A slick triumph of casting and wordplay, The Usual Suspects was one of the most fiendishly intricate American films of the 1990s. Relentlessly stylish and growing more convoluted by the frame, the film invited its audience to take part in the confusion, to attempt to discern illusion from reality as if watching a magician's act. What makes The Usual Suspects remarkable is that fact and fiction never evolve into distinct entities, entwining in an almost indiscernible jumble to baffle the viewer. Like the all-important but (largely) unseen Keyser Soze, Suspects' genius rested in holding its audience hostage to the intangible, making it equally impossible to believe what you've seen or dismiss what you haven't. In turn, the film is shamelessly manipulative, demanding the audience's complete involvement and undivided attention; a bathroom break carries the risk of losing the plot entirely. As the men caught up in the film's labyrinthine intrigue, Kevin Spacey, Gabriel Byrne, Benicio Del Toro, Kevin Pollak, and Stephen Baldwin fit their roles perfectly, demonstrating an ensemble casting coup. Spacey, who won an Oscar for his portrayal of Verbal Kint, is particularly impressive, managing to be pathetic, off-handedly irreverent, and cunning all at once. The qualities on display in his performance make him the poster child for the film's overall tone: shifty, garrulous, and altogether not to be trusted, Spacey's Kint embodies the film's compulsive, charming will to deception. Director Bryan Singer handles his characters and the film's many twists with the ease of a devious master puppeteer, mixing liberal doses of film noir, humor, and intrigue with refreshing audacity. The result was one of the most accomplished thrillers of the decade, a mystery whose wild manipulations came courtesy of a director whose hands were very tightly gripped around the controls.
by Rebecca Flint Marx review