The Usual Suspects
I think I may be dated. My love of 'The Usual Suspects' is dating me. I first saw it
when I was in school – and that's a while ago now. I fall into a group of people who, when they
feel bored in galleries; get into 'quoting sessions' from it. 'Grosse Pointe Blank' falls
into the comedy version of this category, but since the DVD of that film is a bare bones edition
I, unfortunately, won't be reviewing it. 'The Usual Suspects' however, has a bumper
special edition, which I will be looking at. I own the Region One version of this – I'm pretty
sure that the Region Two one, at least, is the same.
I suppose it should go without saying that this is a very good film. It was the second film of
Bryan Singer (he the X-Men director) and his breakthrough. It won Kevin Spacey his first
Oscar, gave Stephen Baldwin a decent film role, and brought Benicio del Toro to notice. It also
features Pete Postlethwaite with the dodgiest accent known to man, although the film does make
reference to him as 'some Limey', and Gabriel Byrne who seems undecided whether he wants to
have an Irish accent or not.
Now, I have to try and review this without giving away the plot - given that the film is famed
for its story. It is a fantastic script; it has to be said, courtesy of Christopher McQuarrie,
with a sparkling twist. The film starts with a burnt out boat, a man in a hospital and Kevin
Spacey – as Verbal Kint – in police custody, telling the story. It continues with a series of
flashbacks telling the story of five criminals, and how they get tied up in the net of one
Keyser Soze and end up on the aforementioned boat. That's about all I can/should tell
you of the plot.
As for the rest – the film is exciting. I was just watching it with a couple of friends who had
never seen it, and it raised the tension levels of the room. That said – it's still a film that works
again on repeat viewings. All the actors are top notch – I have to give special mention to my
favourite, Byrne as Dean Keaton, the corrupt cop trying to go straight, who provides the obvious
brains of the group. Baldwin's character – McManus – gets all the best lines except one, for
Singer's direction is very assured – he fits the bill of wunderkind director pretty well,
although he's been undercutting it amusingly of late by directing the X-Men blockbusters. His
camera plays tricks as well as his characters; drawing your attention to the aspects of the film
the oh-so-clever filmmakers want you to focus on so they can sock you at the end. The film
moves fast – it's less than two hours long – but never feels underdone in any way. In some ways
it's a shame Singer has moved mainstream, but you've got to be glad X-Men got him.
This DVD is slightly different to other special edition sets, in that it's only one disc – in
which the film and commentaries are on one side, and the remaining special features on the other.
There are two commentaries, a selection of featurettes, some deleted scenes and the world's
bizarrest Gag Reel that Singer put together for the cast and crew. There are also apparently
some Easter Eggs, which I haven't managed to find yet.
The deleted scenes are an interesting selection – mostly cut for length, but one giving you a
little extra Verbal, cut for the benefit of his character. They are introduced by the
editor/composer John Ottman, who explains what the scene was about, and then why it was cut.
The Gag Reel is very very surreal. Introduced by Bryan Singer, it's a selection of bits and
pieces from within the film, and from the production, with a very strange song over the top,
often loaded with innuendo – it was obviously not meant for outside consumption, and Singer
admits to having edited it a bit for the DVD.
There is an hour and twenty minutes of featurettes – which is best watched all in one, rather
than section by section. The DVD makers seem to have got everyone together apart from
Postlethwaite – and very interesting viewing it makes too. The part of Kint was written for
Spacey, who Singer and McQuarrie met at the Sundance Film Festival whilst showing their first
film, and it was he who buttonholed Byrne. Byrne then admits that he originally really didn't
want to take the part, but was persuaded by Singer's enthusiasm. Al Pacino read for Chazz
Palminteri's part, Dave Kujon, the customs guy chasing Keaton. Overall, the most amusing thing is
to watch Stephen Baldwin show himself up somewhat – particularly in the bitching between him
and Kevin Pollack (Hockney). The featurette follows the production from its inception and
casting, through the shoot to its release and success as the Cannes Film Festival.
There are two commentaries – one by Singer and McQuarrie, and one by John Ottman, the
editor and composer. I confess I've not listened to all of both. However – the former seems
more interesting than the latter, partly I guess because you get the banter of the writer and
director who have been friends since High School. Singer is particularly engaging, and the track
certainly captures his enthusiasm for his first 'big' film. He's also very well aware that he only
probably got away with everything because he was so young and blasé about things – somehow he
even managed to wangle himself a deal where he got to make the final cut, something established
directors find hard to get. Ottman's commentary is a bit more technical, as he talks about the
methods of cutting and scoring the film – his discussion about the film's stunning finale is
especially interesting. Some of the stuff in the commentaries is repeated from (or in, depending
which way round you watch them) the featurettes, but there's still some fun stuff: about the
general female-on-set adoration of Gabriel Byrne, Benicio del Toro's incomprehensible accent as
Fenster, and Kevin Spacey's hand being super-glued into position.
All in all – this is a worthy DVD set for this film, smart, amusing and very engaging.