Updated: Jan 8
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS
In the movie’s most iconic scene, the usual suspects -- Hockney (Kevin Pollack), left, McManus (Stephen Baldwin), Fenster (Benicio Del Toro), Keaton (Gabriel Byrne), and Roger “Verbal” Kint (Kevin Spacey) – are brought in on a trumped-up charge after a truck is hijacked in Queens.
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“THE USUAL SUSPECTS”
4K Ultra HD & Blu-ray, 1995, R for violence and language Best extras: interviews with cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel and composer/editor John Ottman
SO, WHO IS Keyser Söze? How can you forget? But as a friend said, even if it’s been 27 years since you’ve seen “The Usual Suspects,” you may not remember all the twists and turns and then some that director Bryan Singer (“Bohemian Rhapsody,” all those “X-Men” flicks) and Oscar-winning screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie (“Edge of Tomorrow”) take before the big reveal. And if you’ve never seen it, settle in, pay attention, and enjoy the ride. It’s a trip and a half. After a truck is hijacked in New York City, five criminals, the usual suspects, are hauled in for questioning. The charge is trumped up, and when Keaton (Gabriel Byrne, “Miller’s Crossing”), McManus (Stephen Baldwin, “Bio-Dome”), Fenster (Benicio Del Toro, “Traffic”), Hockney (Kevin Pollak, “End of Days”), and Verbal (Oscar winner Kevn Spacey, “Se7en”) hit the streets, they start plotting to get even by exposing a “taxi service” that some crooked cops run for smugglers who need to get around town.
(1) Shot in the back and without the use of his legs, Keaton meets his assailant aboard the burning ship. (2-4) The police bring Hockney, Fenster and Keaton in for questioning. (5-6) The lineup was intended to be dark and somber, but the cast kept breaking each other up.
The operation goes off without a hitch and the five head to Los Angeles with a stash of jewels to meet a fence named Redfoot (Peter Greene, “Pulp Fiction”). He tells them about another job robbing a supposed jewel smuggler. It turns out that he’s carrying heroin, and when they confront Redfoot, he says the job came from a lawyer named Kobayashi (Peter Postlethwaite, “Inception”) who represents Söze, a mythical, elusive, brutal Hungarian crime lord. It’s only because they didn’t know Söze is involved that they’re still alive, Kobayashi says. To square things, they’re told to destroy a huge shipment of cocaine on a ship in San Pedro harbor. Their motivation? Kobayashi has the goods to send them up the river and has drawn Keaton’s lawyer girlfriend Edie (Suzy Amis, “Titanic”) into Söze’s orbit. Again, there are no drugs. Instead, Argentinian mobsters are holding a man who they plan turn over to a Hungarian gang. Why? He can ID Söze. Are you following? Good, because the beauty of McQuarrie’s story is that it doesn’t unfold in any way close to linear. When the movie opens, the ship is in flames and more than two dozen people are dead, including – except for Verbal – Keaton et al. From there, it shifts back and forth, and it’s recounted by Verbal to customs agent Dave Kujan (Chazz Palminteri, “Bullets Over Broadway”) in the office of San Pedro Police Sgt. Jeff Rabin (Dan Hedaya, “Blood Simple”). As if Verbal, whose real name is Roger but got the nickname because he talks too much, is a reliable source.
(1) Spinning their wheels in a holding pen, the gang begins plotting to get even with the cops. (2) A day after the assault, the ship is still burning. (3) Chazz Palminteri, left, is customs agent Dave Kujan and Dan Hedaya plays Police Sgt. Jeff Rabin. (4) Verbal tells Kujan what he knows about the assault and the elusive, brutal, Hungarian crime lord Keyser Söze. (5) McManus and Fenster keep tabs on Keaton. (6-7) Keaton has words with Verbal before the two reconcile.
VIDEO/AUDIO Score another one for Kino Lorber. The company, which is releasing 4K discs from MGM, Paramount, Universal and other studios, has already built an impressive catalogue with “Some Like It Hot,” “The Great Escape,” Sergio Leone’s Man With No Name trilogy, and Stanley Kubrick’s “Paths of Glory” and “The Killing.” Sporting a 2160p Dolby Vision HDR transfer that was color-graded and approved by cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel (“Da 5 Bloods”), “The Usual Suspects” (2.39: 1 aspect ratio) knocks it out of the park. In the feature “The Devil Is in the Details: Shooting ‘The Usual Suspects’,” Sigel says he found that one of the best techniques to keep the story moving was using a dolly and a “very, very, slow zoom.” Almost every shot starts out wide and gradually tightens as the dialogue intensifies. It’s those claustrophobic close-ups where the 4K do-over especially shines. As another reviewer said, every nook and cranny of any actor’s face and wardrobe is on full display. You can also pick up on the clues in the backgrounds. Film grain is unobtrusive, the mostly muted color palette looks natural, the whites sparkle, and the abundant shadows are deep and delineated. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 track and DTS-HD MA 2.0 audio tracks are a toss-up. The film is dialogue-driven, but the two heists and assault on the ship give the surround channels a solid workout. Dialogue is always clear, as is John Ottman’s exceptional score.
(1-2) The crew exposes a “taxi service” that some crooked NYC cops run for smugglers who need to get around the city. (3-4) Morgan Hunter plays Arkosh Kovash, a Hungarian mobster who survives the assault. He gives the authorities a description of Söze before dying. (5) Kujan presses Verbal for more information.
EXTRAS Start with the Sigel interview and one from the archives with Ottman (Singer’s “X2: X Men United,” “X-Men: Days of Future Past” and “Superman Returns”). Rhythm is key to a film like “The Usual Suspects,” Sigel says, but it has to be subtle, not forced, to avoid being backed into a corner. He also recalls being impressed by Singer’s confidence, even though the director was 26, barely out of film school, and had exactly one title, “Public Access” (co-written by McQuarrie), on his resume. Ottman didn’t just write the music, he edited the film. It wasn’t the first time. He did the same on “Public Access” after the composer dropped out and Singer’s back was against the wall. It made sense, though: He knew the film inside and out. When Singer took on “The Usual Suspects,” he told Ottman he wasn’t going to score it unless he edited it. “I said I’m not going edit it unless I score it.” Funny how things work out. Anyway, Ottman is a big fan of Jerry Goldsmith (“The Omen”), five-time Oscar winner John Williams (“Star Wars,” “Schindler’s List”), and films from the 1970s and early-80s, what he calls “the pinnacle of scoring.” He drew on all those influences. The other extras include a chummy Singer-McQuarrie commentary – they’ve been friends for ages – in which they talk about the genesis of the film: McQuarrie had read a magazine article titled “The Usual Suspects” that started the ball rolling. Singer also shares some technical insights and both are generous with anecdotes. The iconic lineup scene was intended to be dark and somber, but was changed because the actors were cracking each other up. Their laughter is the real thing. Then there’s Del Toro’s performance as Fenster, a character, Singer says, that “he created out of thin air.” Singer remembers him saying that, from what he’d been given, he was going to play Fenster as a “Black, Chinese, Puerto Rican Jew.” And one who’s barely intelligible to boot. Also on the menu: a commentary with Ottman, five short features, deleted scenes, a gag reel introduced by Singer, interview outtakes, and TV spots and trailers. – Craig Shapiro
(1-2) Hiding out in California, the gang meets a fence named Redfoot who tips them off about another job – sticking up a supposed jewel smuggler. (3) Peter Postlethwaite is Kobayashi, a lawyer who represents Söze. (4) Fenster’s body is found on the beach.
(1) Kobayashi shrugs off the threat to his life and tells Keaton et al that he has evidence to send them up the river. (2-5) They soon discover that there is no cocaine on the ship; instead, they’ve been set up so Söze can take out Kovash. (6) Spacey won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his memorable performance as Verbal.