"The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist."
There are some films that have a lot of pre-release hype. Maybe they're from an acclaimed director, based off of a hot property, or is the sequel to an established hit. And then there are those films that come seemingly out of nowhere, make a huge splash, and change the face of its genre for a considerable time afterwards.
The Usual Suspects is one of those movies. While director Bryan Singer and Christopher McQuarrie had worked on a few small films before this movie, they were practically unknown when this film hit cinemas like a flash grenade in 1995. While Pulp Fiction had revitalized American cinema the year before, completely rewriting the lexicon of popular filmmaking, The Usual Suspects was something else entirely.
The Usual Suspects starts with one of the best scripts ever written. In the vein of great screenplays like Chinatown, The Usual Suspects weaves a tale so compelling, so absolutely fascinating, that all you can do is let it lead you as it will. It's not a script that panders to the lowest common denominator. It's smart, and it's so tightly balanced that it's impressive just to think about it. Christopher McQuarrie never did anything this good again.
"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."
Keyser Soze has become one of the all-time great movie villains since the release of the film. And that's even more impressive since you almost never see him. When you think of a great villain, they almost always dominate the screen. Darth Vader, Hannibal Lecter, Frank Booth, the list goes on. They're all forceful personalities that steal every scene in which they appear. Keyser Soze is the complete opposite. He's a ghost, a shadow, a myth. He's an incredible character and a large part of the legacy of the film.
Of course, it helped that Bryan Singer was more than just a director-for-hire. He and McQuarrie had worked together before, and this is the culmination of their partnership. And it is a true partnership. Singer understands story and film language, and uses all of his skill to bring this tale to the screen. He's as smart a visualist as McQuarrie is a storyteller, and his direction is the perfect complement to the incredible script. To get an idea of how important Singer's direction was for the overall quality of the film, watch the movie and see if the film would work if made any other way (it can't, in case you're wondering).
And the final touch is the stellar cast. Kevin Spacey won an Oscar for his portrayal of Verbal Kint, and once you watch him in action, it makes total sense. Spacey is one of the best actors of his generation, giving marvelous performances in dozens of different types of films. So it's no small compliment when I say that his performance in The Usual Suspects is one of his all-time best.
That's not to belittle the rest of the cast, though. Gabriel Byrne is particularly good as the unspoken leader of the ragtag group. Kevin Pollack and Stephen Baldwin, whose careers were never particularly A-list, seem inspired by the proceedings, as they give career best work. And, of course, Benicio Del Toro is utterly indecipherable as Fenster.
In short, The Usual Suspects is a must-see film. It rewards repeated viewings and believe me, you'll want to see it again. This is a movie that will go down in film history as one of the greats.
"And poof. Just like that, he's gone.
The Blu-ray Disc:
To me, 1995 doesn't seem like that long ago. But I guess celluloid ages faster than humans, because this film is starting to show its age in this 1080p 2.35:1 MPEG-2 transfer. Dirt on the print appears if not frequently than at least enough to be noticeable. A lot of dark shots exhibit softness. On the other hand, scenes in daylight look sharp with a good, but not great amount of detail. Overall, a middle of the road HD transfer.
MGM offers us a DTS-HD Master Audio lossless 5.1 mix. Unfortunately, no Blu-ray players are currently capable of decoding the full DTS-HD codec, so the best we can do right now is to pull the 1.5 Mpbs lossy DTS core. The majority of the effects come from the front speakers, with the rears generally relegated to the score. The big exception would be the boat climax, which is where the mix picks up. That being said, the audio feels older than the video looked. I would like to hear how it sounds when it's lossless, but I think a remaster might still be in order. Also provided are Spanish and French Dolby 2.0 tracks.
The Usual Suspects has seen two DVD editions, both with interesting and informative extras. So now that we're going "beyond DVD," as the Blu-ray ads state, what do we get? The theatrical trailer. The freakin' theatrical trailer. No brilliant and hilarious commentary from Singer and McQuarrie, no behind the scenes, no documentaries. A TRAILER! This is practically a slap in the face to fans of the film. Shame on MGM . It doesn't help that although this trailer is supposedly in 1080p, it's in such poor shape that it could be standard definition.
Even more galling is the decision to include eight other Fox and MGM trailers, all in HD, when the space could have been used for standard definition extras. Which would you rather see, a 1080p trailer for Bulletproof Monk or a 480p documentary on one of the most important films of the 90's?
The Usual Suspects is an absolutely tremendous film. With an airtight screenplay and excellent direction, the movie packs a visceral punch that's hard to match. Sadly, this Blu-ray disc, while presenting halfway decent audio and video, completely omits all of the extras from the DVD editions. Don't let the studios think this is acceptable. While the movie is incredible, the fleecing of the consumer by the studios is not. Thus, sadly, I can only suggest that when it comes to this Blu-ray, you Rent It.
Daniel Hirshleifer is the High Definition Editor for DVD Talk.