Piecing together ‘The Usual Suspects’

You know the party guessing game Mafia — the one where the townspeople have to pick out the criminals living among them. Well, “The Usual Suspects'” director Bryan Singer and screenplay writer Christopher McQuarrie stacked the room full of thieves and liars.

There’s McManus (Stephen Baldwin), Hockney (Kevin Pollack), Fenster (Benicio Del Toro), Keaton (Gabriel Bryne) and Klint (Kevin Spacey) — five criminals brought into a New York City precinct for a truck hijacking.

“You don’t put guys like that in a room together,” says Klint — a small time fraudster and our film’s unreliable narrator.

But here they are, pacing inside a New York City jail cell. Rather than point fingers at each other though (because there is some honor among thieves), they decide to team up.

Told in flashbacks, “The Usual Suspects” leads up to an explosion at a California shipyard. This happens six weeks after the initial meeting in New York. Witch-hunter — I mean, Federal Agent Dave Kujan (Chazz Palminteri) is questioning Klint — a small unassuming man with a noticeable gimp leg (akin to Bryan Cranston’s milquetoast chemistry teacher Walter White from “Breaking Bad”). Kujan — like the “townspeople” watching the film — want to know the who, what and why: the usual questions following a tragedy.

McQuarrie writes a tightly packaged story — packed with foreshadowing. The clues are there, if you know what you’re looking for. From Baldwin’s Cheshire grin and Del Toro’s unintelligible phrases to Spacey’s Flannery O’Connor-esque narration — the cast keeps you entertained.

Under Singer’s direction, Newton Thomas Siegal’s cinematography and John Ottoman’s editing, “The Usual Suspects” becomes a cinematic treasure trove. Flames spring up from a string of gasoline. The coffee inside a mug fades into a burial scene. The film’s overexposured as Klint tells a ghost story. There are slow pans — in and out; low angles bringing out the shadows.

And it’s not until the very end, that you see how these puzzle pieces fit together.

“The Usual Suspects” was written by Christopher McQuarrie and directed by Bryan Singer. “The Usual Suspects” won the 1996 Academy Award for Best Writing and Best Actor in a Supporting Role.

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4 thoughts on “Piecing together ‘The Usual Suspects’

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