Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Movie and DVD Reviews: The best and not-so-best movies available on DVD, and whatever else catches my eye.

Mimsy Review: The Usual Suspects

Reviewed by Jerry Stratton, October 10, 2000

I beg your pardon, but you can all go to hell.

Special features

Commentary Track6

Kevin Spacey is in police custody telling the police why and how he and all his friends in the criminal fraternity took on a job for ninety-one million dollars in cocaine that didn’t exist, and everyone ended up dead (except Kevin, of course, who is telling the story, and the cops, who weren’t there, and one guy in the hospital who only speaks Hungarian). And who is Keyser Soze?

RecommendationRent Soon!
DirectorBrian Singer
WriterChristopher McQuarrie
Movie Rating7
Transfer Quality6
Overall Rating6
  • Letterbox
  • Pan and Scan

This movie was like an anti-rat-pack. It pulled together a number of very good actors from a wide variety of “new” sources: Kevin Spacey, whose last job was the notoriously bad “Outbreak” but after this became the darling of both mainstream and independent films; Gabriel Byrne, who was already well known from such widely-known films as “Gothic” (that’s a joke son, laugh!) and more seriously “Excalibur”; Kevin Pollack, Steve Martin’s agent in “L.A. Story”; Stephen Baldwin, of totally unknown movies (except “Born on the Fourth of July” which I vaguely remember).

And Benicio del Toro. I have seen him now in three movies: “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”, “The Way of the Gun”, and “The Usual Suspects”. He looks completely different in each. Personally, I think Keyser Soze was Benicio del Toro. Does anyone know what he really looks like?

This was a very tense thriller with a small number of very important twists and turns. Most of the story is told through the characters saying what they remember or what they think, mostly Kevin Spacey’s character “Verbal Kint” and a few others. There’s only one point where I think this screwed up, where one person is telling the story and another person is “remembering” it: but what they seem to be remembering is very unlikely that they’d be remembering, since it didn’t happen that way and they know it. It would be okay to give us those flashbacks if the person having them were telling the story and lying, but it’s a bit of a cheat the way it was done. (I suppose you can decide that what we’re seeing is what the person talking thinks the person they’re talking to is thinking, but that’s only something you can make up after the fact.)

In general, however, it was well written, nicely directed, and a good mystery/thriller. The acting was what really made the movie. All five of the main actors did a great job with their characters, especially del Toro and Byrne.

The opening menu “background video” on this DVD really sucks, almost as badly as the cover art for “Planet of the Apes”. It doesn’t completely give away the movie (unlike the “Planet of the Apes” cover) but it sure as hell gives an early clue. I know that most of you have probably already seen this, but I hadn’t. The bottom of the coffee cup was a pretty stupid choice of scenes to give away right off before the movie even starts.

There is a commentary by director Brian Singer and writer Christopher McQuarrie. They’ve worked together a number of times, and did a great job together on the commentary. They talk about a lot of the in-jokes, what they were laughing at when the scenes weren’t being filmed, and where and how the scenes were dressed. They also talk about how the actors grew into their roles.

“Gabriel’s got, like, all the right flaws to make a face incredibly beautiful.”

If you’re into continuity problems, they also point out a lot of those.

Watch the commentary all the way through. At the end, they pull a weird surreal trick when they start discussing what was real and what wasn’t. An effective way to end the commentary, I think.

If you haven’t seen this movie, I recommend renting it. If you have seen it, but you’re not sure you want to buy it, you still will probably want to listen to the commentary. I think the movie does have rewatchability value, though I’m not sure how much. While the mystery was part of the movie, the big part was the acting, and that, I think, will get better every time the movie is seen.

Recommendation: Rent Soon!

DirectorBrian Singer
WriterChristopher McQuarrie
ActorsKevin Spacey, Stephen Baldwin, Gabriel Byrne, Benicio del Toro
Spoken languagesEnglish, French
SubtitlesEnglish, Spanish
Special FeaturesCommentary Track, Trailer
More links

If you enjoyed The Usual Suspects…

For more about Benicio del Toro, you might also be interested in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

For more about hard-boiled, you might also be interested in Casablanca, Shaft, The Night Stalker, The Seven Samurai, Tokyo Drifter, Bordersnakes, and The Blowtop.