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The Usual Suspects

review by Ren C.

Rated R

Studio: MGM

Running Time: 106 minutes

Starring Chazz Palminteri, Kevin Spacey, Gabriel Byrne, Stephen Baldwin

Written by: Christopher McQuarrie

Directed by Bryan Singer

Retail Price: $24.98

Features: Audio Commentary, Theatrical Trailer

Specs: 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic Widescreen, 1.33:1 Full Frame, English Dolby Surround, French Dolby Surround, Spanish Subtitles, Chapter Search

"Who is Keyser Soze?" That was the question on the lips of every moviegoer in 1995, when "The Usual Suspects" was first released. With an intricate screenplay that takes the viewer on a roller coaster ride from coast to coast and character to character, "The Usual Suspects" stands out as a very clever and original movie.

The movie begins with the gathering of five criminals in a lineup. These men, Michael McManus (Stephen Baldwin), Fred Fenster (Benicio Del Toro), Todd Hockney (Kevin Pollak), Dean Keaton (Gabriel Byrne) and Verbal Kint (Kevin Spacey), are all suspicious of why they have been gathered together and are soon told that a truck has been hijacked and that they are all suspects.

The police, however, do not have enough evidence to make the charges stick, especially against Keaton, who has supposedly gone clean with the help of his girlfriend/lawyer Edie Finneran (Suzy Amis). The other men are soon released from prison as well, and decide to commit one job together in order to one-up the police. Keaton is hesitant, but soon agrees. The men execute the job, and find themselves in possession of some emeralds, along with the knowledge that corrupt cops are going to be thrown off the force.

At this point, the movie seems almost like a standard crime thriller, but from here, through a very clever use of time shifting, everything changes. Kint is now in a New York City investigation room, being questioned by Dave Kujan (Chazz Palminteri) about a shoot-out in Los Angeles that left only two survivors, one of which was him. Throughout the investigation, the name "Keyser Soze" is invoked time and again, leaving the police force to decipher two things. One, does the almost-mythical Soze exist, and two, if he does, who is he?

From the opening scenes, we see that an incredible, and very talented, ensemble cast has been assembled for this movie. Kevin Spacey won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for this role and it was definitely well deserved. Spacey plays the role of a man who is both physically and, it would seem, emotionally challenged, and does it in a very understated and credible way. Chazz Palminteri is also excellent as the hard-boiled detective trying to get to the bottom of this mystery. Gabriel Byrne, as always, is excellent in his role as the former con trying to go straight, and plays it with the kind of irony that he always brings to his performances. The rest of the cast brings an equal sort of understanding to the role that they play, and in the case of Stephen Baldwin, this may well be the best performance I have ever seen him give.

The director, Brian Singer, also does an outstanding job of helming the movie. Some of his shot choices are quite innovative and add to the mystery that surrounds the viewer throughout. I mentioned the time shifts, which I believe to be a combination of Singer's directing choices, and the excellent screenplay written by Christopher McQuarrie, which was also honored with an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.

The combination of stellar cast, smart screenplay and creative director combine to make what could have been a tedious, run-of-the-mill crime story and turned it into one of the most thoughtful and memorable movies of the '90s.

Despite not being anamorphic, the widescreen transfer still looks quite good, boasting very little in the way of artifacts or flaws. I was especially impressed with some of the outdoor daytime scenes, where the sky looked very deep and rich. Equally impressive were some of the nighttime scenes, where the blacks looked deep without any shimmer. Despite that, I did notice something of a wavering effect in a few scenes, especially those involving characters that wore glasses. A full frame version is included as well, and also looks quite good, despite being pan and scan.

I was disappointed to find that a Dolby 2.0 track was the only option provided, as there were definitely some scenes that I would have liked to have seen in 5.1. The track sounds all right, although it is certainly nothing stellar. Sounds are distributed evenly, although the explosions and things of that nature certainly lacked some of the strength that a full 5.1 track would have provided. Also available here is a French Dolby 2.0 track, along with Spanish subtitles, although strangely only English captions are provided and not subtitles.

What would be a very lamentable disc is saved by the above-average commentary by Singer and McQuarrie. These two men are willing to talk about anything and everything involved with the movie, warts and all. Singer talks about what shots he isn't particularly thrilled about, McQuarrie talks about how he was completely opposed to hiring Del Toro at first, and this goes on for the entire length of the movie. My favorite commentaries are those where the participants have a good sense of humor, and that certainly applies here. This is without question one of the best commentaries that I have ever heard.

Also included is the theatrical trailer that seems to try to appeal to every potential audience of the movie, and as such, comes across as a bit muddled.

I have mixed feelings about this disc. While the movie is definitely above average, none of the other aspects of the disc are particularly stellar. There are rumors that MGM is going to revisit this title fairly soon as a special edition, so if you are only a casual fan, that would seem to be the disc to wait for. Otherwise, if you need this movie right now, while the price is a little expensive, there certainly is nothing to actively dissuade you from buying the disc. This disc was released a couple of years ago, and since then, the bar for DVDs has been raised dramatically. With that said, this is a perfectly average disc, which in this case, is not necessarily a bad thing.

(3.5/5 - NOT included in final score)




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