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MGM Studios DVD presents
The Usual Suspects: SE (1995)

"Keaton always 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 Soze."
- Verbal Kint (Kevin Spacey)

Review By: Dan Heaton  
Published: March 17, 2002

Stars: Gabriel Byrne, Kevin Spacey, Stephen Baldwin, Kevin Pollak, Benicio del Toro
Other Stars: Chazz Palminteri, Giancarlo Esposito, Pete Postelthwaite, Dan Hedaya, Suzy Amis
Director: Bryan Singer

MPAA Rating: R for (violence and language)
Run Time: 01h:45m:56s
Release Date: April 02, 2002
UPC: 027616874818
Genre: crime

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A AA-A- A+

DVD Review

Dean Keaton (Gabriel Byrne) sits crumpled on the outer deck of a cargo ship awaiting his ultimate fate. The victim of a gunshot to the lower back, he has lost all feeling in his legs. Another motionless body rests nearby, and the night is quiet except for the sounds of calm, approaching footsteps. A mysterious, cloaked figure appears dressed in black and ready to deal this veteran criminal his end. Keaton recognizes the assailant and apparently understands the solution to the confusing puzzle. The villain performs the deed, and then destroys the ship in a fiery blaze. Within five minutes of the film's beginning, it already raises countless questions. What has taken place on this vessel? Who is the unknown figure? What is his purpose? These are only a few of the numerous complexities in The Usual Suspects—a riveting crime thriller where nothing is what it seems.

Following the deadly explosion, only two survivors remain—a critically burned Hungarian gangster and Verbal Kint (Kevin Spacey), a crippled man who survived without a scratch. Following Verbal's testimony, customs agent Dave Kuyan (Chazz Palminteri) still has some problems with his description of the night in question. This film revolves around their conversation and a more detailed recollection by the handicapped criminal. Sporting a series of flashbacks while things continue to happen in the present, this two-fold structure skillfully leads us to the thrilling finale. Although much of the action takes place in one room, director Bryan Singer (X-Men, Apt Pupil) kepts the tension high with inventive camera shots and an eye for small (but very important) details.

Verbal's story begins several months earlier in New York with a strange police lineup that includes five professional criminals. This unlikely meeting spurs the resolve of these small-time hoods to exact revenge. Although they have decided to work together, each man could not be more different. Keaton (Gabriel Byrne) is a master criminal closely pursued by the feds for a wide array of dastardly deeds. However, he plans to enter the legitimate restaurant business with lawyer girlfriend Edie (Suzy Amis) and is trying to go straight. Hockney (Kevin Pollak) spouts wisecrack remarks and prides himself on having connections with no one. His defiant demeanor exudes little respect for anyone else, especially straight-arrow cops. McManus (Stephen Baldwin) is a passionate, slightly crazy individual with a definite love for his work. His buddy is Fenster (Benicio Del Toro)—an animated fellow who speaks in a nearly incomprehensible dialect. Finally, Verbal stands out as the least imposing member of the group, but his deft plan allows their job to succeed beautifully.

As the film progresses, the five men travel to California and become entangled with a lawyer named Kobayashi (Pete Postelthwaite) who supposedly works for Keyser Soze. This name has a legendary status of both terror and supreme intelligence, and questions arise about his actual involvement. The events reach the fateful night on the pier, and everything becomes clear. Or does it? Here lies the genius of this story. Without revealing any of the details, I'll just say the finale is a shocker and one of the best twists in recent years. Writer Christopher McQuarrie (Way of the Gun) piles clues upon clues that may reveal all, but he still manages to surprise us in the final moments. Who is Keyser Soze? That's the central question, but the answer may open the door to an entirely new enigma.

Even considering the thrilling elements, this tale succeeds mostly due to the efforts of a terrific ensemble cast. Spacey leads the way with his deserving Academy Award®-winning performance of surprising complexity. Prior to this release, his roles had mostly been character parts with few prominent moments. Following this release and his chilling turn in Seven, he achieved remarkable success in mainstream Hollywood. Del Toro (Traffic) steals nearly all of his scenes with an amazingly original performance. His character could have easily disappeared behind the other acting heavyweights, but he overshadows them with plenty of style. Gabriel Byrne gives significant weight to the emotionally torn Keaton; Baldwin and Pollak also provide impressive energy. Chazz Palmenteri and Dan Hedaya make truly believable cops, and Giancarlo Esposito effectively creates a old-style FBI agent. This remarkable ensemble makes almost every scene interesting, which keeps the atmosphere compelling throughout the film.

The Usual Suspects is definitely the type of film that rewards repeated viewings. The intricacies of the plot dominate the first screening, which makes us miss some wonderful subtle moments. John Ottman's score works so nicely that it's hardly noticeable while taking this ride. Along with Singer and McQuarrie, he deserves tremendous credit for the success of this picture; without his precise editing, the climax would become incomprehensible and ridiculous. Although not for everyone, this tale stands as out of the classic films of the 1990s and will be savored by devotees for a very long time.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen1.33:1 - P&S
Original Aspect Ratioyesno

Image Transfer Review: This release offers you the option of choosing between the original 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer and a full-frame, pan & scan version. The first one is easily superior with well-defined colors, solid black levels, and an absence of significant defects. A bit of grain does appear during a few night scenes, but it remains minimal and does not distract too much from the overall picture. Singer's artful direction really shines from this impressive transfer, and the images reveal his attractive visual style.

In the opposite vein, the full-frame transfer blocks many of the film's best shots, and it hinders its overall effectiveness. While viewers can still follow the basic story without a problem, this cropped picture removes the extra elements that make the presentation unique. Characters often act in both the foreground and background of each scene, and it is impossible to appreciate this complexity without a widescreen image.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: John Ottman's lush score emanates nicely from this top-notch 5.1-channel Dolby Digital transfer. The high sound quality really improve the effectiveness of the production, especially during the elevator scene within the skyscraper. This track is also notable for the especially clear dialogue that springs from all corners of the soundfield. During the quick, surprising finale, words overlap from different characters and scenes with remarkable precision. While not on par with the best DTS transfers, this complex presentation should please devout fans and help to create a few new ones in the process.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 32 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
2 Original Trailer(s)
8 TV Spots/Teasers
5 Deleted Scenes
Production Notes
3 Documentaries
2 Featurette(s)
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by Director Bryan Singer and Writer Christopher McQuarrie; Editor/Composer John Ottman
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Gag reel (with intro from Bryan Singer)
  2. Easter egg John Ottman interview with film historian
  3. Easter egg interview outtakes
Extras Review: Considering the mediocrity of the many DVD releases of The Usual Suspects in the past, it is extremely refreshing to finally see a worthwhile special edition of this remarkable film. Separated onto two sides, this version offers a complete inspection of all facets of the movie. Once again, the disc includes the feature-length commentary from director Bryan Singer and writer Christopher McQuarrie. This track contains plenty of entertaining material, with both guys willing to joke about the production errors and inconsistencies in the movie. They exude a down-to-earth demeanor that does not overstate the importance of their production. Instead, they sound like film lovers who simply enjoy their jobs to the fullest extent. Obsessed fans hoping to discover every last bit of information about the plot twists may be slightly disappointed. During the closing credits, when they discuss the secrets, the statements are creatively looped to render them mostly incomprehensible.

Thankfully, this disc also offers another commentary from editor/composer John Ottman, who played a key role in the film's success. He speaks almost non-stop throughout the story and provides a surprising amount of material. Although tracks from editors and composers sometimes drift towards tedium, this one really stands out as an impressive inclusion. Ottman worked closely with Singer during the production and has extensive knowledge of each aspect. His words about specific elements of the score really pinpoint areas that often go unnoticed during viewings. In the taxi service scene, he presents the right moments to use the score and to hold back. While this commentary may not appeal to everyone, it provides a nice complement to its companion to offer a more definitive overview.

Although the commentaries are impressive, the best inclusion is the collection of documentaries about various aspects of the production. Pursuing the Suspects spends 25 minutes discussing the casting of each character. All of the major players show up and speak openly about their roles and reasons for taking them. Singer also provides plenty of items about his motives for choosing the actors. It's also especially worthwhile to hear Benicio Del Toro discuss the origins of Fenster's peculiar way of speaking. Doin' Time With the Usual Suspects spans 27 minutes and delves closely into the actual filming. It begins by having the stars talk about Singer and his directing process; then, it simply lets the cast and crew reminisce. This feature offers a lot of surprises, including the intelligence of Stephen Baldwin and Gabriel Byrne's honesty about the sad state of the American film industry today. Both of these intriguing documentaries are new and lack any of the usual promotional trappings.

Keyser Soze - Lie or Legend? takes a closer look at the Keyser Soze character and its beginnings. This piece is also top-notch and allows the actors to really express their approval of the finished product. It is remarkably evident that everyone has studied the movie and its clues to Keyser Soze's true identity. The remaining featurettes hearken back to the theatrical release of The Usual Suspects. The first is the typical groan-inducing promotional creation from Polygram. It runs for about six minutes, and seems especially pointless when compared to the other documentaries. Finally, Heisting Cannes with the Usual Suspects includes home-video footage of the fanfare at the Cannes Film Festival. Interviews from the present day complement the footage and describe the excitement of this event.

If those items were not enough, several more easter eggs are hidden but easily accessible. On the "Special Features" side of the disc, the menu contains a banner that says The Usual Suspects. Once there, you must solve a fairly simple puzzle, which leads to two more gems. The first is a 17-minute interview with John Ottman conducted by Jeff Bond—the senior editor of Film Score Monthly. They discuss his origins as a composer and explore the process in generating the film's score. I especially enjoyed this feature, which should be a godsend to prospective composers. The other easter egg is a silly, three-minute collection of outtakes from the interviews used for the documentaries. The highlight shows Singer deriding the "whoring" aspect of releasing multiple versions of the same film on DVD.

No proper special edition is complete without at least a few deleted scenes, and this release satisfies the requirement. The five included moments appear in a fair widescreen transfer and offer a few disregarded plot points. All together, they run for about four minutes, and contain nothing groundbreaking. Ottman gives an introduction to each scene and quickly explains the reasons for the cuts. This section also contains a seven-minute gag reel cut together for the cast's entertainment. Although pretty vulgar, this inclusion provides a lot of laughs and showcases the light mood on the set. One especially funny moment has Gabriel Byrne convincingly stating "There is no Zeyser Koze!".

The remaining supplements include the original theatrical trailer, international trailer, and eight television spots. John Ottman gives a brief introduction to the main preview and explains his reasons for creating it himself. The end result is an impressive trailer that captures the mystery of the story without revealing too many secrets. The TV commercials all run in one block and showcase positive critical responses.

Extras Grade: A+


Final Comments

I'm generally pretty sour about films released initially without many supplements and then repackaged later as a "special edition." However, The Usual Suspects offers such a high level of extra features that this version is definitely worth the purchase. This release contains an anamorphic visual transfer, 5.1-channel audio, an extra commentary, documentaries, deleted scenes, and more. Watching this masterful creation in all its glory should quiet most naysayers and provide an enjoyable experience for some new viewers in the process.


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