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The Usual Suspects – Film Analysis Essay

The director uses several cinematic techniques and embeds a whole range of other techniques to create a dark atmosphere. The opening foreshadows the sinister mood and atmosphere throughout the entirety of the movie.

A wide panning shot across a body of water is accompanied by sinister music; created to enhance the visual experience. This style of music is used in many scenes to emphasize and to sustain the eerie atmosphere. Excellent choice of camera angles achieved added symbolism by showing the full sight of the landscape, a harbourside dock through a sustained extreme long shot. The composer deliberately uses a whole range of camera angles to contribute to the overall sense of mystery, sustained through the film.

High angle camera shots are used in the opening sequence to convey the powerless and ultimately more inferior person or ‘victim’. These constantly changing camera angles create an element of confusion amongst the audience, contributing to the success of this unique crime genre film. The audience is left almost clueless at the particular camera movements, emphasizing the silhouette of an unknown and mysterious figure; referred to as Keyser Soze.

The story is told as a series of flashbacks, intertwined with real-time police interrogations with the core character, Verbal. The plot is cleverly crafted to go around in a loop, with the ending ultimately being at the start, making the audience slowly piece together clues and imagery, bit by bit to understand the relatively complex structure of the film. The director used voiceovers to avoid tedious elements of films, observable in many modern day films. Character and plot developments were achieved quickly, and no sacrifice of pace was conceded. There are constant intertwining scenes from the past and the present, only letting the audience learning bit-by-bit, like the detective’s state of mind.

Much like the directorial style of Memento, the director constantly uses flashbacks and voice-overs to display crucial plot developments and to maintain characterization. Recurring medium and close-up shots of Verbal give clues to expose the identity of this mysterious figure. The same pleonastic music utilized throughout the preceding opening sequence is continuously played through moments of such symbolic imagery. The scene of Verbal lighting a cigarette is exemplified by the recurring imagery through these flashbacks, and the instances of dialogue between the investigator and Verbal.

When one of the ‘usual suspects’ dies, the others decide to bury his body in a cave, and there is an excellent long-shot which slowly fades to black and then ends up to be the coffee in Kujan(investigator’s) mug. Symbolically this can be interpreted to be a gesture to imply that Kujan has Verbal almost in a prison, trapping him from the outside world, searching for the ultimate truth. The ending of the film is the addition of all the individual comments exchanged in this cat and mouse game between Verbal and Kujan.

The grasp that Kujan once had on Verbal is now lost, as symbolized by the dropping of the coffee mug, with flashing imagery of Verbal’s sayings and his clever conversations with the detective. There is a close up of the shattering of the mug, and this is symbolic of how Verbal is now ultimately free and out of the grasp of Kujan. The camera angles quickly pan around the billboard, closing in on particular notices and photos, the basis of Verbal’s whole ‘honest testimony’.

The scene of Verbal walking outside of the police station and lighting a cigarette is again this recurring imagery, a medium and close-up shot of this same stance which is emphasized innumerably throughout the movie’s entirety. Again pleonastic music is used to increase the irony of the detective’s quotes “I’m smarter than you. You’re a crippled and dumb person. That’s why he chose you…” A final close up shot of Verbal smiling “…and he vanished just like that”, as if he was actually the ‘devil’ he was describing. The audience comes to realize from the last few concluding scenes that the mysterious, silhouetted figure is actually the narrator and also the crippled man, Verbal. The pleonastic, sinister music eloquently concludes the movie, and leads to the credits.

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