Five Criminals: ‘The Usual Suspects’

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The Usual Suspects

“The Usual Suspects” Review

Cast

Kevin Spacey…………………Verbal Klint
Chazz Palminteri……………..Dave Kujan
Gabriel Byrne…………………Dean Keaton

Credits

Director……………………….Bryan Singer
Producers…………………….Bryan Singer, Michael McDonnell
Writer………………………….Christopher McQuarrie

“The Usual Suspects” can really start getting away from you if you don’t pay attention. But if you’re focused, this time-skipping, seemingly disjointed suspense thriller will have you begging for more. That’s what happened with me, anyway.

The story is told through the eyes of Verbal Klint (played brilliantly by Kevin Spacey). Verbal sits in a police office, and is interrogated by Dave Kujan (Palminteri) – a cop – about the events leading up to the explosion of a ship at the harbour just two days ago. Verbal then begins to tell the story of the 5 ‘usual suspects,’ and how the events unfolded.

And from this moment, the movie starts skipping timelines. At times, the movie shows Verbal talking to Kujan, and at other times, it depicts the scenes that Verbal is describing to Kujan. Because the story is told through flashbacks, but also cuts to the present day, the film can get confusing. And add to that the fact that Verbal is an unreliable narrator, and we have all the recipes for a brain-twisting thriller. And boy does Bryan Singer deliver with one of the best films of the ‘90s.

The plot revolves around 5 criminals, the ‘usual suspects,’ who are seen in a line-up at the start of the film, where several guns have been hijacked, and the police are trying to find out which of the 5 it is. But no one budges, and the police are forced to let them go. But while they are awaiting their release from the police, the five begin to talk, and eventually create a plan for an emerald heist.

This was all in the past, by the way. Verbal sits in the cop’s office, and recalls this story. And as he tells the story, he talks of how the five carry out their plans, and the people they meet. Along the way, they hear of a legendary criminal, Keyser Soze, a man that is so shrouded in mystery that no one has seen him for close to two decades. Or at least, no one has lived to talk about it. But the myths that have been told about him are so terrifying, that even that hardest of criminals fear him.

The story of Soze looms larger and larger, and gradually becomes more important, until at one point, it becomes the main part of the plot. Most movie viewers will immediately know that Soze will have a part to play in the climax of the story, but no one would expect what Singer gives us. The film’s fantastic conclusion has to be the greatest movie ending I have ever seen, and I have seen many a great ending. ‘Witness for the Prosecution’ and ‘The Sixth Sense’ come close, but nothing has yet managed to match the conclusion of ‘The Usual Suspects.’

But the movie doesn’t stand simply on its conclusion. The rest of the plot is completely engaging and riveting; however, if a viewer doesn’t pay attention to the details, he may find himself losing the plot, and in this film, the moment you lose the grasp of the story, you fall behind, and you’ll never catch up. It is in this sense that the movie really makes you think, and always manages to keep you on the edge of your seat, even while your mind checks and double-checks everything you see. Also, as Verbal is an unreliable narrator, we are constantly kept guessing as to what is the “truth” and what is “real.”

The acting in this film is fantastic. Stepehen Baldwin brilliantly portrays a criminal with a maniacal bend. Benicio Del Toro and Kevin Pollak are also very good, with Del Toro providing some of the laughs that are strewn across this film. Of the supporting roles though, Gabriel Byrne has to be the best, as the hardened con man. He embodies his role completely, and is magnificent as Dean Keaton. However, the lead character, Verbal Klint, played by Spacey, has to be the stand-out performer of an already outstanding cast. His portrayal of a cowardly, yet strangely unbreakable criminal is one of Spacey’s best roles to date, although he is an incredible actor with other fine pieces like ‘American Beauty’ and ‘L.A. Confidential.’ This is probably why he got an Oscar for his role as Klint; he deserved every bit of it.

‘The Usual Suspects’ is not a normal movie by any stretch of imagination. Its winding time structure, and the fact that we are constantly kept guessing at both what will happen next, and what is real or not, makes it one of the most thought-provoking movies of the last two decades. Its amazing conclusion is just one cog in the wheel in Bryan Singer’s masterpiece. This film deserves every bit of critical acclaim it has got, and more. This is easily in my top 10 favourite films of all-time; so if you haven’t seen it yet, go and watch it in any way possible.

FINAL SCORE:

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I Don’t Tip: ‘Reservoir Dogs’

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Reservoir Dogs

“Reservoir Dogs” Review

Cast

Steve Busceni…………………Mr. Pink
Tim Roth……………………….Mr. Orange
Lawrence Tierney……………Joe Cabot

Credits

Director…………………………Quentin Tarantino
Producer……………….……….Lawrence Bender
Writer……………………………Quentin Tarantino

Right off the bat, let me remind you that this is a Quentin Tarantino movie. Violence galore, and not for the faint of heart. You have been warned.

Whenever we hear the words ‘Quentin Tarantino,’ we think ‘Pulp Fiction’ and ‘Inglourious Basterds,’ and occasionally, the “Kill Bill” series. However, I think that “Reservoir Dogs” is just as good as the aforementioned films, if not better. The thing with Tarantino, though, is that you either love him or you hate him. In my case, it’s the former, and I think that this movie is one of his more thought-provoking films.

The story follows a team of robbers, as they are assembled for a heist of a jewellery store. They are each given fake names like Mr. White, Mr. Pink and Mr. Orange, so that if one of them were to be caught, he would be unable to rat the others out, no matter how much he is tortured or questioned. However, things go absolutely horribly wrong during the heist, prompting suspicions of a police informer in their midst. Of course, a Tarantino films would be incomplete without a non-linear time structure, and this movie flaunts it with pride. And this is where things can get a little confusing. If you don’t pay attention, you can very well find yourself in a deep hole, much as the characters find themselves in.

Speaking of the characters, the cast is a stellar one. From the fantastic Steve Busceni to the tough Lawrence Tierney, from Tim Roth to Michael Madsen, they all do a brilliant job. Every word spoken by the actors feels authentic, especially from Tierney, who is the big boss who has created this team of thieves. Michael Madsen also does a great job of portraying a psychopathic thief without who, the characters would never even have been in this mess. I felt that Busceni was the man who gave us the best performance as Mr. Pink; a seemingly tough and professional thief, who is probably the smartest of the lot. Right from the first scene, we see that Busceni’s character thinks on a different level as compared to the others, and it seems like he isn’t really cut out for the line of work he has chosen.

The direction is very Tarantino-esque, although his directing has changed quite a lot over the years since this film, which was made in 1992. However, at times, I felt the jumping back and forth in time was unnecessary at times; it felt almost forced at times. Although, at other times, it only added to the effect of the film, which all culminated to a high-octane, climactic finale.

The finale. Yes. That will probably have you thinking for a few days as to what exactly happened. The editing at the end is extremely tight, which makes it nearly impossible to physically figure out what happened. This may not really make a lot of sense to you right now, but once you see the movie, you’ll understand what I’m saying. But regardless of your interpretation of the finale – and there are a few different ones depending on how you saw it – the movie is an excellent one.

It didn’t rake in a lot of awards when it was released, although it really deserved more than it got. It was not nominated for any of the big awards (i.e. Oscars and Golden Globes), though it did win a few on the film festival circuit. It didn’t gross a great deal at the box office either, but this isn’t really an indication of how good the movie is. Over the years, the film has gotten a lot more eyeballs, and has gained an appreciation in the film-viewing community. But like I said, with Tarantino, it’s either you love him or you hate him, and the same can be said for “Reservoir Dogs.” Personally, I love this movie, but there are also several people who are on the complete other end of the spectrum, and don’t like any of Tarantino’s work. Except for “Inglourious Basterds.” Everybody likes ‘Inglourious Basterds.’

This is one of Tarantino’s best pieces of work to date, and considering the kind of movies he has made, that is no mean feat. “Reservoir Dogs” along with its non-linear timeline is a movie that may have you scratching your head for a few days. But that is not what holds up the film. The direction and the magnificent acting is what really makes this movie tick, and I have to say, I really, really enjoyed this one.

FINAL SCORE:

Are You Watching Closely?: ‘The Prestige’

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The Prestige

“The Prestige” Review

Cast

Christian Bale…………….Alfred Borden
Hugh Jackman……………Robert Angier
Michael Caine…………….Cutter

Credits

Director……………………Christopher Nolan
Producers………………….Emma Thomas, Aaron Ryder, Christopher Nolan
Writers…………………….Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan

Here’s another Christopher Nolan masterclass. Not often do you hear of directors who have never made a bad movie. In fact, you practically never hear of them. And yet, Nolan defies logic. Yes, his career has only just begun, but in the 7 directorial attempts he has made, 7 have been very good movies. In fact, 5 out of his 7 movies appear on IMDb’s Top 250 movies of all-time. Yes, that list is based only on user views rather than on critic opinions, but nevertheless, it is no mean feat. And ‘The Prestige’ is one of Nolan’s better movies.

‘The Prestige’ is set in the late 19th century, in both England and America. It is about two magicians, two friends, who are torn apart after one of them blames the other for his wife’s accidental death during a magic trick. They both become successful rival magicians as time goes by; all the while sabotaging each other’s performance, up until one of them performs the ultimate illusion. The other becomes obsessed with finding out the trick to this illusion, but this produces a series of tragic consequences.

The film starts with Cutter’s voice (played by Michael Caine), speaking about how a magic trick has 3 parts: (1) The Pledge, (2), The Turn, and (3) the hardest and most important part, The Prestige. During this monologue, the film cuts to Robert Angier (Jackman) performing one of his magic tricks, minus the third part, The Prestige. Alfred Borden (Bale) slips under the stage during this trick, and watches Angier fall into a ‘water escape tank’, and watches him drown. We then watch a court scene, in which Cutter tries to prove to the jury that Borden killed Angier.

After this, the movie jumps into ‘non-linear’ mode for pretty much the rest of its 130-minute runtime. Nolan helps us travel back in time and move into the present seamlessly, and it is one element that really makes this movie great. Like in ‘Memento,’ events do not happen in perfect chronological order. Most scenes take place during flashbacks, and occasionally jump to the present. The past includes Angier’s travels to America, as well as his and Borden’s endeavours in England. The scenes that happen in the present are almost completely made up of Borden’s prison scenes.

The way that Nolan makes this non-linear screenplay logical is through the use of diaries. While in prison, Borden receives Angier’s diary, and many of the scenes depicted in the movie are flashbacks from the diary. But this isn’t when the movie gets confusing. Nolan takes it a step further by showing, in the flashbacks, Angier reading Borden’s diary, which, in a way, produces the effect of a flashback inside a flashback. And this is when it becomes a little hard to follow. But the way Nolan has made this film, he makes it acceptable for us to not fully comprehend what has happened at what time, while still understanding the basic gist of the movie.

Scarlett Johansson and Rebecca Hall give us spot-on performances as the two main ladies of the film. David Bowie, who comes in a little later in the film, plays Nikola Tesla with energy and vigour. Bale and Jackman, give us excellent performances as the two magicians. However, the standout performer is Michael Caine, who plays Cutter perfectly, embracing the character flawlessly. From the character development and acting side, this is a pretty good movie, though not deserving of adjectives like ‘great’ or ‘brilliant.’ What makes this film deserve such titles is its art direction and cinematography, both of which it was nominated for at the Oscars. Nolan captures the setting perfectly, as well as the mood and tone of the rivalry of the two magicians. He gives us another trademark film-noir movie, and yet it doesn’t get old.

The way he has created the characters, and in particular the setting and mood, is something extraordinary. He captures the times wholesomely, and shows us what the people of the 19th century really thought of magic and illusions. While the story focuses on the two magicians, there is a parallel story going on between what some would call the ‘modern-day magicians.’ While Borden and Angier are sabotaging and topping each other’s tricks, much the same is happening between Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla. While the old-style magicians are battling away, the modern-magicians are doing exactly the same thing. The film brings out the old and the new, and clashes them against each other, and Nolan does this with surprising accuracy and dynamism.

While this may be a movie about two magicians, I think it is more about the battle of the new and the old. It shows us both sides of it, with the magicians Borden and Angier representing the old, and Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison representing the new. I believe this film is also about human nature, and what we would do for the ones we love, and the extents that we would go to, to become better than another. Rivalry is in our genes, and Nolan presents it to us vividly and, at the same time, truthfully.

Like the other movies I have reviewed, this is not for those people who want to just enjoy some action. This is for those of you who look for meaning in a movie, and enjoy thinking about the events that transpire rather than just being spoon-fed. No doubt, this movie has its exciting moments, though what it thrives on is its meaning and deepness. That’s why I believe it’s a better watch on the second viewing. Yes, on second viewing that big twist at the end no longer is a surprise, but on second viewing, we can truly understand the events which have happened, and we can look deeper into the film to find it full of meaning. At the end of the first viewing, you will feel more than a little confused, but as you have probably noticed, I like having to think about a movie long after it’s over. And this film will really make you think.

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Everything Fades: ‘Memento’

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Memento

“Memento” Review

Cast

Guy Pearce………………….Leonard
Joe Pantoliano……………..Teddy
Carrie-Anne Moss…………Natalie

Credits

Director………………………Christopher Nolan
Producers……………………Suzanne Todd and Jennifer Todd
Writers……………………….Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan

What Nolan has created here is something phenomenal. “Memento” is unlike any other movie you will have seen. Sure, certain elements of it may seem like they’re taken from elsewhere, but the way these elements are combined and put together, it’s something novel.

The movie begins with a man getting shot. We don’t know where we are, who the characters are, or what’s happening. Just, BAM! We can vaguely make out the face of the man who’s about to close his eyes for the last time, but we don’t really know who this man is until the next scene. Wait, next scene? I thought he was dead.

That’s true. And also not true. That is what makes Nolan’s ‘Memento’ such a breathtaking movie. It is told backwards. After that opening scene, in the next scene, we see the lead-up to the murder. And in the scene after that, we see the lead-up to the lead-up to the murder, and so on. Sounds confusing? It’s meant to be, considering the story and our protagonist.

The story. Yes. In short, it is about a man, suffering from short-term memory loss, who is out to find the man who raped and murdered his wife. But, with short-term memory loss, wouldn’t it be hard to find a murdered? That’s why our ‘memory man’ (which he is often referred to as in the film) uses notes and tattoos to help him stay focused. We see these tattoos in the second or third scene, and we notice the biggest one plastered across his chest: “John G. raped and murdered my wife.” Nice thing to see every time you go to brush your teeth isn’t it?

Memory man, whose name is actually Leonard (played by Guy Pearce), uses a Polaroid camera to take pictures of all the important pictures in his life: people, places, objects, anything that is worth remembering. Wait, let’s back it up a bit. A while ago, Leonard was married, and had a wife, and a nice house. One fine night, while his wife was in the bathroom, two junkies (probably too high to tell a whistle from an airplane) entered Leonard’s house, and raped his wife. When Leonard heard this, he rushed to the bathroom, with a gun in hand, and shot one of the two. The other one crept up on Leonard from behind and smashed his head on to the bathroom mirror. Leonard fell to the ground, bleeding, lying next to his dead wife. And after that, he doesn’t remember a thing.

Now, his memory resets periodically (every 15 minutes or so), and everything is new to him again. He has retained all of his memory up until the ‘incident,’ and after that, remembers nothing besides what has happened in the last 10 minutes. He remembers that his wife was raped and killed, and sets off on a journey to find the man who killed his wife, constantly tattooing important facts to his body, or taking pictures of significant things, and writing down what they are. It is the only way he remembers. Even the people he has met, he can only remember for about 15 minutes, and after that, they’re gone. Everything fades.

And while the regular story is told to us (backwards), there is a side-plot going on, which talks of one of Leonard’s old cases as an insurance investigator. The case concerned a man named Sammy, who had short-term memory loss, so it relates to Leonard’s predicament indirectly.

Because Leonard can only remember events which transpired over the last quarter-hour, Nolan has introduced this method of storytelling in ‘Memento.’ He wants the audience to feel what Leonard feels, to be just as confused as Leonard is, and that’s why he tells it backwards. By no means is Leonard living life backwards, Nolan is simply using this device of reverse-chronology to make us feel in tune with the protagonist, and his triumphs and defeats. But it’s not just the chronology of events that make this movie so great. The way Nolan tells this story, each and every facet of it, he makes us feel completely engrossed. We are not simply watching Leonard as he tries to remember things and attempts to find his wife’s killer; we are Leonard. We are trying to find the killer; not him, but us.

During his journey, Leonard meets a few people, like Teddy (Pantoliano) and Natalie (Carrie-Anne Moss). Both Pantoliano and Moss – who worked together in ‘The Matrix’ – give us picture-perfect performances. Or at least, as close to perfect as possible. As for Leonard, Guy Pearce dishes out a strangely moving performance, despite his character’s lack of emotion. Pearce makes us sympathize with Leonard, and Nolan mirrors this notion throughout the film.

This movie, overall, is an absorbing experience. It has everything, a great director, brilliant performances, several layers, and a mood and tone that can only be described as being similar to film-noir, one of Nolan’s trademarks. It even has a backwards story to boot. This film shows us the preciousness of memory, and what could happen if that precious thing is taken away from a man. In some cases, like Leonard, they will have an objective in life which is the only real purpose they have left, whereas in other cases, like Sammy’s, they will have nothing to live for. It can destroy a man to not know what he did yesterday, or the people he met last week, or what he ate for breakfast. This story is of a man who overcomes everything for one reason: Love. He lives to avenge his wife, and for nothing else.

I would advise this movie for only the people who want a good brain workout. If you’re looking to watch a movie as a time-pass, and just looking to enjoy a blaze of gunfire or the like, you won’t find it here. There is no doubt that after watching this film, you will leave the room utterly confused, I can assure you. And for that, a second viewing might be necessary, and that is when you will truly comprehend the work that Nolan has created. On the second viewing, it just got better, I was able to figure out what exactly was going on, and yet feel completely immersed in the film, despite having watched it before. It is a truly brilliant movie, and will really make you think, and that’s why I love it.

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