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The Usual Suspects
review by Ren C.
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
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
(3.5/5, NOT an average)