- Rated R
- Buy the Blu-ray
All photos © MGM
Reviewed by David Medsker
he Usual Suspects" is "The Outsiders" of '90s indie moviemaking. Several star turns were made here, from director Bryan Singer to actors Kevin Spacey and Benicio Del Toro, plus great supporting performances from established actors (and Oscar nominees) Pete Postlethwaite and Chazz Palminteri. We'd include screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie in the lovefest after all, his script won the Oscar for Original Screenplay -- but no one has seen him in over five years.
The movie begins, in what would prove to be the intro of choice for several more "hook" movies to come, at the end of the story. We see Keaton (Gabriel Byrne) leaning against an array of boxes on the bow of a boat, when a dark figure approaches him. It's clear that Keaton is breathing his last few breaths, and we are not at all surprised to see the dark figure hand Keaton a last cigarette, shoot him a couple times, then set the boat on fire.
Cut to the office of US Customs agent Dave Kujan (Palminteri) where Roger "Verbal" Kint (Spacey), a chatty hood with a bum leg, waits to be questioned about the events surrounding the fire. It seems that Keaton and Verbal had recently been rounded up for a police lineup, along with Hockney (Kevin Pollak), McManus (Stephen Baldwin), and Fenster (a hilarious Del Toro). Kujan soon loses interest in the petty crooks once he hears the name Keyser Soze, a bogeyman spook whose name strikes fear in the hearts of thugs everywhere. All five of these men have unknowingly crossed Soze, and reluctantly agree to take on a highly risky job (the boat) in order to clear their debt to him.
The first viewing of the movie will shock you if you still don't know how it ends, fear not, we won't give it away here but the second time through is where the fun is. There is one scene in particular in the first ten minutes that at first seems innocuous, but in retrospect holds the key to everything that follows. Singer has a good story here and he knows it, playing with the audience without blatantly misleading them like, say, the way David Lynch did in "Mulholland Drive."
Spacey's career was already on a roll when "Suspects" hit the theaters, thanks to roles in the virus thriller "Outbreak" and "The Ref," one of the best Christmas movies ever. But it was his turn as Verbal that sent him into the stratosphere. (Following this movie with "Swimming With Sharks" and "Seven" didn't hurt, either.) The other four suspects, great though they are, end up being little more than Spacey's window dressing, Del Toro's unintelligible Fenster aside. Only Postlethwaite and Palminteri, the Oscar nominees, end up holding their own against Spacey, the eventual Oscar winner. Postlethwaite, in particular, mows everyone down in his one big scene as Kobayashi, the icy lawyer that represents Keyser Soze.
There is a reason that movies like "The Usual Suspects" don't come down the pike very often. They take discipline to write (and from the looks of McQuarrie's subsequent output, completely drain the creative juices), steadiness to direct, and restraint to act. Everybody does his part here, which is a rare feat when you think about it. After all, even "Pulp Fiction" had Rosanna Arquette braying annoyingly. By comparison, no one is out of place or out of line here, and that is what makes the final payoff so sweet.
Single-Disc Blu-ray Review:
We'd love to tell you that MGM has righted its past wrongs with the Blu-ray re-release of "The Usual Suspects," but unfortunately, the new digibook edition has the exact same problems as the last go-around. While the high-def video transfer and lossless audio track make for an improved viewing experience, it's impossible to ignore the complete lack of bonus material – especially when the special edition DVD was jam-packed with cool extras like an audio commentary, deleted scenes and more. Shame on you MGM.