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From Under A Rock: The Usual Suspects

September 10, 2015 | Posted by Michael Ornelas
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From Under A Rock: The Usual Suspects  


There’s a first time for everything in a person’s life: your first time learning the alphabet, your first time reading a book, your first time writing an essay, and your first time playing “Squeezing” on Words with Friends for over 500 points.

You only get one first time, and for some people, it comes later than it does for others. This particular column is about documenting the first viewing of a “classic” movie or TV show (determined at the discretion of my writing partner, Aaron Hubbard and I in alternation). This column is a companion piece to my podcast of the same premise, which you can check out here.

Last week Aaron had me watch what could have been the title of a horrific porno flick, but luckily for me was just a great movie: 12 Angry Men. This week I take Aaron out from under the proverbial rock by having him learn the identity of Keyser Soze.

The Usual Suspects
Be warned, the “big twist” in this movie is talked about in detail in this review. If you don’t want anything spoiled, it would serve you well to watch this awesome movie before reading this review.

Michael Ornelas: I grew up with this movie. I’ve seen it probably 15-20 times, and I feel that’s a testament to a movie centered around one primary mystery that despite knowing the twist ending, it’s compelling throughout. And honestly, rewatching it makes Kevin Spacey’s performance stand out even more. I love so many things about this movie: the plot, the characters (all of the main ones are great), the twist, the acting, and the simplicity in the directing. All of those come together to make a special product where the total is greater than the sum of its parts, and for that reason, I had to have you watch it sooner than later.

Aaron Hubbard: And I am definitely glad you did. It was nice to watch something where Kevin Spacey doesn’t have a North Carolina accent again. He was the one who made the biggest impact on me right from the get go; dare I say he’s underappreciated? I will admit that I had trouble getting into the film because nobody really seems like they are “the hero” of the film, but I guess that goes with the genre. But aside from that, I was never bored and constantly felt more intrigued. There’s an urgency to the film that isn’t always there in crime drama.

Michael: Yeah, it’s not like you have a bunch of rebels doing something to “stick it to the man” (although they happened to serve that purpose when they brought down “New York’s Finest Taxi Service” – illegal police escorts for big name drug dealers). This is a story about five guys looking to make a lot of money for selfish reasons while Soze/Kint double crosses them so he can selfishly wipe out the one guy who can identify him, and then picks them off one-by-one to ensure his anonymity. They’re all bastards…but the performances are so compelling that you stop caring (or at least I do, but then again I’m a bad person).

Aaron: You’re not that bad of a guy. You did include the spoiler alert up above upon my suggesting it.

Michael: Yeah. Some saint I am.

St. Michael

Aaron: I give you an inch and you take a mile. Anyway, you did mention what was probably the turning point in this film for me. I was enjoying the look of the film and the performances well enough but that scene with the taxi service was where I really started to appreciate the thought put into it. It was funny and clever and ultimately just a satisfying moment, I think. It’s a film that’s very smartly written and I liked feeling that I had to pay attention just so I didn’t miss anything.

Michael: Satisfying is definitely an accurate description. After seeing them rounded up on little-to-no evidence (which chronologically happens after this scene) and put in the infamous police line-up scene (I mean…it even made the poster), I wanted to see the cops get their comeuppance because even though we are to believe these characters are scum, we as viewers also stand firmly behind the “innocent until proven guilty” mantra. And when they are proven guilty in the viewers’ eyes, it’s more fun than anything. And this movie, for how dark it is, actually has quite a bit of levity to it. I loved McManus, Fenster, and Hockney for comedic relief at various moments. Even Verbal makes you laugh somewhat regularly, maybe more so once you know it’s all an act.

Aaron: As I watched you write that last paragraph I suddenly realized why Guardians of the Galaxy is your favorite Marvel movie. Half of that movie is this movie in space. For kids. It even had Benecio Del Toro.

Michael: If this column were the same as the podcast version of FUAR, I’d award you a whole bucket of points right now. Rocket and McManus are one and the same. And both of their best friends can barely speak to save their lives.


Aaron: But to your point, the movie definitely has some sharp moments of humor. I feel like a lot of credit probably needs to go to screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie, who won an Oscar for it, as it turns out. But the reason I had this suspicion is that I’ve seen other Bryan Singer films, many of which I love (cough the X-Men series) but they are not even in the remote vicinity of this film when it comes to good writing. He may have peaked a little too early. Which is a shame.

Michael: Well his last entry in the X-Men franchise has breathed new life into the property, and I have high hopes for Apocalypse. But no, he hasn’t made anything as great as The Usual Suspects since then, and I don’t expect him to top it. But to be fair, most people would kill to have their best movie be this good.

How do you feel about the fact that Keyser Soze essentially failed at his mission? Arkosh Kovash (the burned Hungarian in the hospital) was able to identify him and give the police a sketch of him that was accurate enough that Agent Kujan stormed out of the building to try and catch him, but was just a moment too late? Sure, he may never be caught, but his whole goal was to take care of his business by tying up all loose ends and staying off the grid by only having his alias be known (Verbal).

Aaron: That is something I admittedly did not piece together, but it’s an interesting nuance to the story. I was a bit too blown away by accepting that the timid crippled man was the most infamous, terrifying crime lord in the world to notice things like that. But I’m definitely looking forward to rewatching the movie now that I know the twist and seeing what else I can pick up.

Michael: I’d argue that Soze’s performance was every bit as good as Spacey’s. Too bad characters can’t win Oscars. But one of my favorite details that I only noticed upon rewatching is seeing Verbal take his possessions back from police custody (a watch and a golden lighter) and they’re the only two things we actually can identify with Soze in the opening scene of the movie. That, to my knowledge, is the earliest you can confirm that Verbal is Soze.
Really should have been a dead giveaway…

Aaron: Probably about right, though I started having suspicions a bit earlier than that. I feel the movie comes across as slightly dated (stuck in the 1990’s) but is also a tight, intelligent script, a compelling story, and held together with some wonderful acting. Since those are the types of things I ultimately value most, I think I feel confident enough to give this one full marks. Definitely worth rewatching more than once.


Michael: Oh wow. I brought this movie to the table, and you’re actually giving it a higher rating than me. And I think the reason is exactly what this column is about: seeing something for the first time. I love this movie to bits, but I don’t remember my first viewing of it at all because it was so long ago. That first time is truly special, and I would most likely give it an A+ right after that, but having seen it so many times, small things creep in and cause me to take away from the movie, but my only real complaint about the movie is that Dean Keaton’s entire portrayal is through word of mouth, be it Verbal’s retelling or Agent Kujan pushing his agenda, and so for being arguably the second-most important character in the movie, he’s somewhat flat in comparison to the rest.


Aaron: Well, hopefully us finding the flaws in all of our favorite films upon rewatching doesn’t become the usual thing for this column. But I suspect it probably will.

Michael: Did you intentionally include the words “usual” and “suspect” in there just to make me proud?

Aaron: No, I did it to annoy you.

Michael: Oh, okay. Yeah, good job on your success then.

Without giving any spoilers, what other movies have great twists that you’d like to recommend?

Next week:

Aaron: All the shooting in your pick has made me realize I need more mindless violence in my life. So I think it’s time for one of my biggest guilty pleasures: The Boondock Saints, a movie that my brothers, uncle and I all watched repeatedly during my teenage years.

Boondock Saints

Michael: You know I bought this on DVD years ago with the intention of watching it and just never got around to it, so I’m glad my purchase won’t be in vain for much longer! This should be a fun one. I’m shocked to see that Norman Reedus did something before The Walking Dead given just how large of a gap there is between the release of this movie and the premiere of that show.

Aaron: Ironically the only reason I remotely care about that show is because Norman Reedus is in it. I think of this movie every time.

What is your favorite “cult hit” or “guilty pleasure” movie that has sentimental value that is far more meaningful than the cinematic value of it?

On this week’s edition of the “From Under A Rock” podcast, Michael selects David Cronenberg’s remake of The Fly, and Steven and he pretend that Ryan and James never left by bringing on two guests named Rhyan and James.

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And if you want to read Aaron’s thoughts on movies, professional wrestling and comic books, check out The Shelf is Half Full.

The final score: review Amazing
The 411
The Usual Suspects makes many “best of” lists, and for good reason. The script is tight, Kevin Spacey’s acting won an Oscar, the plot throws you twists that you didn’t see coming, and the big moments feel really big. This film is an all-time classic, and one that will be discussed and dissected 50 years from now. If you haven’t seen it yet, do yourself a favor and fix that already!