When you revisit ‘90s prestige films, it’s hard to avoid Kevin Spacey. After his star-making turn as Verbal Kent and (spoiler alert) Keyser Soze in the 1995 neo-noir movie The Usual Suspects, Spacey appeared in dozens of prestige films, ranging from award-bait to ambitious (for mainstream cinema at least) art films, gritty crime movies and high profile book adaptations. Until his star dimmed in the early 2000s after flops like Pay it Forward, K-Pax and Beyond The Sea, it seemed like any time Hollywood filmmakers wanted to make a movie they’d be proud of, they’d cast Spacey.
In light of Spacey’s sexual assault allegations, his late ‘90s five-year run of prestige movies presents movie watchers with a dilemma. The accusations make Spacey seem so unsavory that seeing him in a movie is repellent. But avoiding Spacey’s movies blacks out half a decade of sophisticated, grown-up movies and at least one new critical darling available to watch for free on streaming platforms.
Some of those movies are just done. Spacey’s unwelcome, odious presence poisons them throughout. Others are like an otherwise edible apple with a large bruise—some of it could make you a little sick but there’s a lot to salvage and savor.
The Usual Suspects
It’s a tight, junky crime movie with a great mumbly performance from Benicio Del Toro and one of the most memorable twist endings of all time.
Verdict: Debatable. With Spacey in front of the camera and Bryan Singer behind it, The Usual Suspects is a double whammy of accused sexual predators. (Singer’s never faced criminal charges but accusations have trailed him throughout his career). It’s an ensemble cast but Spacey gets the lion’s share of screen time. It’s a lot of Spacey, but Spacey’s character is an unctuous liar and you’re supposed to hate him at the end. It helps take some of the burden off when we don’t have to like the character he’s playing.
If you have any interest in the evolution of crime movies, this grimey and lurid serial killer mystery is essential viewing for how much of an influence it had on the next 10 years of genre films.
Verdict: See it. It’s not a pleasant movie but it’s good. Spacey’s barely in it and he plays a villain so you get to root against him.
A Time to Kill
Subtract Kevin Spacey and the cast of this courtroom drama is Sandra Bullock, Matthew Mcconaughey, Samuel L. Jackson, Ashley Judd, Charles Dutton and Donald Sutherland.
Verdict: Skip it. It’s a John Grisham adaptation and it’s forgotten for a good reason. Spacey plays the prosecutor and eventually you feel like you’re stuck in the courtroom with him.
The James Ellroy adaptation L.A. Confidential is a sprawling hard-boiled epic about corrupt police, classic Hollywood and 1950s Los Angeles with an ensemble cast that stretches from Russell Crowe to Danny DeVito.
Verdict: Watch it. It’s masterfully directed and riveting. Russell Crowe would never be as good as he is here playing a cloddish goon cop. Spacey slinks into the background for most of the movie but briefly acts heroic towards the end before thankfully dying. It’s also suffused with a jittery racist sensibility that’s uncomfortable but oddly compelling.
This suburban dad midlife crisis murder drama swept the Oscars in 1999.
Verdict: Run as far away from this movie as you possibly can. It’s not only an awful and overrated movie, it’s about Spacey’s lust for a teenager. The teen’s a girl, unlike the 18-year-old busboy Spacey allegedly groped in Nantucket, but that doesn’t make it any less queasy.
The 2017 movie Baby Driver is a fun, buzzy pop culture-soaked car chase movie directed by Shaun of the Dead auteur Edgar Wright.
Verdict: Debatable. A post-House of Cards comeback Spacey plays the villain and he’s thankfully not in the movie too much. But when he is, he’s exerting pressure on and controlling the young, baby faced protagonist. Taken against Spacey’s real life allegations, it’s fairly uncomfortable.