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Film Perception: A Usually Unsuspected Plot Twist

When thinking of the greatest plot twists of all time, I can’t help but suggest “The Usual Suspects,” directed by Bryan Singer. This 1995 crime drama, featuring the one and only Kevin Spacey, revolves around his character Roger “Verbal” Kint retelling the tale of how he came to be associated with four other criminals. After they were taken in for a crime none of them committed, they formulated a plan to seek revenge on the corrupt police force. The film ends with a massive explosion at San Pedro Harbor, in which Kint is one of the only surviving witnesses. He is forced to describe the group’s schemes and operations for the police to release him from their custody. 

This ragtag band of criminals consists of Dean Keaton, a former corrupt police officer, Michael McManus and his partner Fred Fenster, car mechanic Todd Hockney and Kint himself, a con artist suffering from cerebral palsy. After the five men are taken through a lineup (which forms the unforgettable movie poster), McManus convinces them to join forces in a robbery to take down an illegal taxi service masterminded by the New York Police Department. This begins their partnership that quickly spirals into more than they bargained for. 

The scenes of the film switch between Kint’s interview with the police detective and a real-time account of the illegal endeavors of the criminal group. Kint, a reserved man with a knack for recounting details, attempts to convince the unwavering and skeptical investigators that Turkish mastermind Keyser Söze, a mystifying legend feared by every criminal, was the man who set the boat on fire. He describes how the group was blackmailed into working for Söze with the task of destroying a cargo ship landing at the harbor. Kint’s wisecracks to the detectives along with the intensity of the recounted chronicle keep the viewer engaged and push the film along until the culmination of the ending. 

Obviously, I can’t give much more than that for fear of spoilers (I won’t be that guy). Now, I’m not saying it is a perfect movie — such a thing doesn’t exist. Although it is under two hours, the plot can drag a bit at certain points. You must make sure you are actively engaged — otherwise you will miss key details of the plot. You need to keep close track of the plot or else you may become confused with details or the timeline, as critic Roger Ebert describes happened to him. 

Some movies are good to watch when multitasking; they act as background noise because it is either a simple movie to understand or you’ve seen it a dozen times and can recite half the lines. Others are nostalgic and, though they may not truly be “good” pieces of film, they take us on a lovely nostalgia trip (“High School Musical” fans known what I’m talking about). “The Usual Suspects” is neither simple nor background noise, and can only be enjoyed if one commits to it and understands ahead of time that if you can’t entirely keep track of the plot the first time, it’s okay to rewatch.

Besides the wonderful writing of this screenplay, Kevin Spacey does an incredible job, playing a character who is both an engaging smartass and a quiet observer, making him a fantastic narrator. Credit must be given as well to the other main actors, including Gabriel Byrne, Benicio del Toro, Stephen Baldwin, Chazz Palminteri and Kevin Pollack, each of whom completely embodies their unique character and plays off the others, creating intricate interpersonal dynamics. These characters play off each other very well, resulting in a cast of main characters who are fascinating enough to keep driving the plot forward. 

I will never tire of this movie. But if you don’t believe me on its quality, here are some of the film’s achievements: Christopher McQuarrie won an Academy Award for Best Writing (Original Screenplay), Kevin Spacey won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor and The Writers Guild of America ranked the film as having the 35th greatest screenplay of all time. If you started reading this article with no intention of ever taking my suggestion, I highly suggest you rethink your decision and watch this celebrated classic. With a film like this, you only have one chance to perfectly experience it in all its surprising glory. 

– Allison Isztok ’21

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    Russ OrzechSep 16, 2017 at 5:55 pm

    That is one of my all time favorite movies I have seen. Awesome review.