THE USUAL SUSPECTS

The Usual Suspects (1995)Web of Evil

“Round up the usual suspects.” And so they do – and ending up in the lineup are career criminals Michael McManus, Fred Fenster and Todd Hockney (Stephen Baldwin, Benicio del Toro and Kevin Pollack), ex-cop gone bad gone good again Dean Keaton (Gabriel Byrne) and small-time con man Verbal Kint (Kevin Spacey).

Wait a minute … five criminals in one lineup? There’s something wrong here, right? Right …

In The Usual Suspects, not only every line but every gesture, every facial expression and every camera cut counts. Even if you distrust the story being told, you can’t exactly pin down everything that’s wrong with it. The plot unfolds through the tale extracted from Kint, one of two survivors of a massacre and subsequent explosion on a boat docked in San Pedro Harbor, by U.S. Customs agent David Kujan (Chazz Palminteri). And at the same time as Kint is spinning his yarn, in a nearby hospital the other survivor (badly injured and fresh out of a coma) helps a police sketch artist draw a picture of the mastermind behind the scheme – “the devil,” Keyser Söze.

You can watch this movie countless times, and you will still discover new subtleties every single time. Not only will you find that it still makes sense after the story line has been unraveled at the end (which therefore is a plot twist, not a non-sequitur). You’ll also discover nuance upon nuance in Kevin Spacey‘s incredible performance. You’ll see that tiny apologetic grin on Todd Hockney’s face as attorney Kobayashi (Pete Postlethwaite) lists a weapons truck heist – the very act which brought them together in the initial lineup, and which they have all come to believe to have been a trumped-up charge – as Hockney’s latest sin against Keyser Söze, now forming part of the debt to be repaid by participating in the suicide mission in San Pedro Harbor. And at some point you’ll also have figured out all of Fenster’s lines (not being a native English speaker, I am relieved to find that I wasn’t the only one struggling with them at first) … although the mumbling is of course part of his character, and is as excellently delivered as every other aspect of Benicio del Toro’s acting, his lines are so funny and to the point you almost wish he’d speak more clearly so you wouldn’t miss half his punch lines the first time around.

Among a cast of tremendous actors (to name just two, Gabriel Byrne in one of his best performances and Benicio del Toro, deserving much more than just an “also starring” mentioning in the opening credits), Kevin Spacey‘s star shines brightest by far. To this day it is a mystery to me how he came to be awarded the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor – the only things the man supports (in fact carries, almost single-handedly) in this movie are Bryan Singer’s directing and Christopher McQuarrie’s screenplay, and that alone makes him the movie’s lead character. But regardless of its title, the award was more than justified, and so was the one for McQuarrie’s screenplay. With infinite trust in the audience’s ability to pick up on little gestures, looks and inflections of his voice, Kevin Spacey displays all the many aspects of his character at the same time; and even the tenth time around, his performance still holds as true as the first time you watch the movie. Almost expressionless he tells his tale, always seeming to give away just about as much as he has to, and only raising his voice for a pointed (and exquisitely timed) expletive upon first being confronted with the name Keyser Söze, and for a wailing “Why me??” as agent Kujan tries to convince him that his own archenemy, Keaton, has been behind their failed enterprise all along and purposely let him (Kint) live to tell their story.

This is one of those movies which have you quote their many memorable one-liners forever: not only the one about “the devil’s greatest trick” has long since gone down in film history. To the extent that it cites other works, those citations pay homage, they don’t merely copy – right down to the name of the movie’s production company (Blue Parrot/Bad Hat); like the title containing a reference to Casablanca, the prototype of all films noir (or those made in Hollywood at least). It is one of the best modern examples of the genre and has long since become a cult classic – it’s a must in every decent collection.

 

Production Credits /
Cast and Crew

Production Credits
  • Studio: PolyGram (1995)
  • Director: Bryan Singer
  • Executive Producers: Hans Brockmann / François Duplat / Art Horan / Robert Jones
  • Producer: Bryan Singer
  • Screenplay: Christopher McQuarrie
  • Music: John Ottman
  • Cinematography / Director of Photography: Newton Thomas Sigel
  • Editing: John Ottman
Cast
  • Kevin Spacey: Roger “Verbal” Kint
  • Gabriel Byrne: Dean Keaton
  • Stephen Baldwin: Michael McManus
  • Benicio Del Toro: Fred Fenster
  • Kevin Pollak: Todd Hockney
  • Chazz Palminteri: Dave Kujan
  • Pete Postlethwaite: Kobayashi
  • Suzy Amis: Edie Finneran
  • Giancarlo Esposito: FBI Special Agent Jack Baer
  • Dan Hedaya: Sergeant Jeffrey “Jeff” Rabin
  • Peter Greene: Redfoot the Fence (uncredited)

 

Major Awards

Academy Awards (1996)
  • Best Actor in a Supporting Role: Kevin Spacey
  • Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen: Christopher McQuarrie
American Film Institute
  • Top 10 Mystery Films – No. 10
  • Top 50 Villains – No. 48 (Verbal Kint)
Golden Globe Awards
(Hollywood Foreign Press Association) (1996)
  • Best Editing: John Ottman
  • Best Film: Bryan Singer and Michael McDonnell
  • Best Screenplay (Original): Christopher McQuarrie
National Board of Review Awards (1995)
  • Best Ensemble Performance
  • Best Supporting Actor: Kevin Spacey
    – also for Se7en
New York Film Critics Circle Awards (1995)
  • Best Supporting Actor: Kevin Spacey
    – also for Swimming with Sharks, Outbreak, and Se7en
Seattle International Film Festival (1995)
  • Best Director: Bryan Singer
  • Best Supporting Actor: Kevin Spacey
    – also for Outbreak and Se7en
Edgar Allan Poe Awards (1996)
  • Best Motion Picture: Christopher McQuarrie
BAFTA Awards (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) (1996)
  • BAFTA Film Awards: Best Original Screenplay:Christopher McQuarrie
  • BAFTA Film Awards: Best Editing:John Ottman
Independent Spirit Awards (USA) (1995)
  • Best Screenplay (Original): Christopher McQuarrie
  • Best Supporting Male: Benicio del Toro
Empire Awards (Great Britain) (1996)
  • Best Debut: Bryan Singer

 

Favorite Quotes

“The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.”

“And like that … he is gone.”

Dave Kujan: Do you believe in him, Verbal?
Verbal Kint: Keaton always said, ‘I don’t believe in God, but I’m afraid of him.’ Well I believe in God, and the only thing that scares me is Keyser Söze.”

“How do you shoot the devil in the back? What if you miss?”

“A man can convince anyone he’s somebody else, but never himself.”

 

Links

CASABLANCA

You must remember this …

Aaaahhh … Bogey. AFI’s No. 1 film star of the 20th century. Hollywood’s original noir anti-hero, epitome of the handsome, cynical and oh-so lonesome wolf (with “Casablanca”‘s Rick Blaine alone, one of the Top 5 guys on the AFI’s list of greatest 20th century film heroes); looking unbeatably cool in white dinner jacket or trenchcoat and fedora alike, a glass of whiskey in his hand and a cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth. Endowed with a legendary aura several times larger than his real life stature, and still admired by scores of women wishing they had been born 50+ years earlier, preferably somewhere in California and to parents connected with the movie business, so as to have at least a marginal chance of meeting him.

Triple-Oscar-winning “Casablanca,” directed by Michael Curtiz, was and still is without question Bogart’s greatest career-defining moment, the movie on which his legendary status is grounded more than on any other of his multiple successes. The film’s story is based on Murray Burnett and Joan Alison’s play “Everybody Comes to Rick’s,” renamed by Warner Brothers in order to tag onto the success of the studio’s 1938 hit “Algiers” (starring Charles Boyer and Hedy Lamarr). Building on the success of 1941’s “The Maltese Falcon” and further expanding Bogart’s increasingly complex on-screen personality, it added a romantic quality which had heretofore been missing; eventually making this the AFI’s Top 20th century love story (even before the No. 2 “Gone With the Wind”), while second only to “Citizen Kane” on the AFI’s overall list of Top 100 20th century movies; with a unique, inimitable blend of drama, passion, humor, exotic North African atmosphere, patriotism, unforgettable score (courtesy of Herman Hupfeld’s “As Time Goes By,” Max Steiner, and Louis Kaufman’s violin) and an all-star cast, consisting besides Bogart of Ingrid Bergman (Ilsa), Paul Henreid (Victor Laszlo), Claude Rains (Captain Renault), Dooley Wilson (who, a drummer by trade, had to fake his piano playing as Rick’s friend Sam), Conrad Veidt (Major Strasser), Sydney Greenstreet (Ferrari) and Peter Lorre (Ugarte). And the movie’s countless famous one-liners have long attained legendary status in their own right …

Looking at this movie’s and its stars’ almost mythical fame, it is difficult to imagine that, produced at the height of the studio system era, it was originally just one of the roughly 50 movies released over the course of one year. But mass production didn’t equal low quality; on the contrary, the great care given to all production values, from script-writing to camera work, editing, score and the stars’ presentation in the movies themselves and in their trailers, was at least partly responsible for its lasting success. In fact, the screenplay for “Casablanca” was constantly rewritten even throughout the filming process, to the point that particularly Ingrid Bergman was extremely worried because she was unsure whether at the end she (Ilsa) would leave Casablanca with Henreid’s Victor Laszlo or stay there with Humphrey Bogart (Rick).

Little needs to be said about the movie’s story. After the onset of WWII, Casablanca has become a point of refuge for Jews and other desperate souls from all corners of Europe, fleeing the old world with the hope of building a new life in America. Unofficial center of Casablanca’s society is Rick’s “Café Americain,” where gamblers, refugees, French police, Nazi troops, thieves, swindlers and soldiers of fortune come together on a nightly basis, to make connections, conduct their shady business, or simply forget the uncertainty of their fate for a few precious hours. And presiding over this mixed and colorful society is Rick Blaine, expatriate American without any hope of returning to the United States himself (for reasons never fully explained), officially not interested in politics but only the flourishing of his business, but soft-hearted underneath the hard shell of his cynicism. From Rick’s perspective, everything is going just swell and the way it is meant to be: he is reasonably well-respected, has a good working relationship with Captain Renault, the local representative of the Vichy government (based on mutual respect as much as on the fact that Renault is a guaranteed winner at Rick’s gambling tables and, by way of reciprocation, turns a blind eye to whatever less-than-squeaky-clean transactions Rick may be tolerating in his café, always ready to have his police round up “the usual suspects” instead of the truly guilty party of a crime if that person’s continued freedom promises to be more profitable); and although aware of Rick’s not quite so apolitical past, the Germans are leaving him alone as well, as long as he stays out of politics now. Until … well, until famous underground resistance leader and recent concentration camp-escapee Victor Laszlo and his wife Ilsa walk into Rick’s café, into his place “of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world” – and with one blow, administered to the melancholy tunes of “As Time Goes By,” the carefully maintained equilibrium of his little world comes crashing down around him.

Not only to Bogart and Bergman fans all over the world, “Casablanca” is film history’s all-time crowning achievement, a “must” in every movie lover’s collection, and one of the few films that truly deserve the title “classic.” If it is not yet included in your home collection, that is an omission that ought to be remedied sooner rather than later.

 

Production Credits /
Cast and Crew

Production Credits
  • Studio: Warner Bros. (1942)
  • Director: Michael Curtiz
  • Executive Producer: Jack L. Warner
  • Screenplay: Julius J. Epstein / Philip G. Epstein / Howard Koch / Casey Robinson (uncredited)
  • Based on a play by: Murray Burnett and Joan Alison
  • Music: Max Steiner
  • Cinematography / Director of Photography: Arthur Edeson
Cast
  • Humphrey Bogart: Rick Blaine
  • Ingrid Bergman: Ilsa Lund
  • Paul Henreid: Victor Laszlo
  • Claude Rains: Captain Louis Renault
  • Conrad Veidt: Major Heinrich Strasser
  • Sydney Greenstreet: Signor Ferrari
  • Peter Lorre: Ugarte
  • S.Z. Sakall: Carl (as S.K. Sakall)
  • Madeleine Lebeau: Yvonne (as Madeleine LeBeau)
  • Dooley Wilson: Sam

 

Major Awards

Academy Awards (1944)
  • Best Picture: Hal B. Wallis
  • Best Director: Michael Curtiz
  • Best Writing, Screenplay: Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein and Howard Koch
American Film Institute (AFI)
  • Top 25 Stars (male) – No. 1 (Humphrey Bogart)
  • Top 100 Love Stories – No. 1
  • Top 100 American Films – No. 2
  • Top 100 Movie Songs – No. 2 (“As Time Goes By”)
  • Top 25 Stars (female) – No. 4 (Ingrid Bergman)
  • Top 50 Heroes – No. 4 (Rick Blaine)
  • Top 100 Thrillers – No. 37
  • Top 100 Movie Quotes – 5th: “Here’s looking at you, kid.”  (Rick Blaine)
  • Top 100 Movie Quotes – 20th: “Louie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” (Rick Blaine)
  • Top 100 Movie Quotes –28th: “Play it, Sam. Play ‘As Time Goes By.'” (Ilsa Lund)
  • Top 100 Movie Quotes – 32nd: “Round up the usual suspects.” (Captain Louis Renault)
  • Top 100 Movie Quotes – 43rd: “We’ll always have Paris.” (Rick Blaine)
  • Top 100 Movie Quotes – 67th: “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.” (Rick Blaine)

 

Links

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