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Bryan Singer
Gabriel Byrne, Kevin Spacey, Stephen Baldwin, Chazz Palminteri, Pete Postlethwaite, Kevin Pollak, Benicio Del Toro
Christopher McQuarie

Five Criminals . One Line Up . No Coincidence.
Rated R for violence and a substantial amount of strong language.

Academy Awards:
Won for Best Supporting Actor-Kevin Spacey; Best Screenplay.

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
French Dolby Surround 2.0
Spanish Dolby Surround 2.0
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 106 min.
Price: $34.99
Release Date: 5/10/2011

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The Usual Suspects [Blu-Ray] (1995)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 18, 2011)

In 1995, Kevin Spacey enjoyed what ball players would call a "career year." He began with Outbreak in the spring. While his performance in this film wasn't too memorable, the picture itself provided good entertainment and thrills and it remains one of director Wolfgang Petersen's most effective efforts.

Later in the year came Spacey's frightening turn as serial killer John Doe in Se7en. His role was small but crucial; Spacey's Doe lived up to the reputation the character had built during the majority of the film when he remained unseen. Financially and critically, Se7en also enjoyed tremendous success; I feel it's the best movie of the 1990s.

Finally, Spacey received even more acclaim for his terrific role as criminal/apparent patsy Verbal Kint in The Usual Suspects. While I clearly prefer Se7en, Spacey's work in The Usual Suspects provided him with a much fuller range to play, and he acquitted himself remarkably well. In an extremely strong cast, he stood out and took home the Best Supporting Actor Academy Award.

Of course, The Usual Suspects wasn't a one-man show; it offered many other compelling elements. While I've always been a cheapskate, that frugal tendency was well served by a strong complement of bargain "last run" movie theaters in my area by during the first half of the 1990s. I saw many, many films, but few of them came during their original theatrical runs.

As such, I usually knew quite a bit about the movies I saw since they'd been out for a while. Once the local dollar theater went under in mid-1996, I started to attend many more first run pictures. I also tried to avoid hearing reviews prior to screenings of films I knew I wanted to see, but that wasn't the case when I saw The Usual Suspects in late 1995.

I had read the reviews about it that alerted potential viewers that The Usual Suspects was a demanding picture. According to these critics, you darned might need to take notes during that sucker if you wanted to follow it. Once I saw the movie, I deemed these notices to be overstatements, but maybe the fact that I knew the film was complex changed the experience for me. Had I gone in blind, I may have attended less strongly to the plot twists and I might have gotten a little lost. Whatever the case, The Usual Suspects clearly rewarded the attentive viewer more than was frequently the case.

Surprisingly, it also survives repeated viewings quite well. Films like this provide much of their excitement and intrigue from plot surprises, so they often become somewhat dull when watched again. That doesn't really happen here. Of course, some of the impact dissipates just because the film lacks surprise, but the movie actually gains some from the fact that the viewer can better attend to details missed the first time around. I've now watched The Usual Suspects seven or eight times over the years, and I still really enjoy it.

Credit certainly goes to Bryan Singer's crisp and succinct direction and Christopher McQuarrie's sharp and clever Academy Award winning script. However, the actors remain ultimate reason why The Usual Suspects continues to please even after many viewings. Spacey deserved all the accolades that came his way, but unfortunately, his status somewhat eclipsed that of the rest of the cast, most of whom provided performances virtually on a par with his.

Best of the remaining cast remains Benicio Del Toro's bizarre and hilarious turn as mush-mouth criminal Fenster. Del Toro doesn't provide as real and full a character as does Spacey, but Fenster remains the most memorable and consistently entertaining aspect of the film. Gabriel Byrne, as apparently conflicted crook Keaton, comes closest to having a lead role in this ensemble piece. I'm not a huge fan of Byrne's work, but he effectively portrays the various impulses and emotions of Keaton quite well; his performance largely grounds the piece.

Stephen Baldwin (who I usually like) and Kevin Pollak (who I usually don't) also provide invigorating performances in their somewhat one-note roles as the final two suspects. Chazz Palminteri and Giancarlo Esposito offer good work in their largely expository parts as law enforcement officials, and Pete Postlethwaite gives a typically quiet but compelling turn as somewhat mysterious agent.

Really, the only acting that left me cold came from Suzy Amis as Keaton's love interest/lawyer. Maybe it's just because I don't much care for her in general, maybe it's because it's hard for a woman to stand out in a "man's movie", but I thought she came across as weak and uninteresting. Thankfully, her role doesn't ask her to do much and she in no way negates the bold impact of the film as a whole.

Were it not for Se7en, Iíd call The Usual Suspects the best movie of 1995. As it stands, the film must settle for second place. But itís a strong second, as Suspects offers a consistently intelligent, complex, and riveting piece of work.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture C/ Audio B+ / Bonus D

The Usual Suspects appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. The image was watchable but inconsistent.

Definition was inconsistent. I noticed some light edge enhancement at times, and sharpness varied. Some shots demonstrated good clarity, and the movie never seemed genuinely soft, but it tended to be on the mushy side of the street. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, but occasional source flaws appeared. A mix of small specks and marks cropped up through the film. Though these werenít heavy, they created more than a few distractions.

Colors looked decent to good. The hues tended to be a bit heavy but were acceptable and occasionally showed good vivacity, though they were never especially dynamic. Blacks appeared dark and tight, but shadows were a little muddy. That wasnít a terrible issue, and most low-light scenes looked okay, but the dark scenes tended to be a bit dense .

As for the DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio, Suspects was a very chatty film, and the soundfield remained oriented toward the forward spectrum. In that realm, music showed very good stereo spread and presence, while effects also demonstrated solid breadth and movement at times. During a lot of the film, those elements largely remained in the center, but at times, the mix came more to life and offered clean panning and a nicely blended track.

Surround usage tended to remain within the dimension of general reinforcement. The music worked especially well in that regard, as the rear speakers neatly enhanced the score. Effects also worked nicely in some scenes, especially those that involved gunfire or explosions.

Speech seemed warm and natural through the movie, and I discerned no edginess or problems related to intelligibility. Effects appeared clean and accurate, and they boasted good bass response when appropriate; elements like foghorns or explosions offered solid oomph. Music worked best of all, as the score seemed clear and bright, and it also featured nice depth and dynamic range. Overall, the mix for The Usual Suspects lacked the sonic ambition to merit an ďAĒ-level grade, but it still earned a solid ďB+Ē.

How did the picture and audio of this Blu-ray compare to those of the 2002 Special Edition DVD? Audio remained pretty similar, as the lossless mix added a little depth but not a lot.

Visuals were more complicated. For its format, the DVD looked very good, but the extra resolution of Blu-ray made this disc superior. It didnít blow away its predecessor, but even with its problems, the Blu-ray was the stronger release.

Though the 2002 DVD included tons of extras, virtually none of them appear here. We find the trailer for Suspects as well as ads for Flyboys, Windtalkers, Rocky, Bulletproof Monk, Phone Booth, Kiss of the Dragon, Speed and Fantastic Four.

For this release, the disc comes in a hardcover book. It includes essays from Richard Tanne and Travis Baker, cast/crew biographies, trivia and photos. The book adds some decent value to the set.

But not for its asking price. The Usual Suspects remains a terrific film. Mysteries/thrillers donít get much better than this, as the flick fires on all cylinders. Crisply written, briskly directed, and wonderfully acted, thereís little about which I can complain, and God knows I love to complain!

This Blu-ray is less memorable, unfortunately. Audio is good, but the set lacks substantial supplements and displays erratic, generally average visuals. Suspects could use a new transfer Ė and a Blu-ray that ports over the old DVDís bonus materials.

If you donít want to wait for an upgraded Blu-ray that may never arrive, Iíd recommend that you go with the standard release of Suspects. It offers the same disc as this version and lists for $15 less than this book edition. While I like the book, itís not worth an additional $15, so stick with the regular Blu-ray if you want a copy of the film.

To rate this film visit the Special Edition review of THE USUAL SUSPECTS

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