The Usual Suspects Blu-ray Review
PictureAlthough cleaned up, The Usual Suspects 2.35:1 print is still plagued by some wear and tear - tiny pops and flecks on occasion - and some grain which rears up against skies and stipples some darker scenes. There is also a slightly bothersome purplish splodge that appears during a couple of scenes. For instance, this can be seen on the back of Verbal's head early on in the interrogation, and it occasionally jumps position to the back of Rabin's white shirt. It also manifests itself during a heated exchange between the suspects later on. Not a major problem, but something that once seen is hard to ignore.
The early MPEG-2 transfer doesn't make any serious blunders, although there is some edge enhancement which can be seen during the pagoda meeting-place scenes with Redfoot, especially - of the figures set against a skyline variety. This shouldn't pose much of a problem though. Blacks aren't brilliant - although they manage to hold their own during the exciting ship-board battle at the end. Contrast isn't too grand either, but it is consistent. Interiors such as the cell the gang are kept in after the line-up and one of the LA apartments that Kobayashi meets them in particularly exhibit this lack of distinction, resulting in an image that is drab and murky and appearing underlit.
Colours aren't that bold. Except for Fenster's offensively red shirt - which Keaton seems to be wearing later on in the film - nothing really stands out in the standard clothing, fixtures or sets department. This is especially telling when Verbal goes round to Keaton's place early on to suggest the first job. The walls are covered with garish artwork and the furnishings are all bright primaries - yet the image singularly refuses to allow any depth or vividness to the colour scheme. Thankfully, there is no smearing taking place, though. However, the flames bristling on the roof and bonnet of the cop car - one of New York's Finest Taxi Service - are tremendously bright and livid and the blue of the vehicle stark and clear, whilst the red of McManus' leather jacket looks quite well startling, revealing that the image could have looked a lot better, spectrum-wise throughout. By contrast, the flames at the end on board the Hungarian ship look quite lacklustre.
Detail isn't great, folks. But then I suppose there is only so much that you can do with some low-budget productions. Certain shots look fabulous - the brickwork on the cop-shop during one scene, for instance and various other location shots - but the image can't help but look quite drab and underfed by finite attention. Keaton's straggly hair has some nice separation and the close-ups of Verbal and Kuylan look reasonably defined, but the film as a whole, is soft and hazy from the mid-ground on back. The shot of Hockney getting arrested in his garage looks terrible - the cops entering rear left appear horribly soft and grainy. Yet, despite all this and contrary to what some other people have said, I found the image to be surprisingly three-dimensional. The depth to the image can be quite impressive - from street scenes to ensemble shots of the guys in a room or, especially, framed by a cave entrance during the grim beach burial sequence. Again, rather obvious shots of Dave Kuylan in an extreme close-up on the far right of the picture, with Verbal sitting middle-distance away on the left and someone entering the room behind him look just fine and offer plenty of rewarding depth of field. This type of thing can be witnessed quite often during the film and even if the image is soft, this goes some way to keeping it cinematic and involving.
Overall, I'm giving this a 6 out of 10, though, because it just doesn't posses that “wow” factor that we associate with 1080p transfers and does not, in my opinion, represent much of a step-up from its SD incarnation.
SoundWhatever misgivings I have about the image, the DTS-HD 5.1 audio track is actually quite impressive when you consider the limited source material. Although the film, itself, is still fairly restricted with its sound design - indeed it stems from an original 2.0 set-up - the track definitely makes the most of it with real emphasis on the bass extension, the power of Ottman's score and subtle ambience that is allowed to spill out.
Dialogue is firmly routed and always clear enough to savour those delicious lines. The frontal spread may not be as wide as I'd have liked but there is a degree of spatiality that caters for police offices, cells and apartments with some slightly embellished depth. The sounds of screeching tyres and shattering glass is clear enough without being too dressed-up, but the most agreeable thing about the new track is the huge detail and weight added to the gunfire. For weapons-junkies (like me!) this is a real treat. On the old SD version, gunshots sounded muffled and lacked punch with the remixed DD 5.1. Here, though, shots are sharp, hard, loud and full of power and pressure. Single shots have metallic detail to them and McManus' fully auto fire towards the end rip through the soundscape with vigour. Now, audiophiles will probably still rankle over of the lack of steerage - there is precious little of the wraparound quality that you know and love from such ballistic activity - but, as far as I am concerned, the greater weight and impact lent the bullets is pleasing enough and serves to bring life (and death) to the film. And then there is the diversionary explosion that rocks the house. Oddly enough, this is much better and deeper than the bigger explosion later on.
Subtle ambience is also quite nice to hear. Every time Dave Kuylan's office door opens, the sounds and hubbub of the outer police station bleed into the environment. The rears also pick up some of the ambience - the streets, the restaurant, the attack on the ship etc - and despite there not being all that much to bring forth as examples, I found their placement added, albeit gently, to the naturalism of the track. Ottman's score gets a major boost, though. Once again, deep bass rumbles, stingers and brash musical swagger is injected with a power and vitality that the DD tracks lacked. The instrumentation is crisp and clean and the mid-range feels full and warm.
Overall, I like what they did with this track. It won't win awards and certainly doesn't compare to more recent material (then again, it was never meant to), but it does a bang-up job of bringing The Usual Suspects a little more oomph and confidence. A well-earned 7 out of 10.
ExtrasCriminally, The Usual Suspects gets nothing more than its original theatrical trailer on this BD release, especially when you consider just how much stuff they crammed into its Special Edition SD incarnation. It is a cinch, however, that this will be rectified with another high-definition release somewhere further down the line. This disc was, when all said and done, a very early release on the format when Fox were only concerned with putting out the movie in 1080p.
VerdictAn old release on the format, I was still surprised that we hadn't actually covered it. The film, itself, is endlessly fascinating and possibly as quote-heavy as Jaws. The characters and performances are absolutely spot-on, the story thoroughly deserving of its Oscar and its cult-status assured forevermore as one of the greatest contemporary film-noirs. The Usual Suspects represents Bryan Singer at his best, commanding a strong ensemble cast and perfecting a chillingly unusual tone for what starts out as a “who-done-what” thriller. Dark, compelling and ingeniously structured, his film packs a punch and continues to reward no matter how many times you watch it, unlike one-shot flicks like Shyamalan's The Sixth Sense or The Village. The transfer isn't the best around by a long shot, although I like the emboldened audio
So, my advice on this is that, if you haven't already got it on BD, then it might be wiser to wait for awhile until a better-stocked release comes along. This simply cannot compare to the packed-to-the-rafters SD Special Edition and doesn't even represent much of an upgrade visually speaking.
The Usual Suspects is a bonafide classic that still awaits its just-desserts on Blu-ray.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £24.77
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