Some might suggest that a movie like The Usual Suspects is overrated and garners undue praise because its narrative is predicated on a lie, namely one that Verbal Kint (Kevin Spacey) weaves for the duration of the film. Perhaps the critics of this style are correct inasmuch as the final scene really amounts to a stylized “just kidding.” At the same time, what saves this film from ending up in the unwatchable pile is, first, the acting – by which Spacey became a household name and conjured no surprise when he took home a second Oscar only a few years later as Lester Burnam in American Beauty. Secondly, the movie doesn’t overtly establish its agenda as one that intends to fool the audience and reveal a twist at the end. The twist happens, but the film doesn’t begin as a whodunit. Rather, the arc of the film begins with a lone survivor whose physical disability keeps him from partaking in the heist but leaves him as the closest thing to a witness. In a sense, director Bryan Singer and writer Christopher McQuarrie present a heist-film-gone-awry. Moreover, they challenge the conventions of the first person narrator by exposing the narrative “I” for what it truly is: unreliable. In the way that Kint is trusted – by both U.S. Customs Agent Dave Kujan (Chazz Palminteri) and the audience – it seems that viewers have blurred the lines between first person narrator and omniscient narrator – one that provides an objective voiceover of events in order to frame a story: think Morgan Freeman in Million Dollar Baby or The Shawshank Redemption. Despite his obviously human existence in both films, his narration becomes unquestionably omniscient, when, realistically, the information he has can’t be obtained at his proximity from the action. The same could be said for Ninny Threadgoode (Jessica Tandy) in Fried Green Tomatoes or the Stranger (Sam Neil) in The Big Lebowski. Admittedly, none of these characters has as large a role as Kint, but they still embody the role of first-person omniscient narrator.
That being said, imagine how successful The Usual Suspects would have been if Kint’s fabrication had been exposed in the previews. Granted, the preview might tip its hand a bit too much by showing Keyser Soze’s functional left hand, which in effect tries overly hard to convince the audience that Kint and Soze are not the same man, but what if the preview had intentionally showcased Kint’s ultimate walk from the police station that begins as a foot-dragging hobble and ends with an elegant gait and the cracking of knuckles that had been meticulously held frozen for a prolonged period of time. Would it have drawn the same viewership or acclaim? Would it have put Bryan Singer on the map or made Spacey a relevant actor in the late nineties and early aughts? For those who object to the narrative trickery in The Usual Suspects, I would recommend that you check out Richard Gere’s new film The Double – or at least watch the trailer.
Gere plays Paul Shepherdson (was Shepherd too obvious of a name?), a retired CIA operative who, in his prime, “was responsible for tracking down Soviet assassins.” However, there was one that got away: Casius, a cold-blooded, stealthy assassin whose trademark weapon is wire produced from his wristwatch. With this garret, he is able to quickly eliminate his target and then blend back into a crowd without needing to dispose of an incriminating weapon. And, in Shepherdson’s absence from the field, it seems that Casius has emerged from the depths of human camouflage, only to prompt Paul out of retirement and the introduction of Ben Geary (Topher Grace), a young FBI agent who “knows more about [Casius] than anyone” else in the FBI.
Thus, the audience has its tag team to root for. The problem that arises in the trailer is its display of Richard Gere subduing a presumed prisoner and then producing an identical garret from his watch, at which point the victim’s hoarse and shaky voice declares, “Casius.” This clip leads the audience to Geary’s dumbfounded “Oh. My. God” before revealing “the entire time, [Shepherd’s] been hunting himself,” just in case it wasn’t clear from the visual exposition during the trailer.
Of course, the entire trailer could be a red herring and a fabrication. Perhaps the true Casius is Geary, and perhaps Shepherd’s theory that “it would seem [you have found the real Casius]” is a clever way to insinuate to Geary that Paul is aware of the ruse and Ben’s cover is blown. This is all possible, but it seems rather silly, no? It just doesn’t seem plausible that someone would want to spend thirteen dollars solely to find out if Grace, in fact, plays the actual killer. Is it really worth that much money? Is it worth ninety minutes? (On a separate not, if this is the case, Grace needs to find a new agent. He played the double agent in Predators and was none too convincing in that either, but I digress.) If Shepherd happens to actually be the killer – as the trailer suggests – then the odds of someone paying the same thirteen dollars to find out what he or she already knows seems equally implausible and fiscally irresponsible.
In the end, showing your hand in poker draws a crowd. Doing the same in a movie trailer kills the luster and suspense.