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Category:    Home > Reviews > Mystery > Gangster > Thriller > The Usual Suspects (Blu-ray)

The Usual Suspects (1995/MGM Blu-ray)


Picture: B+     Sound: B     Extras: C-     Film: B



Before he became a big director of highly budgeted and highly commercial Superhero genre films, Bryan Singer was a director of exceptionally interesting and intelligent thrillers.  There was the attention-getting Public Access (reviewed elsewhere on this site) from 1993 that helped to put him on the map.  Before the grossly underrated Apt Pupil, he had his largest commercial and critical success with The Usual Suspects in 1995.


The film concerns an investigation of $91 Million of stolen money, a St. Valentine’s Day Massacre-type execution of 29 people and an unseen underworld terrorist kingpin gangster named Keyser Soze.  A customs agent (Chazz Palminteri) is determined to find the money and answer the question of who Soze really is.  He and his advisers believe it might actually be one of the criminals they have rounded up and begin interrogating each on immediately.


The great cast playing the criminals includes Gabriel Byrne, Benicio Del Toro, Kevin Pollack, Steven Baldwin and the one who is ready to talk, played by Kevin Spacey in what turned out to be an Oscar-winning Best Supporting Actor performance.  As Roger “Verbal” Kint, he begins to tell the intriguing story of the origins of Soze and how he became so powerful, so feared and would stop at nothing to gain money and power.


Christopher McQuarrie, who later wrote and directed the much underappreciated Way Of The Gun (see Blu-ray review elsewhere on this site), wrote an ace of a screenplay and though a few have incompletely questioned its logic, they missed the point.  The film, especially in Singer’s capable hands, questions myths about power, money, masculinity and how they manifest themselves in society.  The film and script are also not afraid to get down and dirty, which is all the more reason it works so effectively and is so rewatchable.


The film is a thriller, Gangster-genre work, but mostly is an excellent Mystery film like nothing we had seen in a long time and only Christopher Nolan’s Memento would later be clever enough to recreate the buzz and critical acclaim this film did.  It holds up very well, even when you know what is going to happen, but the skillful directing, writing and performances embarrass most such films that have been made since and that is why The Usual Suspects one of the few great cinematic triumphs of the often-barren 1990s.


The 1080p 2.35 X 1 digital MPEG-2 @ 20 MBPS High Definition image was shot in Super 35 by Newton Thomas Sigel and is one of the best early uses of the low budget Panavision alternative.  In all previous video versions, the image looked awful because the transfers had major Video White and detail issues.  For the most part, this new Blu-ray version resolves that, but might still have some minor issues where it still does not stack up to the great 35mm print I saw in its original release.


However, this is a smartly shot and edited film, by John Ottman, who also did the music.  I was also struck by how much better this looks than the all HD 4,000p shoot the same team just delivered with Superman Returns (reviewed elsewhere on this site) and how the improved fidelity makes the audience not work as hard.  Nice to have a version one can really enjoy at home a decade later.


The original theatrical sound on the film has become an issue in itself.  It was originally intended as a Dolby Analog release and that is how many of Dolby’s own records list it, with early DVDs from PolyGram Pictures and then MGM only in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo with Pro Logic surrounds for years.  Any 5.1 upgrades happened later and many think the film is originally Dolby Digital, which is not the case.  This Blu-ray offers the sound in DTS-HD Master Audio (MA) lossless 5.1 and this version shows the dynamics and limits of the original recording.


The low-budget origins of the recording cannot be totally covered up, but this is better than it has ever sounded in any DVD or PCM 2.0 Stereo LaserDisc presentation.  John Ottman turned in one of his most interesting scores to date and the sound design always had character.  Though one cannot expect all-around fidelity, this upgrade is as good as it is going to get.  Note too that the French and Spanish Dolby Digital options are only Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo with Pro Logic surrounds, backing my point about analog.  In other MGM/Fox Blu-rays, if a film was 5.1, the foreign tracks were too.


Then there is the problem that has always plagued this title, a lack of extras.  Once again, we get a near basic edition only including the original theatrical trailer.  A massive special edition is long overdue and we almost got one from Criterion when they briefly had the rights.  They were all set to go when MGM got the catalog that included the film and they discontinued every title with Criterion they suddenly had the rights on.


Fox has been doing Criterion licensing since they started doing DVDs.  Now that MGM is distributed by Fox, it would be nice to see all those titles reissued that were discontinued and maybe a few new ones.  If anyone should be greenlighted, this should be it for all the extras that remain in the vault on this film.  Criterion has yet to go HD, but sooner or later, there will be a 50GB special edition of this film and that is the only Criterion that never made it to the market.


In the meantime, this is a key title in the MGM catalog now and is constantly in print and in demand.  No wonder they picked it as an early Blu-ray release.  At least its performance does not disappoint.



For more on Way Of The Gun, try this link:





-   Nicholas Sheffo


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