Top 365 Films – #001 – The Usual Suspects (1995)

Top 365 Films - The Usual Suspects - Starring Kevin Pollak, Stephen Baldwin, Benicio Del Toro, Gabriel Byrne and Kevin SpaceyDIRECTED BY: Bryan Singer

STARRING: Stephen Baldwin, Gabriel Byrne, Benicio Del Toro, Kevin Pollak, Kevin Spacey, Chazz Palminteri, Pete Postlethwaite, Suzy Amis, Giancarlo Esposito, Dan Hedaya and Peter Greene


EARNED (Domestic): $23.3m

AWARDS: 2 Oscars (Best Supporting Actor and Best Original Screenplay) and 2 BAFTAs (Best Editing and Best Original Screenplay)



A sole survivor tells of the twisty events leading up to a horrific gun battle on a boat, which begin when five criminals meet at a seemingly random police lineup.


It’s the next day of the aftermath at San Pedro Bay in California, after a deadly firefight and a fire aboard a docked ship leaves only two survivors. One is a Hungarian criminal who is hospitalised from severe burns, the other is a small-time con artist named Roger ‘Verbal’ Kint, who is also a cripple. While FBI Agent Jack Baer is at the hospital to get a statement from the hospitalised victim, U.S Customs Agent Dave Kujan questions ‘Verbal’ Kint, not only telling him what happened from the moment that him and four other men met at a lineup that led to the same men be in San Pedro Bay last night, but also learn about Dean Keaton, a formerly corrupt police officer who supposedly gave up the life of crime but was apart of the massacre at the Bay. As Verbal tells the story, Baer learns of a name from the burnt witness that could explain what happened at the massacre, the criminal urban legend that goes by the name of Keyser Söze. Who exactly is Keyser Söze?


Finally we’ve reached the last day of the year and the number one film on my Top 365 films list and for the ten people that have stuck through the list throughout the year and given their feedback on the choices and their rank on the list, thank you very much for taking an interest in it and giving me your thoughts on it, at least I wasn’t talking to myself throughout the year while doing this so it’s all an added bonus! This film had a particular influence on me when I first viewed it when I was twelve late at night (sorry parents!) in not only was it a great film from a storytelling point of view, but it made it crystal clear that film was something I wanted to be apart of, regardless of whether that be in front or behind the camera, to editing to literally stocking footage into storage – I wanted in. The Usual Suspects can be viewed and constructed into several angles but can be shortened down to two here – Either everything you see is real but the names of minor characters have been altered or that everything you see has been fabricated to the point that did anything really happen at all? It’s a film that’s well remembered and discussed for its twist, but I’ve been keenly invested on revisiting the film every once in a while to pick up the little details in the plot of the story, especially in the way that Verbal Kint tells it, down to characters shifty eyes to the unknown backstories amongst the core group that we follow. Before directing Jack Reacher and Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, Christopher McQuarrie penned the script for The Usual Suspects and Bryan Singer directed the film before handling the X-Men franchise, the pair of them being in their late-twenties and for me it’s still their best work as they use flashbacks to tell the slow burn story of how these five men came to work together and how they all end up on the radar of the criminal urban legend figure that is Keyser Söze aka ‘the devil’ himself, which is helped on by the darkly covered landscapes and rooms in the cinematography department by John Ottman, who adds the mysterious score also to create the atmospheric tone to this crime noir tale, with a cast that is already superb in their roles while the Söze angle soars to iconic status as he looms over the films plot (and characters) in the final act. The core group, Stephen Baldwin, Gabriel Byrne, Benicio Del Toro, Kevin Pollak and Kevin Spacey, share great chemistry amongst one another, with Spacey almost in the lead role as Verbal Kint as we follow his every word in telling the story, to his every movement of cerebral palsy. The supporting performers are well cast, from Chazz Palminteri as the U.S Customs Agent trying to break Verbal to uncover the truth he wants to know, Pete Postlethwaite as the mysterious lawyer figure that works for Söze, Suzy Amis as the girlfriend of Keaton’s that turned him straight and aiming to help him in the new phase of his life, to a pre-Gustavo Fring Giancarlo Esposito as the FBI agent trying to get the details of the story from the witness at the hospitals point of view. Tense, confusing and riveting, it’s a film that won’t be everyones cup of tea but definitely worthy to give it a one viewing to have an opinion about it.


FAVOURITE SCENE: The films killer twist in the closing final act.

FAVOURITE QUOTE: ‘Who is Keyser Soze? He is supposed to be Turkish. Some say his father was German. Nobody believed he was real. Nobody ever saw him or knew anybody that ever worked directly for him, but to hear Kobayashi tell it, anybody could have worked for Soze. You never knew. That was his power. The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist. And like that, poof. He’s gone.’ – Verbal Kint

DID YOU KNOW?: Al Pacino also read the part of Dave Kujan, but had to pass due to scheduling conflicts. Pacino has since noted that this is the film he regrets turning down the most. Christopher McQuarrie’s inspiration for the character of Keyser Soze was a real-life murderer by the name of John List, who murdered his family and then disappeared for 17 years. Gabriel Byrne originally turned down the film, not believing that the filmmakers could pull it off. He was convinced after a sit-down meeting with Christopher McQuarrie and Bryan Singer, impressed by their enthusiasm and vision. As the start date approached, Byrne backed out. He was undergoing personal issues at the time and wasn’t able to leave Los Angeles. Consequently Singer reshuffled the schedule so that the entire film could be made in the LA area over a period of five weeks, all to accommodate his lead actor. The line-up scene was scripted as a serious scene, but after a full day of filming takes where the actors couldn’t keep a straight face, director Bryan Singer decided to use the funniest takes. A making-of documentary shows Singer becoming furious at the actors for the constant cracking-up. In an interview (on the Special Edition DVD), Kevin Pollak states that the hilarity came about when Benicio Del Toro “farted, like 12 takes in a row.” Del Toro himself said “somebody” farted, but no one knew who.

2 responses to “Top 365 Films – #001 – The Usual Suspects (1995)

  1. This is the only one whose place I knew. It’s a great movie. Once the idea of Keyzer Soze is introduced it wraps such dread around the rest of the film. It’s a modern crime classic (it’s interesting that your top four or five movies were all crime movies; I think there’s something about that genre that brings out the best in filmmakers). Shads, I really admire how you stuck to this daunting project and completed the whole list. It’s been fun!

  2. I’ve never seen this before, but of course I shall now…congratulations on completing this list bro, it took some serious work, thanks for giving me a top list to choose from, of course I know all too well that your taste is not to be questioned, only enjoyed, once I’m caught up with a few things I’ll be delving into my movies & this has been a great guide.

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