No matter how many times I watch The Usual Suspects, and believe me it’s been many, I still get the same diabolical thrill, the same rapturous excitement and the same rush of storytelling and dramatic payoff as I did the very first time I saw it. Every performance from the vast and diverse cast is a devilish creation packed with red herrings, juicy dialogue and bushels of menace, every scene piles on the mysticism of the criminal underworld beat by beat, until the characters begin to pick it apart and the whole thing unravels like a great serpent coiling forth bit by bit, scale by scale, swerving toward the shocking, disarming third act that has since become as legendary as it’s elusive and terrifying antagonist. In the crime/mystery corner of cinema, there’s no arguing that this delicious piece of hard boiled intrigue reigns supreme, and it’s easy to see why. In a seemingly random police lineup, five career criminals are harassed by an unseen hand, pushed into carrying out dangerous heists and violent manouvers by a shadowy campfire tale among the world of organized crime, a Boogeyman called Keyser Soze, if he even exists at all. Slick and sleazy ex cop Dean Keaton (Gabriel Byrne) heads up this dysfunctional crew of vagabonds which includes hothead McManus (Stephen Baldwin in a role originally intended for Michael Biehn, which kills me to this day), weirdo Fenster (Benicio Del Toro, using an indecipherable mishmash of an accent that would be the first of many), spitfire Hockney (Kevin Pollak) and Verbal Kint (Kevin Spacey) the runt of the litter. The lot of them are intimidated into performing risky enterprises by lawyer Kobayashi (Pete Postlethwaite) until the climate of their actions reaches a boiling point and answers emerge from the darkness. This is all told in retrospect by Spacey, to a rabid customs agent (Chazz Palminteri) who has designs on ensnaring Soze. Spacey scored Oscar gold for his heavy work here, spinning a tale whose layers interweave and pull the wool over our eyes time and time again before offering any glimpses of truth. Byrne is a fiercely guarded storm as Keaton, a man with secrets so deep even he doesn’t know who he is anymore, letting the anger set and smoulder in those glacial eyes of his. The supporting cast adds to the class and confusion terrifically, with fine work pouring in from Dan Hedeya, Suzy Amis, Giancarlo Esposito and a wicked cameo from Peter Greene, who provides a moment of inspired improv. The score of the film rarely relies on dips and swells until all is said and done, keeping a tight lid on the orchestra and feeding us nervous little riffs of anxious portent that keeps tension on a tightrope and anticipation on call. A mystery this tantalizing is irrisistable the first time around, but the trick is to make your story rewatchable, and I’ve seen this thing over a dozen times. Every viewing provides some new angle to the story I didn’t see before, or I notice a subtle interaction in the very naturalistic and funny dialogue which escaped me in the past. My favourite thing to do is watch films with someone who hasn’t seen them before, observe their reactions and opinions on every little story beat and cinematic flourish, it’s almost more fun for me than the actual film itself. The Usual Suspects is a showcase piece for that activity, because you get to see this very complex revelation unfold through new eyes as you watch them experience the revelations. Whether your first viewing or your fiftieth, it never loses its power, and the spell it casts just doesn’t dim. Masterpiece.