The Usual Suspects (1995)

If you create a user account, you can add your own review of this DVD

Released 13-Jun-2001

Cover Art

This review is sponsored by
BUY IT

Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Thriller Main Menu Introduction
Menu Animation & Audio
Theatrical Trailer-1.33:1, not 16x9, Dolby Digital 2.0 (2:20)
Biographies-Cast & Crew
Audio Commentary-Bryan Singer (Dir) & Christopher McQuarrie (Writ)
Scene Selection Anim & Audio
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 1995
Running Time 101:27
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Bryan Singer
Studio
Distributor
Spelling Films
Sony Pictures Home Entertain
Starring Stephen Baldwin
Gabriel Byrne
Chazz Palminteri
Kevin Pollak
Pete Postlethwaite
Kevin Spacey
Suzy Amis
Benicio Del Toro
Giancarlo Esposito
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI $36.95 Music John Ottman


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
German Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Russian Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
German
Polish
Bulgarian
Russian
Hungarian
Czech
Hindi
German Audio Commentary
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

   Probably one of the more anticipated films to come out in Region 4 in recent times is The Usual Suspects, for this is a film that many hold in very high regard - its current ranking at number 15 in the Internet Movie Database Top 250 films on the strength of a very large number of votes is a fair indication of that. Equally, others do not see what the fuss is all about and argue that the film is too "difficult". It is a film that tends to wear a little of its pretentiousness on its sleeve as it were, but I would have to say that overall it is a fine film. Indeed, if there are any problems with the film, I would suggest that they boil solely down to the last couple of minutes, of which more anon. The central theme of the film is of course part of its infamy - just who the heck is Keyser Soze? Whatever your thoughts are on the film, one thing is for sure - it is not a film that you can just toss on and play in the background. You really need to watch the film to pick up on all the subtlety of the story unfolding before your eyes, just so that you can understand the final denounement. If you listen and watch very carefully you will discover much about what will come.

   This twisting story revolves around five New York criminals; Michael McManus (Stephen Baldwin), Dean Keaton (Gabriel Byrne), Todd Hockney (Kevin Pollak), Fred Fenster (Benicio Del Toro) and Roger "Verbal" Kint (Kevin Spacey). It begins with the death of Dean Keaton, and through the intriguing narration of Verbal Kint as he recounts the tale of a mysterious Hungarian criminal known as Keyser Soze to FBI agent Dave Kujan (Chazz Palminteri). That narrative takes us back from the present day, highlighted by a large blaze on a ship that has resulted in plenty of dead bodies, to six weeks previously. Now it is important to understand that this flashback narrative is being provided by a man blighted with palsy and a man blessed with limited intellect. The narrative takes us back to the five usual suspects being rounded up for a line-up in relation to an investigation of a crime that is only later revealed, and the subsequent interrogation of the suspects who seem to have nothing to do with the crime. As their interrogators fail miserably to pin anything on them, they are thrown back into their holding cell. Whilst there, Michael McManus hatches a plan for a job that they can all share in. A big job with loads of emeralds at stake and a fencing job that will take them all to Los Angeles. But as you can guess, things are not what they seem and the seemingly odd way in which they all came together in one place, and the connection they have with each other, is revealed by Kobayashi (Pete Postlethwaite), a messenger for none other than the mysterious Keyser Soze. It turns out they all at one time inadvertently robbed Mr Soze and he now has a proposition that will repay their debt to him: prevent a $91 million drug deal going down. And if they do so after cash has changed hands, they not only repay their debt to Keyser Soze, but they can have the money.

   The only catch is that it soon becomes apparent that this is not a take-it-or-leave-it job - this is a must-do job or else. Either way, the chances of coming out alive are not high, but then again $91 million is no small amount of money and slight risks would seem to be in order to get it. And so it is that the story plays out to its logical conclusion - or not. The question awaits an answer: does it get it?

   This really is a finely-crafted story that is badly let down by the last few minutes of the film. By trying to answer the posed question of who the heck Keyser Soze is, the ending tells far more than it needed to in order to be brilliantly effective. The result is a slightly disappointing ending to what could have been an absolutely superb film. It is amazing how much change those extra three minutes of film have made here. At least that is my view. Up until the last three minutes, this was a film of rare distinction. Sure, if you love those boring old linear style films, this one is not going to satisfy you. The flashback style of the narrative, effectively juxtaposing the bland, non-revealing answer to FBI agent Dave Kujan with the real story of what the past six weeks has held, really will drive linear types insane. But that is the joy of the film: the constantly changing shape of the story as more pieces are added to the puzzle, whilst not really completing the puzzle that poor old Dave Kujan is desperate to solve. It is rare to see such nicely convolute writing nowadays and this is the sort of stuff we more associate with masters such as Alfred Hitchcock. Justifiably, the screenplay earned screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie an Oscar.

   The story is supported by a fabulous ensemble cast. It is of course highlighted by the magnificent performance of Kevin Spacey, for which he rightly earned a Best Supporting Actor Oscar. Kevin Spacey has rarely if ever turned in a duff performance, but this is brilliant stuff indeed. To play with such utter conviction the role of a man blighted with palsy, a man with obviously more nous than his cohorts grant him is ample demonstration of this man's talents. He is so utterly convincing at all times through the film that he completely draws you in and makes you believe that Verbal Kint is nothing more than a feeble-minded con-man trying to make his way in the world. But Kevin Spacey is only one of the great talents on display here. Okay Stephen Baldwin is perhaps not a great talent (I know I have called him a lot worse), but by his standards this is sublime acting indeed. It is not when compared to Kevin Spacey but... well, he is a Baldwin boy and by their standards this is brilliant stuff. Gabriel Byrne is in my view a much underrated actor and this is a fine example of that. He produces a performance of brilliant intensity and you are utterly convinced that he is a man wronged by the police line-up and that the return to crime is the only avenue open to him. But even doing so, he will do it on his terms and no one else's. Kevin Pollak carries a limited role well and does nothing here to diminish any wraps about him. Benicio Del Toro has of course gone onto bigger and better things, but this early performance shows an actor with some ability: indeed, the commentary does not fail to mention how he completely turned around the portrayal of Fred Fenster. You could argue that he went a tad over-the-top with the vocal style, but it does add a naturalness to the group that is reminiscent of the streets of New York. And then there is the ever-reliable Pete Postlethwaite - another old trouper who seems to be incapable of poor performance.

   Rounding out the excellence in the film is some stellar cinematography, that really gives the film a gritty, street-wise look and produces a constrained feel that emphasises the inevitability of the usual suspects ending up doing the job. After all, what realistic option do they have? Even when there is constriction in the image, imaginative use of light has managed to highlight aspects of that constricted image in order to emphasise the central narrative of the film. The whole photography is aimed at creating a film-noirish look that is quite effective. I suppose that the whole thing reflects the sum of the parts, but I wonder how much this film has to do with Bryan Singer and how much has to do with being given a gem of a story and some serious quality actors? He will no doubt take the credit, but this is not really his film - it is the writer's film and it is the actors' film, everything else is merely coincidence (as he dons his flame-proof suit).

   Whilst there are some quite appalling goofs in the film (they seem to revel in highlighting the 747 that becomes a 767 by an excessively extended shot - even ignoring the fact that I don't believe La Guardia airport actually handles too many 747s), they are readily overlooked as you continue your absorbing journey through Verbal Kint's story. A very good film, brilliantly conceived and wonderfully executed - all bar three minutes anyway. This is fully deserving of its status in the Top 250 films and is highly recommended.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality

Video

    The story is different, and the way the film is presented is different. Whilst this is an anamorphically shot film, this has not resulted in the typical vibrant, glossy transfer that seems to be characteristic of the process. The transfer has a deliberate darkness to it, and this pervades every scene of the film. This does tend to emphasise the underworld nature of the film, but it also negates to some extent the anticipated vibrancy from the anamorphic process.

    The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and it is 16x9 enhanced.

    Whilst the transfer tends towards the darker side of things, overall the transfer is very good. The sharpness is not the ultimate you will ever see, but it is in general a more than acceptable effort with no significant lapses at all, despite the darker tendencies of the transfer. Detail is similarly very good, and in many ways the transfer has used the dark as a way of emphasising detail within the film. This is especially noticeable during some of the scenes on the ship towards the end of the film, and is a very effective way of drawing full attention to the characters. Shadow detail as you might have suspected is not especially terrific, but that is part of the design of the film and is in no way attributable to the transfer. Clarity is pretty good all the way through, and there does not seem to be much in the way of grain in the transfer. There are no apparent problems with low level noise in the transfer.

    From a colour point of view, this is an excellent-looking transfer. It is not be blessed with a whole raft of bright, primary colours, but rather tends towards the more subdued colours of the spectrum. However, they are very nicely saturated and look very natural within the context of the film. There are some instances of oversaturation in the transfer, most notably the red shirt worn by Benicio Del Toro (see 11:57 as an example) which looks somewhat out of place in this transfer. There is also some issue under the red lighting around 81:20, but that may well be inherent in the source material. There does not appear to be any problems with colour bleed in the transfer.

    The biggest issue within the transfer is an unusual artefact that appears quite frequently between 50:00 and 55:00. This is during the scenes where Kobayashi makes the offer to the five, and looks like a banding in the transfer that mirrors the Venetian blinds in the window across the curtains and wall. Apart from that, there did not appear to be any MPEG artefacts in the transfer. There were no really significant film-to-video artefacts in the transfer, but there are a few instances of aliasing here and there that are a little bit too noticeable. This is sort of expected when Venetian blinds are present, and they do provide part of the relatively minor problem (such as at 18:20). More noticeable, however, is the odd instance of aliasing in Gabriel Byrne's sunglasses (as at 78:30) but this is again relatively minor stuff. There was the odd film artefact floating around in the transfer, but this was reasonably clean overall.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    The thing you first notice about this package is the lack of a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. That is the most serious disappointment about the whole package, and it really is sadly missed at times. However, rather than complaining about what we don't get (remembering what we do get is a terrific film), let's concentrate on what we have. There are three soundtracks on the DVD, namely an English Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack that definitely sounds surround-encoded, a German Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack and, somewhat unusually and somewhat perplexingly, a Russian Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack. I listened to the English soundtrack, and did not even sample the other two options.

    The dialogue comes up well in the transfer and there are no real problems with the clarity and ease of understanding. Okay, there is one proviso with respect to that statement: anything spoken by Benicio Del Toro is almost incomprehensible at the best of times. Indeed, even the actors on set did not understand him (and were encouraged to ad lib the what the heck are you saying stuff), so remember that this is an inherent problem and nothing to do with the transfer nor your ears. There are no problems with audio sync in the transfer.

    The music score comes from John Ottman, who also edited the film (fairly unusual combination that one, although here it proves quite apt). Whilst on its own it is not utterly distinctive, it does seem to underscore the film very well indeed, and does boast a rather memorable theme tune.

    Okay, once you get past the disappointment of there being no Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, you start to realise that this Dolby Digital 2.0 effort is pretty good. Sure, it lacks the ultimate punch in the explosions, and the odd bullet sounds like what it is - a blank - but overall there is more to enjoy here than complain about. There is some decent surround presence during the explosions and the overall soundscape has a slightly more encompassing feel to it than I was expecting from the soundtrack. It could perhaps have benefited from a little more space in the sound (wonder whether a 224 Kb/s soundtrack would have fixed that?), but I would really be loathe to suggest that this is congested in anyway. Obviously there is no support from the bass channel here, but everything else works fine enough.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    Okay, let us first of all remember that this is a single layer DVD, and therefore the 101 minutes of the film alone are going to leave little space left over for further goodies. The fact that we have anything is possibly a surprise.

Menu

    After a main menu introduction, each menu seems to have been blessed with both audio and animation enhancements. All are nicely themed to the ubiquitous poster of the film (highlighted by the front cover), and they are all 16x9 enhanced. These indicate that some care has been taken in their presentation as the move from one menu to the next seems to be well-handled.

Theatrical Trailer (2:13)

    A fairly reasonable trailer for a film that they could not give too much away about, otherwise they would have ruined everything. It is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, it is not 16x9 enhanced and comes with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. It is a little darkish as well as being a little grainy, but is otherwise of quite reasonable technical standard. There are a few film artefacts floating throughout it, but nothing really distracting.

Biographies - Cast and Crew

    Actually credited on the cover as talent profiles, neither moniker is really accurate. What they actually are is filmographies: scrolling filmographies to be precise. Whilst reasonably up to date, they are not great compensation for genuine biographies, no matter how many of the cast and crew are featured.

Audio Commentary - Bryan Singer (Director) and Christopher McQuarrie (Writer)

    Whilst I have not actually listened to the whole thing yet, from what I have heard so far this is not too bad an effort. There is certainly some silence here and there, and some of the comments are simply re-statements of what is happening on screen, but they do throw in enough behind-the-scenes sort of stuff to make it worthwhile. What it does suggest is that there are plenty of deleted scenes from the film, which begs the question of why this important film did not get a slightly better treatment in this area. Overall, a good listen as there is enough good stuff in here to outweigh the mediocre stuff.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    Funnily enough, for a film of this stature, there are few reliable reviews available of the Region 1 DVD. From what we can gather however, the Region 1 release misses out on:

    The Region 4 release misses out on:     If you are looking towards Region 2 for relief, you are in even worse straits it seems. A previously released UK version was Pan and Scan only (ye gods!). A current German release apparently is 16x9 enhanced, but according to the Internet Movie Database is in the wrong aspect ratio of 1.85:1, as well as lacking an English soundtrack (my limited German suggests that Amazon.de have listed the same DVD as the Region 4, with an English soundtrack). Whilst the lack of a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is almost unforgivable, it would seem that in view of the Region 4 release having 16x9 enhancement, we have perhaps the best version around at the moment. I cannot help but feel though that this is seriously crying out for a special edition re-release...

Summary

    The Usual Suspects is one of the best films that you are going to see on DVD this year, whether or not you agree with the last three minutes of the film. A brilliant story brought to life by a superb ensemble cast, if you are not averse to non-linear films then you will find plenty to enjoy in this twisting little tale. I could have imagined a better DVD package, but this is such an essential film that I am willing to overlook the relatively minor disappointments. As Roger Ebert would say "two thumbs up"! Interestingly, this release has the old-style Columbia TriStar Home Video introductory logo.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ian Morris (Biological imperfection run amok)
Friday, June 22, 2001
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-515, using S-Video output
DisplaySony Trinitron Wega (80cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationYamaha RXV-795
SpeakersEnergy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL

Other Reviews
Dark Horizons - Garth F
Web Wombat - James A

Comments (Add)
Sorry To Burst Your Bubble - DarkEye (This bio says: Death to DNR!)
Special Edition with DD5.1 now available -