Video round-up

Corruption. Deception. Or simply pulling a fast one... the conspiracy thriller is back. By Ryan Gilbey
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The Independent Culture
The conspiracy thriller makes a comeback this month with two electrifying video releases: Charles Burnett's The Glass Shield (Touchstone, rental) and Bryan Singer's The Usual Suspects (PolyGram, rental). In Burnett's pacey, riveting study of corruption, Michael Boatman plays Sheriff John Johnson, fresh out of the Academy and itching to serve and protect. But it soon transpires that, as the only black face on the precinct, he has been appointed out of tokenism. And his loyalties are compromised when he is asked to bend the truth in order to convict a young black man (Ice Cube) who is suspected of murdering a wealthy white woman. Inevitably, his little lie spreads like a cancer through everything he does, undermining his attempts to repair the damage wrought by a racist police force, and finally threatening to engulf him.

Burnett directs with elegance and impeccably restrained rage, picking his way carefully through a pile of intertwined sub-plots that would bury most directors. He's especially well served by the colourful supporting cast, including slimeballs-for- hire Michael Ironside and M Emmet Walsh, and Elliott Gould in a docile cameo as the widower who seems more wracked with greed than guilt. Ice Cube has a terrific nobility about him, too, and this month sees him giving excellent performances in two lesser films, the sprawling college drama Higher Learning (20:20, rental) and the doped-up comedy Friday (Entertainment). All this hopefully means he'll be spending less time in the studio, which can only be good news.

The Usual Suspects is more opaque - it's not just about deceit, it has deception built into its very structure. The plot is simple - five crooks (including Oscar-nominated Kevin Spacey) convene at an identity parade and plan a heist. It's a maddening movie which elicits your faith before pulling a series of fast ones. But if you're prepared to take it on the chin, you'll relish its dust-dry humour and unfaltering grip. If not, it's the sort of picture that will have you taking a brickbat to the TV.