Picks and Pans Review: The Usual Suspects
The above actors are cast as mostly small-time crooks thrown together during a police lineup. This, in the underworld, passes for "meeting cute." They are all quickly cleared of the crime (the theft of a truckload of gun parts). Then Baldwin, who wears his hair in bangs and seems to think that he's starring in a Rat Pack vehicle, floats the idea that they team up to rip off a gang of emerald smugglers. From that heist The Usual Suspects expands, with admirable surefootedness, into an ever-widening, tangly web of stings, threats and conspiracies. It climaxes with the guys being handed a very big job by a mysterious, unseen drug lord named Keyser Soze.
The buildup of suspense and dread pending the arrival of this satanic figure is impressive. But Suspects' surprises and twists all seem dizzyingly arbitrary because director Bryan Singer and screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie resort to subtle tricks in narrative and point of view. A little red herring is one thing. But don't smack me in the face with it, all right? (R)