|Usual Suspects, The|
|Written by Bill Warren|
|Sunday, 01 April 2007|
“The Usual Suspects” was the big surprise of 1995. A movie with a good cast of (then) relatively small names, directed and written by little-known talents, a title lifted from “Casablanca,” and a curious ad showing what must be those usual suspects in a police lineup. Conventional moviemaking wisdom holds that flashbacks are a bad idea—but “The Usual Suspects” isn’t just mostly a flashback, it’s flashbacks within flashbacks, and then at the end, something happens which leads us to wonder if what we just saw “actually” happened, or if the “true” story is something else altogether.
The surprise was one of recent movie history’s biggest jolts, up there with “I see dead people” and she’s really a guy. Fortunately, like those movies, the movie didn’t depend on its surprise, and extreme though it was, the surprise didn’t undo the whole movie. “The Usual Suspects” was a substantial hit and won two Oscars; Kevin Spacey took home the Best Supporting Actor trophy, and Best Original Screenplay went to “Suspects” writer Christopher McQuarrie—who’s been little heard from since, while director Bryan Singer went on to helm the first two “X-Men” movies and “Superman Returns.”
This Blu-Ray disc presents the movie in good form, with an especially powerful and richly detailed Lossless Audio soundtrack. However, the movie takes place largely at night and in rooms; presenting it in high definition isn’t really an improvement over the previously-released standard DVD—and that had a lot of extras. This has just a single trailer. Perhaps the distributor felt that the real market for this Blu-Ray disc is people who already own the standard DVD, and don’t need a duplicate set of extras. But that way of thinking will do nothing to expand the Blu-Ray market; it’s something like preaching to the converted. Blu-Ray (and Hi-Def) discs should offer extras that other DVDS (and laserdiscs before them) do not have; make customers feel they must own both standard and high definition versions for more than just getting the movie in somewhat superior visual quality.
After a bloody shootout—more like a series of executions—on a cargo ship docked in San Pedro, a nervous, somewhat sleazy little guy, who walks with a limp, is hauled before customs investigaor Dave Kujan (Chazz Palminteri). The nervous mouse is revealed as talkative minor criminal Roger “Verbal” Kint (Kevin Spacey), who’s terrified by something, or someone, he’s hesitant to reveal. But he’s not called “Verbal” for nothing, and begins telling a long story to Kujan; we follow along in flashback.
He was one of a police lineup in New York that included McManus (Stephen Baldwin), Keaton (Gabriel Byrne), Fenster (Benicio Del Toro) and Hockey (Kevin Pollak). Most of them were slightly acquainted already, especially ex-cop Keaton. Gradually, events draw them together and bring them to San Pedro. They meet with a Kobayashi (Pete Postlethwaite), a mysterious figure with his Japanese name and accent and very British face. He seems to be working for Keyser Soze, an even more mysterious criminal mastermind, a man so casually cruel that his very name causes even these jaded crooks to shudder.
There’s a scheme involving $91 million worth of cocaine, rivals for the look, and the constant looming presence of Keyser Soze. Still shivering in Kujan’s cluttered office, Verbal rattles on, telling how the ranks of “the usual suspects” began to be thinned, building up to the big event last night on the docks.
The movie’s script, and Spacey’s delivery, are so compelling that even on seeing the movie a second time, you’re likely to be swept up in the story, fascinated with how it’s being told, eager to hear the next detail. And at the end, you try to shake off the spell, to parse your way through the plot, trying to understand if what you heard was what really happened, or if the truth is something else altogether.
It’s an immensely clever movie, full of terrific acting bits by everyone in the cast, which is full of skilled character actors, from Gabriel Byrne down to Kevin Pollak. It’s great fun to watch, telling an engaging, almost hypnotic, game-like story that really couldn’t be told this well in any other format. This story was created for the movies. It plays fair with its surprises; if you re-watch the movie, you’ll notice several small clues scattered in among what must otherwise be a huge lie. And Spacey’s final scene is still witty.
The problem here is that the movie itself is not so strongly detailed in terms of its visual quality that seeing it in high definition is a big advantage. And 20th Century-Fox Home Video has provided such a skimpy package that, if you like the movie enough to own it, you should try to buy the earlier standard DVD.