The Usual Suspects: Special Edition

Kevin Spacey, Gabriel Byrne, Stephen Baldwin, Benicio del Toro, Kevin Pollack, Chazz Palminteri, Pete Postlethwaite, Suzy Amis. Directed by Bryan Singer. Aspect ratio: 1.85:1 (anamorphic). Dolby Digital 5.1. 106 minutes. 1995. MGM 27616 87481. R. $24.99.

When you hear that a movie has a surprise ending, as you've probably heard about The Usual Suspects, you're no doubt inclined to pay even more attention than usual to its plot. If you're like me, you'll get a tingling in your nether regions if you figure out the ending before it arrives—and the further you are from the end when you guess the film's conclusion, the more you tingle. Well, relax while watching Usual Suspects. Its ending is likely to surprise you, but no matter how much attention you pay to the dense, convoluted plot, it won't help you to get that special shiver by figuring out the twist before the end.

Remember The Sixth Sense? Now there was a film whose surprise ending could have been calculated before its arrival. I know of no one who actually guessed the ending before they got there, but if you paid close attention to the ingenious, cleverly concealed clues scattered throughout, you might have been able to nail in advance the film's unforgettable twist. But The Usual Suspects doesn't play fair. Its clues are often just lies told by the compulsively talkative Verbal Kint, played with a malevolent, creepy whininess by Kevin Spacey. If, somehow, we had a glimmering chance of determining the direction of the big curve lying in wait for us in Suspects, it would have given this stylishly bloody film noir a longer shelf life. As it is, unless you're truly fascinated by the maze of lies Verbal constructs, it's hard to imagine why you'd want to go back for repeated viewings.

Verbal's intricate, fast-paced stories reveal his four partners in crime, who, like most characters in mysteries and thrillers, tend to be one-dimensional. There's Keaton, the weary ex-cop turned bad, played with venomous ease by Gabriel Byrne. Stephen Baldwin is anything but weary as McManus, the manic sharpshooter whose closest buddy is Fenster (Benicio del Toro), a marble-mouthed badass. As he did playing the courageous Mexican cop in Traffic, del Toro steals every scene he's in. This time he does it with a playfully indecipherable accent that turns much of his screen time into comic relief. Together with an antisocial demolitions expert, delivered by the numbers by Kevin Pollack, these macho and potty-mouthed crooks pull off a series of high-risk, big-payoff heists with plenty of gunfire and gore.

Eventually, they run afoul of a crook who's such a bad mutha—so heartless, so violent, so thoroughly evil—that even other crooks fear him. The thing is, no one—including cops and outlaws—has ever actually seen this supercriminal.

The Usual Suspects is laid out in flashbacks told by Verbal to a cop named Kujan (Chazz Palminteri), another cynical thug in a movie populated exclusively by hardhearted toughs. He bullies, threatens, and screams at Verbal in order to extract his confession—maybe.

MGM has upgraded its earlier DVD edition of Suspects. This time there are five documentaries, consisting of interviews with director Bryan Singer, composer-editor John Ottman, and the quintet of main actors. Much of the talk tends to be of the banal "Oh, so-and-so is brilliant—a genuine pleasure to work with" sort, but there are occasional insights into the art of filmmaking and what has made this film a cult favorite.

The extras include TV spots and a theatrical trailer for the movie, deleted scenes (better off on the cutting-room floor), a gag reel of "bloopers" from the filming that are repetitious and nearly universally unfunny, and two commentary tracks: one featuring Ottman, the other Singer and screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie. Singer and McQuarrie have been friends since high school (not that long ago—Singer was only 27 when Suspects was released in 1995), and clearly enjoyed talking about their film together. The chemistry and the occasional behind-the-scenes nugget make for an above-average commentary.

The anamorphic transfer—a first with this Special Edition of the movie—is also above average: very little grain is in evidence; colors, though usually intentionally muted, are vibrant when the director and cinematographer want them to be; and no edge enhancement is visible. Ottman's effectively moody score and the layered dialogue are also served well by yet another upgrade, from Dolby 2.0 to Dolby 5.1.

If you suspect that you're going to want to see The Usual Suspects more than once, this package is definitely worth springing for. If you've never seen it and suspect you'll want more depth than Suspects offers, rent it for Spacey's Oscar-winning performance. Along with del Toro, he'll give you the tingle that the ending won't.

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