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THE USUAL SUSPECTS. Directed by Bryan Singer; written by Bryan Singer and Christopher McQuarrie produced for Gramercy Pictures. Starring Kevin Spacey, Chazz Palmintieri and Gabriel Byrne. Rated R. (language and violence)


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There is nothing usual about Usual Suspects.

It's not a great movie for everyone to see, because of its terribly raunchy language and high level of violence. But if you can stomach that, you are in for a rare treat.

Most unusual in the quality of its acting, the storyline and the narrative style, Usual Suspects is part cops-and-robbers tale, part psychological thriller and part, well, practically a ghost story. And although it wasn't too hard to figure out (I'm not usually very good at these things, and I got it early) there is a delicious plot twist at the end.

You have to pay close attention while watching this movie, or you'll get terribly lost in all the crosses, double-crosses and twists and turns. Even if you're very alert, it may still not make perfect sense. But if you like convoluted mystery-puzzles, you'll enjoy the ride anyway.

At the beginning, this ship blows up and kills about 27 (it seems like more) people, including, apparently, the guy who seems to be the main character in the movie, a sensitive gangster named Keaton (Byrne). We meet him and his fellow usual suspects in a series of interlocking flashbacks that eventually work their way back to the ship and the explosion.

Telling us the story is one of the gang, a crippled con man named Kint (Spacey). He doesn't seem real bright and the customs cop interrogating him (Palmintieri) has trouble keeping him focused on telling the story in an understaudable order.

So we get jerked around in time quite a bit. And we're never quite sure how much to believe of the narration we're hearing. In the skillful hands of director Singer, this makes for a very interesting, if demanding, narrative flow.

But the acting makes it all work together so well. Spacey has always been an unusually subtle actor, and he has a field day with the insecure, yet somehow sinister Kint. Byrne and the rest of the suspects (Stephen Baldwin, Kevin Pollack and Benicio Del Toro) are just as good in more straightforward roles.

Pete Postlethwaite makes a big impression in a small role as a mysterious henchman. And Palmintieri does a good job of anchoring the whole enterprise.

Put on your thinking caps and prepare to be dazzled. By very UNusual movie entertainment.

September 27, 1995

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