Fox // 1995 // 106 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Dennis Prince (Retired) // February 13th, 2007
"Why me? I'm stupid, I'm a cripple. Why me?"
"Because you're a cripple, Verbal. Because you're stupid. Because you're weaker than them."
The long-celebrated film from Bryan Singer (Apt Pupil, X-Men) continues to entrance viewers with its smarter-than-smart script and top-tier performances. Although it has been released to DVD several times already, it seems there's always room for yet another look at The Usual Suspects. Now available in high-definition on the Blu-ray format, the film is even more mesmerizing than ever before.
Take five career criminals, put them together in a police lineup, and turn them loose to become unwitting cohorts in a most audacious job ever. That's what happens when the volatile McManus (Stephen Baldwin, Target), the mumbling Fenster (Benicio Del Toro, Sin City), the loner Hockney (Kevin Pollack, Hoods), the physically crippled yet verbose Roger "Verbal" Kint (Kevin Spacey, Se7en), and the reluctant ex-cop-turned-criminal-turned-businessman Dean Keaton (Gabriel Byrne, End of Days) realize they're being set up. They proceed to expose a corrupt police operation, then find themselves getting in too deep on a drug-smuggling heist. They're advised that the "Devil" himself, the universally feared Keyser Soze, has been minimally thwarted by each of the five and is ready to exact his due from them. Under pressure, the five attempt a major trick that could gain any who survive a cut at $91 million. Of course, the real trick is to determine who's who among them and if it's really possible to tangle with Keyser Soze and survive.
The details of the plan and its outcome, you must understand, are all potential hearsay of a foregone conclusion, told in flashback to the agitated U.S. Customs Officer Kujan (Chazz Palminteri, Running Scared).
So much has already been said about The Usual Suspects, a film that has deservedly been praised for its faithful approach within the crime-drama-thriller genre. Indeed, this one is so tightly woven that it might appear to be a tangled knot of red herrings that seeks to deliver the most unexpected revelation at its conclusion. Still, the narrative clearly offers all the clues necessary to determine the resolution -- not too early, mind you, but certainly detectable during the final attempt at misdirection. Its an old-fashioned whodunit that is clever enough to embrace the time-tested recipe for audience engagement while using a visual style and setting that prevent it from becoming a dated piece of work. Twelve years since its theatrical release, The Usual Suspects is still remarkably fresh and relevant.
Singer's directing is top notch here, fueled by Christopher McQuarrie's Oscar-winning screenplay. The actors -- all of them -- are precise in their performances with Kevin Spacey also being appropriately recognized with an Academy Award for his portrayal of the multi-layered Verbal Kint. In what appears to be a veritable aligning of the stars, every element here works and it's practically impossible to resist the draw of this drama. That having been well established over more than a decade's worth of reviews and analysis, the matter at hand now is to examine the suitability of this film for a high-definition delivery.
Easily, this new Blu-ray exclusive release from Fox is a very welcome one, delivering the goods that high-definition enthusiasts expect and deserve. Although the source material is now 12 years old, the original element look near pristine and the resulting 1080p/MPEG-2 encoded transfer is absolutely stellar. Granted, from a production design standpoint, much of the film is presented in a sort of muted palette and there is a low level of film grain throughout. This does not prove troublesome to the image, though, since the detail levels are amazing. Thankfully, the transfer benefits from a tremendous amount of close-up shots, bringing forth amazing texture details in clothing, hair, and especially in the actors' faces (you can practically count the pores on Kevin Spacey's face, if you're so inclined). There is plenty of detail to be found in the settings as well, especially aboard the explosive smuggling ship. On rare occasion, the grain level will heighten (usually in a select couple of dark settings), but this is the exception, not the norm. Black levels aren't so inky black as we see in current films mastered in the high-definition format, but there's still plenty of detail to be seen nevertheless. In all, the picture has a clean and very film-like appearance, boosted to highly satisfying levels of detail that truly show off the format's capability.
The audio track is delivered via a clean and crisp DTS HD Master Lossless Audio mix. Since this isn't the sort of non-stop "bang" and "boom" action outing, don't expect to be ducking and weaving from the sorts of sounds that would permeate such a soundstage. Expect, though, a very clear mix with surround effects that make sense to the film on the screen; the mix thankfully resists the temptation to "dummy up" a mock surround experience. When there are explosions and gunplay, you'll definitely notice the surrounds coming into action. The all-important dialogue remains clear throughout, Del Toro's intentional mumbling notwithstanding. The element that benefits most in this mix, though, is the excellent score from John Ottman, which perfectly envelops you for the duration.
This disc gets an undeserved low mark because it lacks significant bonus features. It's a shame that only the theatrical trailer is here (along with a gaggle of other Blu-ray release attractions), whereas 2002's standard-def special edition included running commentaries, deleted scenes, featurettes, a gag reel, and more. It would have been preferable that a BD-50 disc be used here (rather than the constrained BD-25) to make this disc a complete and suitable upgrade from any previous SD release. As it stands, although the image and audio are undeniable improvements, you'll still need to keep your previous special-edition copy if you intend to maintain a full catalog of the film and its features.
One argument that is certainly on the rise is the debate over the relevance of special features on high-definition discs. As it stands, many enthusiasts are claiming they're losing interest in bonus material, the sort that too often come across as marketing fluff and serve as a gossamer-thin excuse to jack up disc prices. Granted, not all films require the full-on feature treatment and there's merit in the argument that a disc should focus on the film, first and foremost. However, given the trumped-up proclamations over storage capacity of the new format (with Blu-ray and its supporters long touting the advantage of its capacity over the competing HD DVD alternative), it makes little sense that Blu-ray releases would sidestep the opportunity to deliver on the promise every time. Some apologists would adopt the "I don't need special features anyway" response, yet others are sensitive to the multi-dip potential that studios have profiteered from for years now. Either way, it seems only fitting that consumers be offered complete replacement value when they decide to upgrade to the high-definition releases.
If not for the lack of extras, purchase of this Blu-ray release of The Usual Suspects would be an absolute no-brainer. Even so, the incredible presentation of this incredible film makes it difficult to resist a re-investment. To that end, this is easily a highly recommended "must have" for any high-definition library.
Although suspect for its aforementioned incompleteness, this court nonetheless finds this disc not guilty.
Review content copyright © 2007 Dennis Prince; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* DTS HD 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Master Lossless Audio (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 106 Minutes
Release Year: 1995
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Theatrical trailers in high-definition