Retrospective Film Review: Bryan Singer’s The Usual Suspects

There’s more of everything these days. And more ways than ever to access it all. Reception to great filmmaking past shouldn’t be influenced by heightened awareness of current trending tropes. But it is.

You can’t, for instance, erase the memory of similar storylines told elsewhere – especially when they’re told better. Nor can you ignore narrative devices gone before. Nowadays, we’re all looking for anti-heroes to cheer along. For that redemptive arc. For that twist ending. For that thing that elevates it above. Vanilla moviemaking just doesn’t cut it any more. And then there are films like Bryan Singer’s Noiry thriller The Usual Suspects from 1995 – nebulously plotted, bursting at the seams with memorable performances, romantically scored (and occasionally out-Debussying Debussy) by editor John Ottman, and crafted by a director who knows how to imaginatively weave diabolical lies in and around the truths the film purports to tell. The story – a familiar one of honour amongst thieves, a gang of crooks who find themselves on the receiving end of an even bigger master criminal – is really secondary to the way in which it’s told; constantly shifting timeframes, shadowy characters with unclear motives, a rabbit hole that gets deeper and darker the further along it Singer leads us.

This is one of those rare movies where form compliments content, an utterly symbiotic relationship with each respecting its partner enough not to pull ahead and self-indulge. The film claimed a couple of Oscars – one for McQuarrie’s original screenplay, and one for supporting actor Spacey, who plays the cerebral palseyed Roger “Verbal” Kint – but it could have easily earned one for Byrne, Ottman, or Singer himself; the man, after all, with the plan.

Words: Ash Verjee