • Quazal

    I kind of wonder if these movies loose their effect over time because of how we actually views movies.  I saw this movie in the theatres, and like SEV7N it hasnt aged well.  At the time compared to many of the other movies out it was great; now in comparison its seems only average.  Certianly I wouldnt call it a horrible movie (the list of junk is really high), just kind of average.  

    Oh as for twist endings, The Dark Knight Rises takes the cake.  Yay, comic fans can see the twist coming, but Bane is built up only to be made to sit and heel at the last second befroe being put down.  Talk about anti-climatic, and while stopping the bomb ends up being batmans main challenge at the end it isnt simplly because it is a mcguffin.  After doing the lat minute villian shuffle it doesn’t feel as epic as it should “oh look he’s taking the mcguffin over the ocean wonder what’s going to happen after the big bad was replaced and the big big bad repalcement died even easier..”       

  • Quaz

    I kind of wonder if these movies loose their effect over time because of how we actually views movies. I saw this movie in the theatres, and like SEV7N it hasnt aged well. At the time compared to many of the other movies out it was great; now in comparison its seems only average. Certianly I wouldnt call it a horrible movie (the list of junk is really high), just kind of average.

    Oh as for twist endings, The Dark Knight Rises takes the cake. Yay, comic fans can see the twist coming, but Bane is built up only to be made to sit and heel at the last second befroe being put down. Talk about anti-climatic, and while the mcguffin bomb ends up being batmans main challenge at the end it isnt simplly because it is a mcguffin. After doing the lat minute villian shuffle it doesn’t feel as epic as it should “oh look he’s taking the mcguffin over the ocean wonder what’s going to happen after the big bad was replaced and the big big bad repalcement died even easier..”

  • Garferty

    I don’t think the
    movie’s perfect.  (I also think the critics weren’t as unanimous as all that, and some actual critic quotes might have been useful in Sanity Corner.)  I loved it when I was about 17; we’re talking
    Favourite Movie love, for a while at least.  (Hey, I was young.)  I actually missed the ending at
    first, thought what I saw so far was okay, lent the movie to a friend,
    and they returned it jabbering with enthusiasm.  “The ending!” they
    said.  So I watched the whole thing, and yeah.  I found it hugely
    satisfying.

    The film doesn’t have a lot of subtext, you’re right,
    and the ending does expunge as much or as little character development
    as you’re willing to believe.  I think it’s a mixture, and I think it’s
    up to the audience to decide, so I’m happy with it.  It is mostly a
    clever character spinning a yarn, and it’s entertaining in that sense,
    even if it stands up to little more scrutiny.

    There’s loads else
    to enjoy about it, all skimmed.  The cast are great.  The music, one of
    my favourite scores ever: it drips with noiry romance and excitement.  The editing – also by John Ottman, who must have been crazy busy making this movie – surely impressive, especially given the two climactic montages we get at the end.  And the direction, in my opinion, memorable and frequently excellent. 
    (But then, I like some of Bryan Singer’s work a lot.  I certainly think
    it’s hugely sweeping to dump the first two X-Men movies as “bland at best”.  Perfect?  Again, no, but there’s tons to recommend.  Conversely, I think you’re completely right about Superman Returns, so swings ‘n’ roundabouts, really.)

    I dunno.  I think people are less praiseworthy of this movie in recent years, so it seems odd to go to town on it.

    NB:  I had a grouchy Radio & TV lecturer at University who genuinely, hand-on-his-heart, believed Keyser Soze was Satan.  I can’t say I was ever confused on that one.  :S