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The Usual Suspects Blu-ray Review (Limited Edition Blu-ray Book)

The Usual Suspects (1995) movie poster The Usual Suspects

Theatrical Release: August 18, 1995 / Running Time: 106 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Bryan Singer / Writers: Christopher McQuarrie

Cast: Stephen Baldwin (Michael McManus), Gabriel Byrne (Dean Keaton), Benicio Del Toro (Fred Fenster), Kevin Pollak (Todd Hockney), Kevin Spacey (Roger "Verbal" Kint), Chazz Palminteri (Dave Kujan), Pete Postlethwaite (Mr. Kobayashi), Suzy Amis (Edie Finneran), Giancarlo Esposito (Jack Baer), Dan Hedaya (Sgt. Jeffrey Rabin), Peter Greene (Redfoot - uncredited)

Buy The Usual Suspects from Amazon.com: Blu-ray Book • Standard Blu-ray • Special Edition DVD • DVD + Blu-ray Combo

Most filmmakers can only dream of having their second movie get the kind of reception that The Usual Suspects did for its director Bryan Singer and writer Christopher McQuarrie. Singer and McQuarrie were both in their late twenties when they made the acclaimed 1995 suspense film. Their one prior film was the tiny 1993 Sundance entry and dramatic Grand Jury Prize-sharing Public Access, which is virtually as obscure today as it was then.
Suspects was enough to launch careers for the duo. Singer has gone on to helm high-profile fare like Superman Returns and the first two X-Men movies. McQuarrie has racked up far fewer credits, but they include co-scripting Singer's Valkryie and creating the 2010 NBC series "Persons Unknown." The one downside to such young and near-unanimous success is that neither has come close to equaling or surpassing the esteem their sophomore outing attracted.

How could they? The Usual Suspects presently ranks 25th among all movies on the Internet Movie Database's weighted Top 250 list. Such a high estimation, which places the film above such long-recognized classics as Citizen Kane, It's a Wonderful Life, and Lawrence of Arabia, is hard to achieve and hard to repeat. Some of the men who made the film's high-ranking neighbors are represented there multiple times: Christopher Nolan has four in the IMDb's Top 100, as do less disputable legends Alfred Hitchcock and Martin Scorsese. An amazing six of the top 100 were directed by Stanley Kubrick and all three of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings movies stand in the top 30.

Alongside these celebrated types are outlier crowning achievements by modern directors unexpected to place as highly again anytime soon: Fernando Meirelles (City of God), Sam Mendes (American Beauty), Curtis Hanson (L.A. Confidential), Jonathan Demme (The Silence of the Lambs), Roberto Benigni (Life is Beautiful), and so on. It's not that these individuals are incapable of unleashing more greatness (some of them already have), it's just that their singled-out works are recognized more for their subject matter than for their creators. Such perfect tempests of maker and material are rare and sixteen years since its release, The Usual Suspects is looking like it belongs to this class.

As cerebral palsy-afflicted Roger "Verbal" Kint, Kevin Spacey answers a U.S. Customs agent's questions throughout much of "The Usual Suspects", the film that won him his first Oscar.

Chronologically, Suspects jumps around. It opens with a fiery massacre on a docked San Pedro boat, which it seeks to make sense of with a Los Angeles police office interrogation of Roger "Verbal" Kint (Kevin Spacey). Kint takes us and questioning U.S. customs agent Dave Kujan (Chazz Palminteri) back six weeks to the incident's origins. In New York, the eponymous suspects were rounded up and lined up for the hijacking of a truck loaded with stripped gun parts. Alongside crippled Kint, nicknamed for his supposed wordiness, are other crooks with records: former dirty cop Dean Keaton (Gabriel Byrne), devil-may-care Todd Hockney (Kevin Pollak), and, partners in crime, hot-headed Michael McManus (Stephen Baldwin) and mutterer Fred Fenster (Benicio del Toro). The group views the unorthodox inquest as a misguided shakedown but in their shared time they hatch a plan to work together and make the police pay for their recklessness.

After their release, an alliance is formed, as the five criminals first conspire to uncover corruption in the NYPD. After that, they head out to California, where they accept a job from a fence named Redfoot (Peter Greene). That parking garage job incriminates the gang and also brings them into contact with Mr. Kobayashi (Pete Postlethwaite), the trusted lawyer and confidante of feared, fabled, and possibly non-existent Turkish mob boss Keyser Söze. Söze has detailed information on all the criminal deeds in all five's lifetimes, which Kobayashi presents to them as reason to accept the drug boat job to settle a previously unknown score.

The film jumps from Kint's present-day interrogation to these recent happenings involving his newfound crew, which he narrates. Just as Kujan thinks he's made a breakthrough and identified the real mastermind behind the boat non-heist which left dozens dead and one Hungarian witness severely burned, he realizes he may have misconnected dots and leapt to the wrong conclusion.

The late Pete Postlethwaite plays Mr. Kobayashi, the suspiciously-regarded lawyer and messenger to Keyser Söze. Using good old-fashioned interrogation, U.S. Customs Agent David Kujan (Chazz Palminteri) hopes to get information from immunity-protected Roger Kint that Sgt. Rabin was unable to.

The Usual Suspects is renowned for its twist ending and the deft way in which it comes to light. There is little doubt that this is the highlight of the film and a feat that leads viewers to raise their opinion of everything that has preceded it.
I have trouble doing that, perhaps in part because the ending had been spoiled for me well in advance of my first full viewing. It seems to me that this is actually one of cinema's most frequently spoiled endings and the spoiling is one of the more harmful that could occur. I will never be able to create a first viewing in which the film's destination is unknown to me and that might be a critical factor as to why even after a few viewings, I'm not able to hold the film in as high regard as many do.

I like the police office scenes with Spacey and Palminteri. They earned Spacey his first Academy Award nomination and his first win, both well-deserved, although the supporting actor classification feels like a way to recognize the ensemble nature of the movie. By screentime and lines, Spacey is second to none. That is in the movie's interest, because no other character is anywhere near as complex or intriguing. Spacey also deserves credit for the film's second Oscar nomination and win: the best original screenplay award. McQuarrie's words sparkle in Kint's interrogation scenes because Spacey sells them so well. The victory also surely takes into account the plotting and twist.

I'm not as crazy about the flashback scenes of Kint and company doing business. With the exception of Baldwin, I don't really buy any of the actors as crooks and they don't carry out their jobs with any conviction. The jobs just aren't that interesting either, aside from the New York gig that raises some logistic questions. The allure and magnetism of a criminal lifestyle has been potently captured on film before in things like Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather movies, Scorsese's grittier works, Michael Mann's Heat and the Christopher Nolan movies it has inspired. The Usual Suspects doesn't mine any interest from the topic and the extensive sequences focusing on the crew of five are indistinctive and underflavored, their battles of egos and eccentricities seeming only to muddle and advance the story.

And yet, the smart structure ensures this isn't a fatal flaw for the film. The scenes are interrupted often for the police procedure: the FBI agent (Giancarlo Esposito) trying to make sense of the Hungarian burn victim's rants and Kujan negotiating with Sgt. Rabin (Dan Hedaya) for some face time with Kint. The present-day material remains largely compelling and adds needed depth to the rest of the picture. The legendary reputation the film has secured seems to be more about the way in which the story is told than about the actual story being told.

The Usual Suspects check out the incriminating evidence against them they have just received from a representative of feared and fabled criminal mastermind Keyser Söze. Former cop Dean Keaton (Gabriel Byrne) doesn't seem to love it when a plan comes together from the fellow line-up crooks with whom he shares a New York holding cell.

It should be stated that the film's reputation is exaggerated by the practically unheard of 8.7/10 rating on its definitive Internet record. It's little secret that the IMDb is a website most appreciated by a young, overwhelmingly male audience (a fact that hasn't changed even though the site has been widely used for over 15 years). It is this demographic that most celebrates the film, the same that ascribes inflated importance to Fight Club, American History X, and Gladiator. The two significant Oscar wins indicate general industry favor (even if they were not too widely echoed in other critics and academy honors). Grossing $23 million in its end of summer release, the $6 million film was profitable but not exorbitantly so for long-absorbed distributor Gramercy Pictures.

Perhaps more accurately reflecting where the film stands in the pantheon of cinema are the American Film Institute's oft-cited, apparently-discontinued annual lists. For those, The Usual Suspects was among the 400 nominees for the 100 Thrills, 100 Movie Quotes, and general 100 Films (tenth anniversary version) countdowns. It wasn't chosen for any of those, but it did narrowly make the cut of two AFI specials, landing the final slot of the Hitchcock-dominated mystery genre in the 2008 "10 Top 10" and also claiming the 48th of the 50 villains that comprised 2003's "100 Heroes and Villains."

The Usual Suspects' standing with young males has made it a logical choice for frequent DVD treatment, which it has received since the Polygram Filmed Entertainment library it belonged to was acquired by MGM. The film's popularity also made it a no-brainer for a quick Blu-ray release, which it got in February 2007. That same disc became part of a Blu-ray + DVD Combo pack in 2010 and last month became the centerpiece of a Blu-ray Book we review here.

The Usual Suspects: Limited Edition Blu-ray Book cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

2.35:1 Widescreen
DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Surround (Spanish, French)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: May 10, 2011 (Disc first released February 13, 2007)
Single-sided, single-layered disc (BD-25)
Suggested Retail Price: $34.98
Hardcover Digibook
Still available in standardly-packaged Blu-ray ($19.99 SRP) and Special Edition DVD ($14.98 SRP)
Previously released as DVD + Blu-ray ($19.99 SRP), MGM DVD, and Polygram DVD


The Usual Suspects is presented in 2.35:1 widescreen and 5.1 DTS-HD master audio. I wasn't all that impressed by the Blu-ray's picture and sound quality. True, at sixteen years of age and a reasonably low budget, the film doesn't deserve the same expectations as today's films. But I'm convinced that it can look and sound better than this. While I didn't have my DVD of it handy to do comparisons, I would be surprised if the improvement found here was very dramatic. The soft visuals are marked by grain and a faint glow. The colors are not natural and the picture tends to be lacking in detail. Small scratches and specks turn up with some frequency. The look may be in part deliberate and in part hindered by resources. Still, I think a cleaner and clearer presentation could easily be achieved.

The film was among the last wave not equipped with a full 5.1 soundtrack in theaters. Its first couple of DVDs only offered it in Dolby Surround. The DTS-HD 5.1 mix doesn't seem far removed from that, barely utilizing the rear channels to provide slight reinforcement and keeping the bulk of the audio in the front speakers. The dialogue is perfectly intelligible, though its crispness and clarity do fall a tad shy of ideals. English SDH and Spanish subtitles are offered on the film.

The original theatrical trailer for "The Usual Suspects" touts the not quite A-list cast over the same darkened bay with which the film opens. The Blu-ray's busy montage features the New York City cop car fire which brings shame to the NYPD.


The only on-disc bonus feature found here is a section of trailers, which includes The Usual Suspects' original theatrical trailer (2:24) and over 17 minutes of additional original MGM and Fox trailers for Flyboys, Windtalkers, Rocky, Bulletproof Monk, Phone Booth, Kiss of the Dragon, Speed, and Fantastic Four.

Accessible individually and as a group, this largely random assortment of subjects makes for interesting viewing and induces nostalgia for the not-so-distant past.

The short supply of extras is baffling because The Usual Suspects received a loaded double-sided Special Edition DVD back in 2002 that contained two audio commentaries, deleted scenes, various featurettes, a gag reel, and TV spots. Why MGM and distribution partner Fox saw none of that fit to include is one of life's great mysteries, but the movie wasn't alone in getting such treatment in the early days of Blu-ray.

Unique to this edition, of course, is the packaging, which holds the disc in a pouch on the back cover of a hardcover book. The book applies classy greyscale treatment to the familiar cover pose, which is still vertically stretched (though it needn't be) as it was back in the days of narrow VHS cases. The Digibook is liberally illustrated with film stills and production photos, few of which boast the high resolution befitting of publication and some of which are accompanied by a quote from the film. A page of 3-5 sentence career overviews and select film credits is offered for Chazz Palminteri and each of the five lead criminals. Bryan Singer gets a paragraph, which shares a page with six pieces of okay trivia it deems "unusual."

Rounding out the book are two short essays. Richard Tanne charts the film's unlikely rise to classic in "The Unusual Allure of The Usual Suspects" (which pegs the film at 21st on IMDb's list as of printing) and Travis Baker devotes a page to "Spoiler Alert: The Ending That Shook the World" (drawing comparisons to other twist endings that would follow). Neither article says very much and both avoids pithiness, giving them the feel of a smart high school student's attempt at a Criterion Collection booklet essay with 400-700 word limits.

The Blu-ray's basic menu plays clips overlaid with evidence photos and artistic character portraits to the most iconic strands of John Ottman's score.

The concept from which the film was born and with which it has always been marketed, this five criminal line-up remains the most iconic image of "The Usual Suspects", while also aiding celebrity height trackers.


I don't agree with those who rank The Usual Suspects as one of the greatest films of all time or even one of the best of the 1990s, but it is a good movie that warrants multiple viewings. Should you decide to buy the film, the Blu-ray Book edition is not the best value. The book isn't bad, but it's awfully slight to justify spending twice as much as the Blu-ray alone sells for. Even that might not be your best bet, since it sells for $3 more than the loaded Special Edition DVD whose numerous bonus features it almost entirely drops. A more satisfying Blu-ray edition, with better video/audio and the wealth of extras made for the film, seems inevitable. As such, waiting for it is advisable, although you can certainly make do with either this barren hi-def Blu-ray (in the picture book, if you're a sucker for packaging) or the souped-up DVD before it disappears.

Buy The Usual Suspects from Amazon.com:
Blu-ray Book / Standard Blu-ray / Special Edition DVD / DVD + Blu-ray Combo

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Written by Christopher McQuarrie: The Tourist

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Reviewed June 2, 2011.

Text copyright 2011 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1995 Gramercy Pictures, Polygram Filmed Entertainment, Spelling Films International,
2007-11 Metro Goldwyn Mayer, MGM Home Entertainment and 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.