Review by Jack Foley
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Audio Commentary with Bryan Singer and Christopher
McQuarrie; Audio Commentary with John Ottman; Keyser Soze: Lie or Legend featurette;
Round Up -- Deposing the Usual Suspects; Pursuing the Usual Suspects; Doin'
Time with the Usual Suspects; Bryan Singer's Gag Reel; Deleted Scenes - Hosted
by John Ottman; Heisting Cannes with the Usual Suspects - featurette; Introducing
the Usual Suspects - featurette; Taking Out the Usual Suspects - Interviews
and Outtakes; Bryan Singer introduces Kevin Spacey and Friend; Interview with
John Ottman; Interview Outtakes; US Theatrical TV Spots; US Trailer with Introduction
by John Ottman; International Trailer; Collectable Booklet
WHEN The Usual Suspects strolled on to our screens in 1995, few could have predicted the impact it would have on mainstream cinema in years to come. It featured an ensemble cast of relatively little-known actors (aside from Gabriel Byrne), an emerging director (Bryan Singer, whose debut, Public Access, hadn't exactly set tongues wagging), and a plot to die for.
Now, some seven years on, the movie is likely to be contained within the top half of any 'greatest movies of all time' list; almost all of its cast are household names; Singer is an established, must-see director (his X-Men sequel is already generating some impressive hype); and debates continue surrounding the most significant question to emerge from the film.... 'just who the fuck is Keyser Soze'?
To recap on the movie itself, The Usual Suspects starts with the explosion of a docked ship, before one of two survivors - a sympathetic cripple - relates to police the events of the previous six weeks that led him to the vessel. His yarn involves five criminals who have been unwittingly brought together by master criminal Keyser Soze as a means of settling a debt each of them, inadvertently owes him.
Soze, however, is a legend among the criminal fraternity, a near-mythical gangster who may or may not exist, but whose name is enough to strike fear into everyone's hearts. For the criminals in question, saying no is not an option; while for the police, the chance of exposing him is simply too tantalizing.
The suspects in question are 'led' by Byrne's corrupt former cop, and include Kevin Spacey's surviving cripple (for which he won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar), Benicio Del Toro, Stephen Baldwin and Kevin Pollack, while the questions are posed by Chazz Palminteri's arrogant police officer.
The ensuing two hours make for a marvelously convoluted, often violent, frequently
foul-mouthed but totally scintillating experience capped with the type of
twist that is liable to make your head spin. It is little wonder that cinemas
were filled with people desperate to see it for a second time, in order to
try and glean some sense!
A lot of the credit for this must go to Christopher McQuarrie, whose tortuous script helps to create a supremely classy and thought-provoking mystery that never loses its grip throughout - he later penned and directed the equally brilliant The Way of the Gun, which also starred Del Toro.
But Singer, too, deserves credit for some ultra-cool direction (his story flits from past to present with a finesse reserved for the best directors), while the actors themselves revel in the complexity of proceedings. Spacey, in particular, shines as the smooth-talking Roger 'Verbal' Kint, whose penchant for storytelling is matched by his fear of Soze; while Byrne is terrific as the moody Dean Keaton (is he Soze?), as is Palminteri and Baldwin, as the trigger-happy youth.
The Usual Suspects had its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in May 1995 where it received huge admiration despite being shown out of competition. It made back its budget four times over in the States and quickly developed a huge cult following, establishing a name for itself at a time when most criminal movies were struggling to emerge from the shadow of Quentin Tarantino (it was released the year after that director's seminal Pulp Fiction).
Ironically, the story behind the film is no less remarkable, with the casting itself no mean feat. Its principle star, Byrne, took some persuading (mostly by Spacey) and is quoted as saying that he felt the 'unknown' Singer couldn't pull it off. Tommy Lee Jones was also approached, fresh from his success in The Fugitive, while Byrne only agreed on the proviso it was shot in LA for five weeks - it had been planned for a 35-day schedule.
Del Toro, also, owes much of his casting to Spacey, who persuaded Singer to take a look at him for the role of Fred Fenster, instead of preferred choices such as Harry Dean Stanton.
And the now legendary name Keyser Soze even underwent changes, having started life as Keyser Sume, a colleague of McQuarrie's at a law firm. Sume was not nasty enough, it was decided, so Soze, the Turkish word for verbal, was adopted instead.
The special edition DVD release of the film is packed with interesting snippets of information about the making of The Usual Suspects, the truth behind Soze, and a new set of interviews with all the major principles involved (except McQuarrie, whose commentary is present throughout, nonetheless). It also features a delicious set of outtakes, some deleted scenes and a gag reel from Singer which makes for a mouthwatering package.
There are many who consider The Usual Suspects to be the perfect crime movie - if that is the case, then this is the perfect companion. For those who have yet to discover it, there is nothing usual about these suspects.... Go buy it.