Joe Clark: Accessibility | Design | Writing

The Usual Suspects: Not the usual crime drama

Collar enough Hollywood B-list actors for a single picture-- Gabriel Byrne, Kevin Spacey, and a very greasy Stephen Baldwin, among others-- and boom, you’ve got a gestalt. Bryan Singer’s The Usual Suspects sets something of a high-water mark for the crime-gone-wrong genre and rivals Pulp Fiction for moxie. Screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie’s unrelentingly intelligent, multi-layered storyline is so intricate that to tell you anything about the plot would set the rest of the story unraveling. (Truly.)

So let’s talk about subtext. This is a blood-stained but strangely sexless guy movie. I counted all of four female characters, but they barely surface amid the main cast’s riptide of uneasy male camaraderie. This is the ‘90s, so of course a palpable homo friction is part of the weave; while it ain’t homoerotic per se, it is homo-interesting, with only one “fag” epithet to sock you in the eye.

Still, hyper-leftist cinephiles obsessed with the Holy Trinity of minority representation (“in the name of the Gender, the Race, and the Sexual Orientation”) will have their hands full grappling with the film’s portrayal of disability: It’s every bit as nuanced and depraved as the disabled character himself. The Usual Suspects is exciting, daring, and gripping, but it’s also the most feverishly anti-crip movie of the last 20 years, a fact I was almost enraptured enough to forgive. Almost.

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