If you have somehow not seen Bryan Singer’s “The Usual Suspects” in the 20 years since its release and are not aware of the details of its twist ending, this post is not for you. Because more than anything Singer’s second feature film is best remembered as one of the best plot twists in film history. So seriously, stop reading if you haven’t seen the film.
Ok, we’re all good? Good, because the reveal of mythic gangster Keyser Soze as the thought to be crippled criminal Kevin Spacey plays remains a seminal moment in film in the last quarter century. The twist may be what we remember most, but everything that led up to that moment was equally well crafted, making “The Usual Suspects” one of the best films of the 90s.
Singer and screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie had just made their Hollywood debut with a film called “Public Access.” That first film made next to no impact, but that would certainly change when the pair reteamed for their sophomore efforts in 1995. This time, their work would certainly draw people’s attention.
Singer gathered quite the impressive cast for the film, including Gabriel Byrne, a young Benicio Del Toro, Stephen Baldwin, Kevin Pollak just a couple of years removed from “A Few Good Men,” Pete Postlethwaite coming off his Oscar nomination for “In the Name of the Father,” Chazz Palminteri, and of course Spacey. Byrne, Baldwin, Del Toro, Pollak and Spacey made up the main group of criminals the film follows, and they all proved to have great chemistry.
But, of course, the film’s stars are truly McQuarrie’s script and Spacey’s performance. The two were the lone representatives for “The Usual Suspects” on Oscar night in 1996, and each took home their respective trophies. To this day, if anyone repeats the line “the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist,” almost everyone knows the film being referenced. That’s staying power.
The film is also one of the last great film noirs. Now it’s not in black and white like most traditional noir, but its plot, dialogue and tone all have a great resemblance to classic film noirs, like “The Maltese Falcon” and others.
Still, the conversation always comes back to the twist. The most interesting thing to think about is if the reveal of Keyser Soze’s true identity could be kept in today’s media culture. The Internet was still in its infancy in the 90s, and certainly there weren’t any dedicated movie sites like us to discuss the film’s twist. The film’s original trailer is built around this question of who is Keyser Soze, so if today’s bloggers and company were set loose ahead of time on this film they probably would do some digging to try and break the news first. If you don’t think that’s the case, just see how many articles there are about Kit Harrington’s hair and whether or not that means he is alive or dead on “Game of Thrones.” Even if the film managed to get to theaters without the surrendering the twist, someone on social media certainly would after seeing it.
That being the case, “The Usual Suspects” certainly came out at the right time. And the fact that it is still so widely loved 20 years later is a testament to not only the twist, but all the elements of the film. Happy 20th “The Usual Suspects.”