Cinematogeraphy In The Usual Suspects Essay, Research Paper
General Writing: Film
Prof. Anustup Basu
How to Create a Classic Movie:
The film ?The Usual Suspects? (Bryan Singer, U.S.A., 1995) has a plot that circles around and around before finally hitting the mark. It is hidden under deceit, lies, and misgivings. Because everything is told from the perspective of one person, or in the first person, nothing is clear. Could that person be lying? Or is it that he is just the mere pawn of a darker and more evil force, without even realizing it. Maybe he is just giving the facts. These shades of gray are very successful in manipulating the audience?s point of view. Of course all of this is accomplished through the exceptional cinematography contained in ?The Usual Suspects?. One of the main objectives of a film is to never let the audience escape, to never allow them to realize that it is only a movie. By way of devices such as editing, filming style, and even the musical score this film is able to do exactly that right up until the last minute with an ending that nothing could prepare you for. By examining these techniques in detail we can gain an even greater appreciation, not only for the film, but for the elements involved as well.
The film begins, ?last night?. Roger “Verbal” Kint (Kevin Spacey) has been arrested for being in the location of a massive explosion on a Hungarian boat. Agent Dave Kujan (Chazz Palminteri) wants to get the truth out of Kint, but Kint has already posted bail. In about two hours, he will be a free man. Kujan has Kint brought into his office where he asks Verbal to retell the story. Kint begins, and the film jumps back six weeks. An armored car filled with gun parts was hijacked, and the cops are rounding up the usual suspects: Spencer McManus (Stephen Baldwin), Dean Keaton (Gabriel Byrne), Fred Fenster (Benicio Del Toro), Todd Hockney (Kevin Pollack), and Verbal Kint. They are all locked up for a few hours, and interrogated one by one. Verbal says that the cops were the ones at fault. Had they not locked up five criminals together, nothing would have happened. But something did happen. The five plan a heist of the New York City’s finest taxi service. Criminals could buy policemen and their squad cars to get them into the country safely. Upon completing the job they go to California to sell off the merchandise. All of this leads up to the Hungarian ship, which contains $91 million dollars worth of cocaine. Approached by Kobayashi (Pete Postlethwaite), the five were told that they must do a job for him or else they would be killed. If they did it, the ones who lived would be able to split the $91 million amongst themselves. Kobayashi is the lawyer of Keyser Soze. Soze is the mysterious leader: a man so evil that criminals shudder at the very name. But is Soze real? Or is he just a myth to scare? Kint says, “I believe in God, and the only thing that scares me is Keyser Soze.” The power Soze has over criminals is startling. All five of these men virtually cower at the sound of Soze’s name. Soze is the ultimate in evil: a force so morbid that he can do anything he wants without ever showing his face. The ship is where Verbal?s story ends, with a lot of dead people and no cocaine.
Thankfully, this film isn’t completely dependent on the story. The style is unique in its own right. It is completely different as compared to other films of its time, which are made up of countless special effects. Still it is a very vivid movie. The scenes are very powerful, with strong ideas. It is more reminiscent of a 40?s film with most of the story taking place at night. This gives the film a dark and sinister feel. Despite the lack of the special effects, the visuals are surprisingly effective, especially during the final scene, which is completely dependent on visuals. Without the use of fancy special effects the film is able to get across an almost astounding display. You know when some critics say films should show and not tell? This is what they were talking about. The final moment requires the full attention of the audience or else it doesn’t work. And the final moment is quite possibly the most shocking ending to a movie ever. Even after being led through a maze of tricks, deceit, and surprises the viewer cannot help but be astounded as Verbal?s gait straightens out and he lights his cigarette with his left hand. It will probably be remembered as one of the greatest visual effects ever in film.
Two of the most important aspects of ?The Usual Suspects? are the editing and the musical score. The editing is exquisite, with sure-handed cuts. It is extremely difficult to edit a film in which the action jumps from past to present so often. Not only did they have to make sure that the movie flowed correctly, but it also accounts for developing the suspense as well. The final scene incorporates some of the greatest editing displayed in the film. This is one of those films that lives and dies on its final scene. It is where everything falls apart, or rather comes together. As Verbal is allowed to leave the police station the scene jumps back and forth from his perspective and his continuing dialogue to the interrogation room to the incoming fax. It is done so well it even allows the viewer to put it together at the same time the police do. It is a masterful example of montage in film. A montage is where a scene is made up multiple events occurring simultaneously. In the final scene they take advantage of techniques such as slow-motion multiple perspectives and incorporate sound bytes from the past to make the scene that much more powerful. Perhaps the only thing better was the musical score of the film. It is haunting, thematically rich, and stunning. A full orchestra accompanies the film, and it’s surprisingly effective. In a film so rich in dialogue it is able to instill even greater emotions in the viewer. The score makes the final scene a complete horrifying moment. As everything comes together you find it starting to make your heart race as it brings you to the edge of your seat. In a film with such long breaks between action it helps to keep you involved. These two elements definitely played a large part in the success of the film.
?The Usual Suspects? is a postmodernist tale in the purest sense of the word. Controlled by an invisible force, criminals will do anything to please Soze. But he is like a god… he can eliminate any one he chooses, and replace him with another. Human life is of no importance to Soze. This power sucks the audience in just as it does the characters in the movie. The film is so original in the way it handles the events of the story. It jumps back and forth through time, to different versions of the truth. As viewers we really have no idea what is going on. The way it accomplishes this is through the cinematography. Because it is in the first person we are not only just shown what he saw, but also the version he wants you to believe. It creates countless twists in reality. The film is also driven by its musical score, which helps to reinforce the story that the speaker is telling us. The entire film is a set up for the climax. It is as if everything just keeps building and building until you know the end is near, but which nothing can prepare you for.