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|By AARON SKETCHLEY (aaronsketch@HOTdelete_thisMAIL.com)||Ver 1.3 2021.05.26|
The film follows them through their daily missions to render unexploded ordinance safe. During the Iraq War, the vast majority of those are IEDs. Woven throughout everything else, there is the suggestion that the EOD teams are in a cat-and-mouse 'game' with the people behind the bombs, as they constantly attempt to outmanoeuvre each other.
In addition to depicting the grim reality of EOD specialists and the mind-boggling scale of the IED problem during that war, the film focuses on James to depict not only the type of person that thrives in war, but the persons who are, in a certain sense, addicted to it. The film only suggests the motivations as it depicts the ramifications of such a person on the people around them—the psychoanalysis is limited to Eldridge, who is receiving psychiatric help to deal with the trauma of having lost the team's preceding leader.
The film kept me glued to the screen. It's hard to pick any single scene, sequence, or characterization that stands out above the rest, as it's all finely interwoven and excellent. Perhaps the best thing about the film is that Dir. Bigelow opted to keep it minimalistic—focused on only the three main characters, with few other recurring characters, and using well-known actors in a handful of short, key appearances. Due to that, the tension in the protagonists' torturous experiences is even greater, we feel their pain, and we can almost taste the ever-present dust.
The action picks up one year later in New York, when Charlie visits Stella—John's daughter—tells her that they've tracked down Steve, and asks her if she wants 'in' to even the score. Stella initially declines, but soon decides to join the team. The team assembles in Los Angeles, and begins planning and arranging a heist to take their loot back from Steve.
I'm not sure how much this film has to do with the original that it is 'inspired by'. Nevertheless, the film has excellent writing with plenty of unexpected twists and turns, is well cast, and has cracker-jacket pacing and editing. While some of the characters aren't as smooth or as slick as their equivalents in Ocean's Eleven, for example, their rough edges and flaws give them distinct characterizations that add immensely to the fun. Perhaps the only drawback to the film is Edward Norton. He seems to be coasting in this performance—which may be due to him being contractually obliged to participate in this film.
Nevertheless, the highlight of the film is not the car action with the at-the-time *new* Mini Coopers, but the musical score by John Powel. Not only does it keep the film strumming along, it had this viewer tapping his feet to the beat.
I found the live broadcast (and subsequent rebroadcasts) of the villain's "get me out of jail for 100 million dollars" speech to be unrealistic. Don't journalists in this film have the moral decency to not make things worse? Or is it that the writers have a poor opinion of the moral balance in the average LA resident?
That said, without that does of unrealism in an action movie that strives to be realistic, there wouldn't be a back end to the film, and we wouldn't get to see the our heroes exercising creativity in doing their thing. Nor the thrill that comes from the unpredictability of potentially anybody on the streets jumping out at them with guns blazing.
The Usual Suspects is a confused movie. It's probably deliberately that way as Verbal, the narrator, is spinning a yarn to confuse the cops, who he earlier describes as always looking for a simple explanation and facts that fit whatever assumption they have for a crime. It probably helps to keep in mind that Verbal is an unreliable witness—akin to Guy Pearce's character in Memento. In other words, everything told in flashback may or may not have happened, and may or may not have happened in the way it was depicted.
The highlight of the film is the sheer quality of all the actors. They all bring their A-game to the film, and it adds significantly to the movie's intensity. Of course, Kevin Spacey stands out in particular, having won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance as Verbal. However, despite all that, the plot is a little too labyrinth and murky, and the twist ending ends up underscoring how futile it is to try and unravel the film's convoluted plot.
Having outlined the first part of the plot, I've actually said hardly anything about it, as the plot is much, much, much more complex. This film is a joy to watch—despite it's trashy topic—as the plot continually surprises with unexpected twists and developments. The film is even explaining itself and providing fresh twists in flashbacks scenes spliced into the credits!
One of the films strengths is how well developed the characters are. Despite the complex plot, we are never confused about who is who, and where they're coming from. Every actor and actress fits their role, and the highlight is Bill Murray, who steals the show in every scene he appears in. Surprisingly, Jeffrey L. Kimball's cinematography is also a marvel to behold. The framing and lighting of some of his shots adds considerably to the film. Enjoy the ride while you watch this guilty pleasure, and make sure you stick around for the credits.
Note: I have the unrated cut. Some of the revelations add significantly to the 'icky' column, but they also more effectively explain the motivations of the key characters.