THE USUAL SUSPECTS
"The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist." --Verbal Kint, The Usual Suspects
"Keaton once said, "I don't believe in God, but I'm afraid of him." Well I believe in God, and the only thing that scares me is Keyser Söze." --Verbal Kint, The Usual Suspects
I don’t usually preface a review with quotes from a movie, but THE USUAL SUSPECTS ($25) is such an incredibly well written movie, with so much quotable dialogue, I just couldn’t help myself. Since THE USUAL SUSPECTS earned an Academy Award for its screenplay, I would imagine I am not alone in my opinion that this is an incredibly well written motion picture. Christopher McQuarrie’s screenplay is structured like a complex jigsaw puzzle, which refuses to divulge any clues to its ultimate solution, until the final piece is in place. Told through a number of flashbacks, the plot of THE USUAL SUSPECTS tells what happens when five felons are brought together for a police lineup. Because of this random meeting, the five find themselves drawn into a plot involving a criminal of legendary reputation and the possibility of a ninety one million dollar payoff. To say any more about the storyline would do a disservice to those few individuals that have never seen THE USUAL SUSPECTS and would spoil the surprises that the movie contains.
Complementing Christopher McQuarrie’s screenplay are the uniformly excellent performances of the film’s ensemble cast. Gabriel Byrne brings an air of regret to the role of Dean Keaton, the crooked cop who tries to go straight, but finds himself unable to escape his past. Kevin Spacey earned himself a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Verbal Kint, the crippled con man who relays the tale of THE USUAL SUSPECTS. Chazz Palminteri displays the tenacity of a bloodhound as Dave Kujan, the US Customs Agent, who is determined to get at the truth. Every time I re-watch THE USUAL SUSPECTS I grow to appreciate Benicio Del Toro’s performance as Fred Fenster more and more- Del Toro turns a throwaway character into a continual scene-stealer. The first rate cast of THE USUAL SUSPECTS also features Stephen Baldwin, Pete Postlethwaite, Kevin Pollak, Suzy Amis, Giancarlo Esposito, Dan Hedaya and the ever delightful Paul Bartel, who doesn’t have to say a word to get a big laugh.
MGM Home Entertainment has made THE USUAL SUSPECTS available on DVD in a 2.35:1 wide screen presentation that has been enhanced for 16:9 displays. A full screen presentation is available on a separate layer of the DVD, but this review will concern itself with the wide screen version of the film. Although THE USUAL SUSPECTS was made on a relatively small budget, there is no denying the beauty of Newton Thomas Sigel’s cinematography, which features a marvelous interplay of light, shadow and color. Thanks to the new wide screen transfer, which was down-converted from high definition, THE USUAL SUSPECTS looks quite stunning on DVD. Delivering a very sharp and beautifully defined image, this transfer is a marked improvement over the unenhanced wide screen presentation that was featured on the previous two DVD releases of THE USUAL SUSPECTS. Colors are strongly saturated, especially during certain key sequences, which are bathed in warm glowing light. No matter the lighting, flesh tones always remain appealing and very naturalistic. All of the hues are completely stable and rendered without any signs of noise or smearing. Blacks are dead on the mark and the picture provides a healthy level of shadow detail. The element used for the transfer displays very few blemishes and very little apparent film grain. Digital compression artifacts are well concealed throughout the course of the program.
THE USUAL SUSPECTS is offered here with a Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack. While the Dolby Digital mix isn’t significantly different than the Dolby Surround mix that accompanied the original DVD release of the film, there are subtle improvements to be found in discretely encoding the sound stems. Overall, the sound is cleaner and has better channel separation across the forward soundstage. Additionally, John Ottman’s score seems to have a stronger musical presence in Dolby Digital. As for the rear channels, they provide a good ambient presence to the sound mix, as well as adding musical fill to the score. Dialogue reproduction is very clean and very precise, with every line remaining completely understandable. A French Dolby Surround soundtrack is also encoded onto the DVD, as are English, French and Spanish subtitles.
Full motion video, animation and sound serve to enhance the DVD’s interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as the DVD’s fine supplementary section. Side one of the DVD includes two separate audio commentaries, the first track features director Bryan Singer and writer Christopher McQuarrie, while editor/composer John Ottman is present on the second track. Singer and McQuarrie’s commentary has been ported from previous releases of the film and it remains every bit as informative and entertaining, as it was the first time I listened to it. Ottman’s commentary is also quite good, and the editor/composer has a lot to say about pulling double duty on this terrific film.
Moving over to side two of the DVD, we find five featurettes, four of which were produced for this release. The featurettes can be watched all at once or individually and include interviews with the primary cast members and crew of the film, who talk about all aspects of the film’s production. Pursuing The Suspects clocks in at almost twenty-five minutes; Doin’ Time With The Suspects runs nearly twenty-seven minutes, Keyser Söze- Lie Or Legend? is almost nineteen minutes in length, the Original Featurette is just over six minutes long, while Heisting Cannes With The Usual Suspects runs a bit longer than four minutes. The DVD also includes five brief deleted scenes, which include explanations from editor John Ottman, as to why the scenes were cut. A gag reel with director’s introduction can also be found amongst the supplemental materials. Two theatrical trailers and eight TV spots close out the DVD’s supplemental section. I should note that some Easter eggs can be found on side two for those of you that enjoy hunting for such things.
THE USUAL SUSPECTS is a superbly written, beautifully acted movie mystery that has become a classic in its own right in few years since it was release. MGM Home Entertainment has produced a DVD edition of the film that finally does justice to this fine cinematic work. The 16:9 transfer is marvelous and for that alone, this DVD is worth the upgrade. With the addition of the supplemental section, this is a must have disc for any fan of THE USUAL SUSPECTS. Very highly recommended.
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