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Usual Suspects/ B, B-

US/1995/Color/Widescreen 2.35:1 or P&S/Dolby Digital 2 Channel/106 minutes/Directed by Bryan Singer/Starring Kevin Spacey, Gabriel Bryne/Polygram/Audio Commentary/19 Chaps/Theatrical Trailer/$29.95 
    The Usual Suspects is a very clever script.  It is intentionally obtuse and complex. The mystery is created out of its complexity rather than artful plotting. Ironically, it is the cleverness that is both its chief strength and weakness. There is virtually no reason to care about the characters. They are simply pawns acting out the artifice created on the page and screen by the writing/directing team of Christopher McQuarrie and Bryan Singer. Still, this is an audacious exercise is filmmaking.  Seeing it for the second time, I felt less cheated by the deceptive nature of the plot. The elegant look and feel of the film remains impressive.  
     Bring in five criminals as suspects in a robbery.  Place them in a pot together and let the conspiracy simmer. That’s the core of The Usual Suspects. Told primarily in flashback from the point of view of Verbal, the only survivor, the line between reality and deception is blurred beyond understanding. From his first introduction Verbal is supposed to be stupid. He never acts like a stupid man. It’s a definite flaw in the screenplay. He’s the least significant character, yet he provides the incentive for the group to suspects to join forces for an attractive and easy dollar.  
      Kevin Spacey is fine as Verbal. I still wonder whether Verbal’s apparent intelligence is a reflection of the actor or the script. Rounding out the usual suspects are Gabriel Byrne, Stephen Baldwin, Kevin Pollack and Benicio Del Toro. Chazz Palminteri is Verbal’s interrogator. The actors all seem subservient to the machinations of the script. 
     Singer directs with confidence in his material. Newton Thomas Sigal’s  camera is perhaps too active, but his lighting is excellent. The score by John Ottman is highlighted by a haunting repetitive theme. Spacey received an Best Supporting Oscar for his work and the script was honored with an Academy Award for Screenplay written directly for the screen. 
      The Usual Suspects has been turned into a workmanlike DVD transfer. There are a few  scenes that are too soft, but overall the images are sharp. I found an excess of grain in the transfer, but this is a dark film. Shadow detail is good. The big plus is a second audio commentary from director Bryan Singer and Christopher McQuarrie contained on a separate audio track. The closeness of their working relationship is apparent from their observations and they are candid in the reservations about certain scenes and differences of artistic vision.