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The Usual Suspects is a film that has been poorly represented in the UK until this time. The original release from the now defunct Polygram was one of the worst discs ever to ‘grace’ the shelves of your local DVD emporium. Featuring a cropped 4:3 transfer (why oh why?) and Dolby Surround audio with no extras to speak of, it was hardly going to win any awards for best DVD. Fast forward to 2002 and enter The Usual Suspects MGM style. Spanning two discs and with more extras than you can shake a stick at, will this Special Edition become the definitive release of the film? Only time, and perhaps this review, will tell… Due to the nature of the film I’m trying to keep spoilers to a minimum for the uninitiated, but apologies in advance for anything that may slip through.

The Usual Suspects...
The Usual Suspects opens with a scene taken from the ‘end’ of the movie, and it pretty much stays true to this formula throughout. The story is told in flashback form and you are never quite sure if anybody or anything is what it seems. The film is narrated for the most part by the character of ‘Verbal’ Kint (played by the fantastic Kevin Spacey), a cripple who is undergoing interrogation by special agent Dave Kujan. It is through this interrogation that we witness events unfold.

The basic premise is quite simple: Five criminals, the usual suspects of the title, are brought in for questioning in relation to their suspected involvement in the hijacking of a truck. During this time they are pumped for information and generally played off against one another, to little effect I might add. As Spacey’s character puts it, they are five men brought in on a trumped up charge to be leant on by halfwits.

After their release the group, including Keaton (an ex dirty cop), McManus, Fenster, Hockney and Verbal himself, decide to exact revenge by ripping off a shipment of diamonds from a bunch of crooked cops. The group then travel to LA to fence the diamonds, where they take part in another, bungled heist. They are surprised to learn that the man who engineered the job, a lawyer named Kobayashi, isn’t the person pulling the strings. He in turn works for one Keyser Soze, a mysterious figure whose name inspires fear in even the most hardened of criminals. In spite of his legendary status in the underworld many people are sceptical about his existence, but after hearing about some of Soze’s exploits, the group decides that non-compliance is too risky and they agree to do one job on his behalf.

As the usual suspects prepare for this final job the film hurtles towards a climactic finale that is almost guaranteed to leave your head spinning! It’s not possible to say much more without ruining this delicately interwoven tale, but I can say that the acting, direction, editing, score and pretty much everything else is superb. The leads nail their characters perfectly, with Kevin Spacey delivering the standout performance. Special mention must also go to Benicio Del Toro, who steals many a scene with his hilarious portrayal of the unintelligible Fenster.

Unlike the Polygram release, this special edition of The Usual Suspects is presented in it’s original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and is anamorphically enhanced for widescreen televisions. The quality of the transfer is superior throughout; contrast is good, blacks are solid and the varied colour palette looks first-rate. The image is sharp and shadow detail is excellent during the nighttime sequences. The image does have a few minor issues, such as the occasional speckle and the odd shimmering background, but overall this is a very pleasing transfer. It’s not quite up there with the best, but it’s not very far behind. For the technically inclined, this disc features a high average bitrate of 9.25Mb/sec.

For this release, The Usual Suspects has been given the Dolby Digital 5.1 remix treatment. Sound is good throughout, with the all important dialogue remaining clear and centred at all times. This is not a film that relies on big action set pieces, so the rear channels are used sparingly to set the mood. Some good examples of this include a passenger jet flying overhead, the various shootouts that occur throughout the film and the introduction of the score to heighten dramatic tension. The score itself is simply excellent, and serves to draw the viewer deeper into the proceedings. The subwoofer doesn’t get much of a look in, but this really isn’t a film choc full of big explosions and the like. Overall this is a balanced and very enjoyable mix.

This is the one area where this edition of The Usual Suspects stands head and shoulders above its predecessor. In stark contrast to the bare bones Polygram release, MGM have provided a two-disc set crammed full of supplemental features.

Disc one contains two commentary tracks, the first with writer Chris McQuarrie and director Bryan Singer, with the second provided by editor/composer John Ottman.

The McQuarrie/Singer commentary is the better of the two, as the friends bounce off of one another throughout. They pair provide many useful insights into the film, swapping between factual information and anecdotes on a regular basis. John Ottman also provides an enjoyable track, and brings a unique perspective as both the editor and composer. He’s not quite as animated as the other two, but this is understandable given that he is commentating alone. Both tracks chug along at a fair old pace, without too many of the dreaded pauses that can plague commentaries.

Stick 'em up!
The second disc is where the meat is to be found. First we have a featurette entitled ‘Deposing the Usual Suspects’ which is actually broken up into two smaller chunks. The first of these is called ‘Pursuing The Usual Suspects’ and features extensive interviews with most of the people involved with the production, including Bryan Singer, Chris McQuarrie, Kevin Spacey and the rest of the cast. At twenty-five minutes in length this featurette is pretty in depth, and doesn’t degenerate into the backslapping festival that these things so often do. There are some interesting bits of info to be gleaned, including the fact that Al Pacino almost auditioned for the role that ended up going to Chazz Palminteri, but decided not to on the grounds that he was already playing a cop in another film (1995’s Heat). Another thing that is made perfectly clear in this featurette is that Benicio Del Toro is a very odd man indeed, and apparently based the character of Fenster on Mumbles from Dick Tracey… One thing that is also borne out in this featurette is that Kevin Pollak is a bit of an arse.

The second part of the featurette is entitled ‘Doin’ Time with The Usual Suspects’, in which Bryan Singer goes into more detail about the problems he encountered getting the film made and putting the cast together. The actors also talk about their roles and on-set experiences in greater depth, including the reason behind their inability to keep straight faces on the day the line-up sequence was filmed. The blame supposedly lies with one Benicio Del Toro, or more specifically his constant breaking of wind…

Next up we have ‘Keyser Soze: Legend or Lie’, which takes a closer look at the origins of Keyser Soze, including how the name of the character had to undergo several changes for various reasons. We even get a translation of what the name means in English! If you’re looking for the definite answer to the question “Who is Keyser Soze?” then you’d better look elsewhere, as the cast members all have their own opinions on the subject which rarely intersect one another.

‘Introducing The Usual Suspects’ is an original Polygram featurette, which is fairly promotional in nature. At just over six minutes in length it’s not going to divulge too many secrets, with most of the content being covered in greater detail elsewhere. Picture quality also suffers a little in this featurette.

‘Heisting Cannes With The Usual Suspects’ takes a look at the success the film enjoyed at the Cannes Film Festival. The actors talk a little more about their characters, and we’re given a glimpse behind the scenes as the cast give interviews to the media. They all seem to be fairly weary of answering the same questions over and over again, as Kevin Pollak informs us in his own slightly ignorant manner.

‘Bryon Singer’s Gag Reel’ does exactly what it says on the tin. Included are series of outtakes and bloopers from the movie, edited together in quick bursts to provide a mildly amusing spectacle. The highlight of the reel is probably the extremely dodgy ‘Keyser Soze Rap’, the less about which is said the better…

Next we have ‘Taking Out The Usual Suspects’ which includes three subsections, the first of which is called ‘Interview with John Ottman’. This is another self-explanatory segment in which John is interviewed about his experiences of, and contributions to, the film. He is in a fairly unique position to provide insights, being both the editor and composer. That said, at seventeen minutes in length this drags on for too long and it gets a little boring after a while.

‘Bryan Singer Introduces Kevin Spacey & Friend’ is an outtake from a particular scene in the film where a member of the public got in the way. Singer really builds this one up, but unfortunately his introduction is longer than the actual outtake, which takes the shine off of things.

‘Interview Outtakes’ are fairly bland moments like the guys messing up their lines or doing kooky things, until Bryan Singer appears. The director has some interesting things to say about the DVD format, especially some of the not-so-special editions that are currently doing the rounds. In particular he is very critical of the Jaws DVD for not being as good as the laserdisc version! It’s nice to hear someone in the industry criticise the way that some films are whored on the home entertainment formats, what with multiple releases with a few new features to keep the fans coming back. I can think of at least one very well known trilogy that has utilised this trick before, on more than a few occasions…

‘Deleted Scenes’ includes five short scenes cut from the theatrical release by John Ottman, which later turned up in his cupboard (or some such unlikely place). Sourced from VHS, you can imagine that they don’t look anywhere near as good as the rest of the video in the set. The scenes are very short, and again their intros last longer than they do. Still, it’s nice to have them on the disc and it shows that those involved were serious about presenting a complete package to the consumer.

Rounding off the extras we have the international and U.S. trailers, the latter of which is narrated by our old friend ‘Voiceoverman’ and includes an Ottman intro in which he discusses the music originally chosen for the trailer. Finally we have about a million U.S. TV spots, which are fine for what they are, but none of them accurately represent the film.

Weren't you in Swimming with Sharks?
This is only the second time I have seen The Usual Suspects, but it won’t be the last. The film is a delicately interwoven tale that requires a high degree of concentration and repeated viewings to get the most out of it. It’s also one of those rare films where characters and events have a completely different connotation the second time around. I don’t rate it as the all-time classic some do, but this is mostly because I feel it relies a little too heavily on one element to hold everything together, which prevented me from awarding it a ten out of ten. That said this is still a fantastic film that at long last gets the treatment it deserves on R2 DVD. Highly recommended.