“The finest trick of the devil is to persuade you that he does not exist.”

— Charles Baudelaire

Many of you remember this movie. You saw it when it opened in the summer of 1995. If you had trouble with all the clues and flashbacks then, you may, after a second or third look, have them now. That’s its genius.

“Usual Suspects” is a game of chess, a masterpiece full of fake clues, twists and turns that flows from light to shadow and back again. “The Usual Suspects,” as most filmmakers know, rests somewhere near the top of the list of the greatest film noir thriller-capers of all time. There are many reasons for this, and they’re all there on the credit crawl at the end.

First of all, there’s screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie, lifelong friend of director Bryan Singer (“Public Access,” Grand Jury Prize winner at Sundance).

Then there’s the cast, one of the best. Except for the well-known star, Gabriel Byrne, who plays the crooked ex-cop and financial hustler Dean Keaton, there’s the great mix of then-not-so-well-known professionals: Kevin Pollak, Stephen Baldwin, Kevin Spacey and Benicio del Toro. Hire the best, you get the best movie.

“Suspects” opens with two men aboard a burning ship in a dark and foggy San Pedro Harbor. One is clearly Byrne (in the best role of his career), wounded and dying with, of course, a cigarette in his mouth.

The other is an unrecognizable figure, tall, well dressed, who lights Byrne’s cigarette with a gold lighter, and then tosses it into a flow of gasoline.

We later learn that $90 million worth of pure cocaine provided a fragrant smoke drifting to sea. Addicts wept for the loss, we wept for Gabriel. Where do we go from that? Stay tuned.

After the opening fire scenes, each of the aforementioned peas in our shadowy pod, suspected, for some reason, of having a hand in the fire, are picked up in various parts of the city, grilled, put in a lineup and locked up together.

During the hours of waiting for lawyers, they bounce off each other, tossing obtuse one-liners, sharing fragments of background. None seem to care for any of the others, but something draws them together. Guess what?

Tossed into this salad like a suspicious crouton is one Roger “Verbal” Kint, (Spacey) a thief with a bad haircut, one twisted foot and damp hands. He is one of two survivors of the fire. The other survivor, fatally burned, is dying in a hospital, screaming the name Keyser Soze. Who is that? Hide under the bed.

Enter two good guys: drug cop Dave Kujan (the great Chazz Palminteri) and local cop Jeff Rabin (Dan Hedaya).

The rest of the movie flows by with flashbacks, great closeups of eyes and lips, as though the camera is seeking out clues and lies from each. It finds them, but it won’t easily hand them over to the viewer.

Writer McQuarrie and director Singer tease us with the clues: a lighter, a shoe, a cup on a shelf in the cops’ office that you won’t see until it’s too late. Don’t bother trying. Just keep your ears open. The hints are there. Stay alert. Don’t sit back.

The movie flows like Joseph Conrad’s Congo, full of twists and turns — slowly at first, with a shaky romance, a plot among thieves, until toward the end, when it gushes forward into a lake of blood.

Hold on; you’re in for a surprise. If you’ve seen the movie, keep your mouth shut. Don’t ruin that ending. Promise?

Casting director Francine Maisler’s genius is all over the screen. Big actors in small roles are everywhere: English actor Pete Postlethwaite is here, the ever good Giancarlo Esposito, and Paul Bartel as a smuggler, not to mention, del Toro, Pollack, Spacey and Baldwin, who since have soared in bigger roles, bigger movies.

Great movies become so by the invisible people who contribute their gifts: John Ottoman’s editing, Newton Thomas Sigel’s camera, Louise Mingenbach’s costumes, (del Toro’s is the best). I must add, watch del Toro’s actions, his moves and hilarious improvised dialect. It’s why he’s big today.

“Usual Suspects” was and always will be the most talked-about crime thriller of its time. Don’t miss it.

Keep an eye on that cup at the end, and keep your mouth shut. Promise?

J.P. Devine, a Waterville writer, is a former stage and screen actor.

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