Tuesday, June 10, 2014

My Favorite Scene: The Usual Suspects

Stuck in the middle of Bryan Singer and Christopher McQuarrie’s pulp fiction mindfuck thriller, The Usual Suspects, is a quiet scene void of ego and laced with genuine fear. Noting the absence of ego is important, because much of The Usual Suspects is basically watching men measure the length of their cocks through sarcasm, verbal intimidation and physical violence. But during the scene in question, four of our Suspects do nothing more than sit in a car and debate their inevitable deaths. They don’t yell or scream or make jokes; there are no guns or explosions or flexed muscles, only stares and thoughts and fears.

The scene opens with a master shot of a ship port, the site where Keaton (Gabriel Byrne), Verbal (Kevin Spacey), Hockney (Kevin Pollak) and McManus (Stephen Baldwin) will interrupt a dangerous drug deal at the behest of unseen criminal mastermind, Keyser Söze. The Suspects are stuck. If they don’t complete the job, Söze will kill them and their loved ones. If they attempt the job, they’ll likely die trying, but could come out filthy rich.
Knowing this, the men sit in a car and calmly contemplate certain death. “It’s a logistical nightmare,” Byrne coldly says from the driver’s seat. “Which brings me to sunny point number two…” a great line, McQuarrie delivering his most inspired-Tarantino. “In my opinion, it can’t be done. Anybody who goes in there is not comin’ out alive.”

For Keaton, that should be that. But he knows it’s not. There is too much at stake, not to mention the greed itching away at him and his cohorts. “There’s nothing that can’t be done,” Baldwin says with a perfect balance of assuredness and caution. And then something really interesting happens. The group shares a collective, earned silence and after a moment, Baldwin finally breaks the tension with his flawless, impassive delivery of: “The news said it’s raining in New York.”
Initially, this line appears wildly out of place. But upon reflection, the simplicity of the line is actually kind of heartbreaking. We have four guys from New York, sitting in a car in L.A., debating fate. And although fear motivates their logic, greed is able to cloud it. So they’re stuck. Despite the threat of physical harm, the greed of the green, and the boner bravado of victory, these four hardened criminals are discussing something as trivial as the weather. “The news said it’s raining in New York.” It’s my favorite line from Christopher McQuarrie’s Oscar-winning script. It’s a line that says, “Fuck, we’re in it bad here, boys,” or, better put, “I wish we could forget about this and just go the hell home.”

The scene runs 60 seconds and is executed with very basic camera coverage and only a few lines of dialogue. Yet it resonates with me as much as anything in the film, including its infamous ending. Strangest thing.



20 comments:

  1. I just love the way you analyze a scene! Great job bro. I thought the film itself was a little overcooked, but now I want to watch it again to see this moment!

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    1. Thanks buddy! I really appreciate the kind words. I know some people are turned off by the film's self-awareness, but man, it has always really worked for me.

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  2. Great analysis, Alex! I love this movie a lot, it's truly a classic, and now that you've reminded me of it again, I have to rewatch it! I really love this feature of picking your favourite scenes and analysing them, it's just terribly brilliant.

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    1. Aww thanks Aditya - you're too nice! So glad to hear you're a fan of this film. I absolutely love it.

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  3. Wonderful post! It's been so long since I've seen this, I really should give it another watch.

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    1. Thanks Brittani! I never grow tired of this one. I can watch it anytime.

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  4. Great post Alex. Great film and great scene. My fave though, is the scene where Otmans music kicks in when Kobayashi walks into the elevator with his two heavies and McManus offs them both.

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    1. Thanks Mike! Oh, that is a GREAT scene, I love everything about that moment. Ottman's contributions to this film are remarkable. Film composer AND editor. Amazing.

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  5. It's been a very long time since I've seen that film as I need to revisit to see what happened and how the angles were staged from the first frame and such.

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    1. This film is a great one to pick apart. The angles, the music cues - everything plays a factor into solving the mystery.

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  6. Fantastic analysis, easily one of the best I've ever read for a favorite movie scene. This is definitely the best scene in Bryan Singer's unforggetable film and your analysis makes me appreciate it even more! I feel the need to rewatch the film right now! Great job, again, Alex! What else can I say, you're incredible, man.

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    1. Damn Stergios, you're the man. Seriously dude, thanks so much for this comment. SO happy to hear you're as much of a fan of this scene as I am. It's such a telling little moment.

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  7. Most days, the one thing you have going for you in L.A. is that it ain't raining.

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  8. Awesome, Alex! I can't believe so much was said in a minute in a feature film. Just moved it higher up my watchlist.

    PS -- on your sidebar, after the link Essays, you have an unfinished thought: "Extended articles on how film and my filmmaking". Thought you'd want to fix that one ;)

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    1. That's what I get for trying to update my layout! Haha. But seriously, thanks for the catch, I do appreciate it.

      You must see this movie ASAP. It's such an ingenious little thriller.

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  9. As always, brilliant choice man. That's a scene I overlooked, but it really is a great one. Great job at shining the spotlight on this little moment of genius in the film.

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    1. Thanks buddy! I honestly never thought people would be remotely interested in my fascination with these little moments from great films. But I love them so much!

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  10. Great write up of a great scene from a great flick! Gotta be one of the best crime flicks ever made.

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    1. Thanks bud! Yeah man, this is definitely one of my all-time favorite crime flicks. Love it.

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