A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Usual Suspects has tons of strong language, particularly "f--k." Violence gets pretty severe too. In a flashback (which may not reflect actual events) children and a mother are murdered by their own husband/father. There is an overwhelming sense of film noir-style corruption, and even the police don't look terribly clean.
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What's the story?
A favorite "guy movie" for its cool crook-talk dialog (filled with swearing) and breathtaking twist at the end, THE USUAL SUSPECTS starts with the finale of a mass-murder/explosion on board a boat in San Pedro, California. Flashbacks and divergent timelines -- and it is rather confusing at first -- fill in the story, as a police detective questions one of the few survivors, a crippled, wimpy con-artist named Verbal (Kevin Spacey). He claims that he and the dead men were all part of an outlaw band centered on Dean Keaton (Gabriel Byrne), a former New York City cop turned career criminal. Lured to the West Coast for a job, the victims were told they had offended a legendary international outlaw named Keyser Soze, a figure so shadowy he may or may not even exist, and much unsolved malice and mayhem surrounds him. The police are skeptical that nervous, rabbity Verbal could possibly be involved with Keyser Soze, let alone survive a close encounter. But then...
Is it any good?
This is a transfixing, convoluted film noir thriller that forces you to think through events. Though it's a story without any "good" guys, in most any sense (one female character, who seems to represent possible redemption, is very marginal and gets coldly killed off-screen), you'll likely want to watch it a second time to see where the filmmakers and their narrative fooled you. That said, it does paint a picture of a pretty violent world, and the degree to which there's any philosophy or morality at work comes from Verbal Klint, who observes that Keyser Soze succeeds because he's willing to go farther and be meaner than other gangsters, and that, moreover, he's like the devil, "whose greatest trick was convincing the world that he didn't exist."
The mythic Soze works his ruthless will through unwitting dupes and hirelings, always staying in the background -- not unlike Voldemort from the Harry Potter tales. Unlike Potter, though, profanity is so thick here you'd swear the ship blows up at the start because of the heavy concentration of f-bombs.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why The Usual Suspects is so popular. Did you see the trick ending coming? Do you want to watch it a second time, knowing how it comes out?
What does the film say about the criminal mindset and power? "Keyser Soze," is the all-powerful crime lord who may not really exist and who is feared like an underworld boogeyman. Can you think of real-life parallels in the realms of the Mafia and international terrorism?
You could use this movie to turn kids onto tricky crime thrillers of yesteryear, going all the way back to The Maltese Falcon, Kiss Me Deadly, The Lady from Shanghai, and The Big Sleep (which didn't have to swear to hold viewers spellbound).
- In theaters: August 16, 1995
- On DVD or streaming: April 2, 2002
- Cast: Benicio Del Toro, Gabriel Byrne, Stephen Baldwin
- Director: Bryan Singer
- Studio: MGM/UA
- Genre: Thriller
- Run time: 106 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: violence and a substantial amount of strong language
- Last updated: September 21, 2019
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