At Hollywood Jesus, we’re doing a month-long look at our favorite indie films. Here’s another of my favorites, this time a crime noir about a mismatched band of thieves who find themselves tangled in a bigger conspiracy. It’s one of the first films to make me see I can’t always trust my eyes and ears when watching, because like The Sixth Sense or The Sting, things aren’t always what we think.
In 1995, Christopher McQuarrie wrote the screenplay that Bryan Singer directed into the oft-quoted, frequently rewatched crime noir thriller, The Usual Suspects. McQuarrie won the Academy Award for Best Screenplay (this year’s Edge of Tomorrow is his best follow-up to date), and Kevin Spacey took home the Best Supporting Actor award. But this is an ensemble film that delights in misdirections and misadventures; we’re kept off kilter by not knowing who we can believe, who Keyser Soze is, or what is important until it’s too late. As Spacey’s Verbal Kint says, “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.”
We hear much of the story through the words of Flint, as he’s interrogated by FBI agent Jack Baer (not the 24 one!) (Giancarlo Esposito) and Customs agent Dave Kujan (Chazz Palminteri). He recounts the stories of the team these two are investigating, and the legend of Soze, a most wanted criminal. We meet the other members of the team pulling heists, like Michael McManus (Stephen Baldwin, in his best ever role), Dean Keaton (Gabriel Byrne), Fred Fenster (Benicio del Toro), and Todd Hockney (Kevin Pollack). We also meet Soze’s lieutenant, Kobayashi (Peter Postlethwhaite, one of the great supporting actors of all time). But what about the details are true? What are Flint’s imagination or deception?
Early on, the detectives ask, “Do you believe in [Soze], Verbal?” Flint replies, “I don’t believe in God, but I’m afraid of him. I believe in God, but the only thing I’m afraid of is Keyser Soze.”
It’s telling how much fear the stories bring, how much power they have to influence people and their decisions. It’s a bit like the children’s story, The Gruffalo, but how it all plays out is why the film is so amazing, and so rewatchable. We can know who Soze is, but that doesn’t mean we actually get it. We don’t get all of the questions answered, but we still have to try to figure it out, right?
I’m always amazed by how little we consider how we receive our truth. Whether it’s our religious beliefs, read from something like The Bible, or our political opinions as translated by FOX News, CBS, CNN, or MSN, we have a startling tendency to accept the things that we like and are most comfortable with as true. If it goes against something else from someone we like, we dismiss it or figure it’s an outlier; if it’s ridiculous but it fits in the bounds of what we expected to be true, then we acknowledge it and reason out a way to make it work.
The Usual Suspects presents us with truth, but not all of it, and challenges us to reconsider what we thought we knew before.