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
Bring in five criminals as suspects in a
robbery. Place them in a pot together and let the conspiracy simmer. Thats 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. Its a definite flaw in the screenplay. Hes 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 Verbals 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 Verbals interrogator. The actors all seem
subservient to the machinations of the script.
Singer directs with confidence in his material.
Newton Thomas Sigals 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.