the critics; CINEMA; Confused? You will be

The thrill of `The Usual Suspects' is that it re-mythologises the crime movie

"KEATON always said: "I don't believe in God, but I'm afraid of him," recalls the narrator of The Usual Suspects (15). "Well, I believe in God, and the only thing that scares me is Keyser Soze." The narrator is a harrowed, limping little man called "Verbal" Kint (Kevin Spacey), spilling the beans, or some of them, down at the station to a police officer (Chazz Palminteri). Keaton (Gabriel Byrne) is the ex-cop who may, or may not, have led Verbal and three others in a couple of elaborate heists. And Keyser Soze? Well, Keyser Soze may just be the most compelling creation in recent American film - even though we barely see him. He's the absence that haunts and taunts this ingenious movie.

The feeling of being outwitted in the cinema has become so rare that The Usual Suspects is as refreshing as a rain shower this summer. The whole plot would fill this page - it's a marathon run in a labyrinth. Time and location switch often enough for your bewilderment to be compounded by a kind of cinematic jet-lag. From "San Pedro, California - Last Night" to "New York - Six Weeks Ago" to today in Los Angeles - and back and forth. At the start of the movie, five known criminals are rounded up: Keaton; Verbal; "a top-notch entry man" (Stephen Baldwin); a devil-may- care explosives expert (Kevin Pollak); and a strangely effete figure in a crimson shirt (Benicio del Torro, whose every word comes out in a camp drawl). At the prompting of Palminteri, Spacey takes us through the crimes this quintet have committed: the heist of a police "taxi" for drugs money; the murder of a Los Angeles drugs dealer; and, finally, the destruction of a boat supposedly containing cocaine. For Palminteri, and the audience, two questions nag. Why did the five end up blowing up a boat that turned out to have no drugs or money on board? And, were they all pawns of the awesome and mysterious Keyser Soze?

Keyser Soze is the figure before whom these hardened criminals quake. His lawyer (Pete Postlethwaite), seemingly Keyser's representative on earth, hands out dossiers to each of the five, listing details of their lives and misdemeanours - personal compendiums of blackmail. We learn that Soze, a Turk, reached his pinnacle of power by having the will "to do the one thing the other guy wouldn't". For Keyser, this meant killing his own family, rather than see them taken hostage. We watch the leaping cardiograph of a charred survivor of the boat bomb. A thin smile plays around the unbandaged side of his face, as he recalls how he "saw the devil". There is a more than earthly cachet to Keyser Soze: the name itself combines European words for "king" and "saviour".

Metaphysical mumbo-jumbo? Of course - but the thrill of The Usual Suspects is that, after years of movie demythologising, it re-mythologises the crime movie. The tendency now in films, and in television shows like NYPD Blue and Homicide, is to stress the ordinariness of crime, even murder. The Usual Suspects suggests that it's not always the usual suspects, with the obvious motives, who are guilty; there are cleverer minds who control them. Verbal explains why the ex-policeman Keaton failed to get to grips with Soze: "To a cop, the explanation is never that complicated. It's always simple." The Usual Suspects restores the good, tortuous name of the conspiracy theory.

This is the second film directed by Bryan Singer and written by Christopher McQuarrie. Their first collaboration, Public Access, a David Lynch-like tale of dark deeds in small-town America, was shamefully underrated. But it mixed the same cocktail of Gothic menace and off-beat humour. It may be that McQuarrie is the bigger talent. The script in The Usual Suspects is, early on, let down by hyperbolic direction, which distracts us from the ravelling plot. But Singer is a superb action director - deft, clear and exciting, when filming anything involving guns or explosions. He also handles well his ensemble cast. Spacey is the stand-out - an Academy Award nominee, surely, come next spring.

The film's coup de grace is as elegant as it is unexpected. The whole movie plays back in your mind in perfect clarity - and turns out to be a completely different movie to the one you've been watching (rather better, in fact). Further analysis risks spoiling the film. See it, instead, and enjoy it. Then see it again, and understand it.

Jean Charles Tacchella's The Man in My Life (15) is the sort of limp, carnal comedy, which will one day get billed in ITV's night-time schedule as "The Continental Movie", flattering to deceive with the promise of titillation. She (Maria de Madeiros from Pulp Fiction) is a daffy gold- digger, with narrow Sphinx-like eyes and horizons even more cramped. He (Thierry Fortineau) is a half-hearted misanthrope, not so much scornful as indifferent to the world. They're made for each other, but are stuck in the intransigence that single status breeds. She eventually marries a food critic, who complains about the quality of the sea-urchin sauce at their reception. So it dribbles on - not exactly excruciatingly, but flimsily, without bite or inspiration.

To see how this sort of thing should be done, check out Ingmar Bergman's re-released 1955 romantic roundelay, Smiles of a Summer Night (PG). It is the archetypal sexual comedy and yet remains fresh, mainly through Bergman's crisp aphoristic script and lyrical camera-work, where its imitators have staled. Bergman's lovers are touching as well as droll, poignantly trapped in their self-absorption. There is a scene when the philandering lawyer (the wonderfully conceited Gunnar Bjornstrand) and his actress- former-mistress (ravishing Eva Dahlbeck) have a conversation with their heads pointed in different directions - locked in their own worlds, yet entirely natural. For all the frippery, this is still a bitingly anarchic film. Never has the terror and joy of sexual submission been better expressed than in the confession of Count Malcolm's wife: "He comes to me at night and robs me of my reason." The lawyer's mother-in-law, playing cards, hits upon the film's sour moral: "Patience is the only thing that demands incorruptible morality."

Safe Passage (15) is an intelligent, slightly inconsequential drama about a family awaiting news of a son in the Marines, caught up in a terrorist attack abroad. Sam Shepard and Susan Sarandon play the parents, and have one fine scene sniping about the past. Robert Allan Ackerman directs with grace and discretion. But the script is schematic, parcelling out a crisis to each of the couple's seven sons. We're left thankful that there were not seven brides for these seven brothers.

A flying visit to the Drambuie Edinburgh Film Festival last weekend revealed the event to be in a state of transition. The new festival director, the youthful Mark Cousins, strode around in a pin-stripe suit, like an arbitrage dealer. The effects of his energy can be seen in the programme, which is better organised and more vibrant than in recent years. Cousins has played to Edinburgh's traditional strength as a forum for retrospectives (the complete works of Stanley Donen were screened, with introductory interviews.) He has also introduced a series of detailed - "Scene-by-Scene" - lectures given by movie luminaries, which ought to be emulated by the National Film Theatre. He has been less successful at mounting premieres of hot new films, and clearly needs to forge links with distributors.

There is no Scottish section, but the festival provides a fascinating panorama of the nation's film-making. Two features, David Hayman's The Near Room and Gillies Mackinnon's Small Faces, presented harsh, intermittently powerful views of Glasgow - a lurid night-time noir world for Hayman; Sixties gang warfare for Mackinnon. As in most British features these days, insufficient investment had gone into script development. That is where the BBC-funded trio of shorts, the nattily titled Tartan Shorts, scored. A tale of a woman coping with encroaching old age, which had a tender surprise ending (Dancing); a shaggy dog story about a man searching for a pen on a train (The Pen); and an exercise in supense, as a kid gets trapped in a freezer (The Fridge) - they all hooked you early, and were beautifully worked out. They also reflect the Jekyll-and-Hyde nature of Scottish movies (aptly displayed in the city of Stevenson) - its rift between social comedy and urban misery.

The two best films I saw both had connections with former festival directors. Hunger Artist, a poignant 42-minute adaptation of the Kafka story, was made by the production company of ex- director Jim Hickey. In Search of Clarity, a documentary about the architecture of New York firm Gwathmey-Siegal, which was stirring as well as informative, was made by Murray Grigor, director in the festival's heyday (1967-72). In every sense, Grigor provides the standard for Cousins to aspire to.

Cinema details: Review, page 60.

News
Actor Burt Reynolds last year
peopleBurt Reynolds, once among the most bankable actors in Hollywood, is set to auction his memorabilia
News
Gordon and Tana Ramsay arrive at the High Court, London
newsTV chef gives evidence against his father-in-law in court case
News
people

Watch the spoof Thanksgiving segment filmed for Live!
News
The data shows that the number of “unlawfully” large infant classes has doubled in the last 12 months alone
i100Mike Stuchbery, a teacher in Great Yarmouth, said he received abuse
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Arts and Entertainment
The starship in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
filmsThe first glimpse of JJ Abrams' new film has been released online
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of The Guest Cat – expect to see it everywhere
books
News
i100 Charity collates series of videos that show acts of kindness to animals
Arts and Entertainment
One of the installations in the Reiner Ruthenbeck exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery
artCritics defend Reiner Ruthenbeck's 'Overturned Furniture'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Opilio Recruitment: UX & Design Specialist

    £40k - 45k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

    Opilio Recruitment: Publishing Application Support Analyst

    £30k - 35k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We’re currently re...

    Opilio Recruitment: Digital Marketing Manager

    £35k - 45k per year + benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

    Opilio Recruitment: Sales Manager

    £60k - 80k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

    Christmas Appeal

    Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
    Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

    Is it always right to try to prolong life?

    Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

    What does it take for women to get to the top?

    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
    Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

    Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

    Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
    French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

    French chefs campaign against bullying

    A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

    Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
    Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

    Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

    Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
    Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

    Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

    Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
    Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

    Paul Scholes column

    I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
    Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game