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A look at Technique in “The Usual Suspects”

This weekend I watched “The Ususal Suspects” for the first time, and it was a truly fascinating film. I want to take a quick look at Form and Content through the lens of film. So i’m Going discuss the “Keaton Was Keyser Soze” Scene. I am picking this scene because in the context of the film in its entirety, Kujan’s confident and pre-mature declaration of Keaton’s identity and Kint’s dismay is quite comical. In the scene Agent Kujan uses several examples from Kint’s story to deduce that Keaton is Keyser Soze, and apparently convinces Kint of the same with the final reveal of Edie’s murder. This scene uses established expectations, patterns, and manipulation of both time and space to convey a sense of urgency and mounting tension.

The scene begins with a moving, low angle shot of Kujan as he starts to piece together the ‘information’ Kint has given him, this initial shot already lets the audience know that Kujan is once again in a position of power, and the motion of the shot adds a menacing almost predatory tint to his argument, using a voice-over Kujan continues his argument over the sequence of shots, but now the sequence is interspersed with close up shots of Kint’s face as he attempts to digest the realization of Keaton’s ‘betrayal’ as well as cuts back to scenes from his story, highlighting the most suspicious parts of Keaton’s behavior. This seems to clearly support Kujan’s argument, drawing from the expectation that one of the members of the lineup must be Soze. The shots alternating between Kujan and Kint form an interesting juxtaposition. Using continuous action and the previous low-angle placement of the camera, we are given the perspective of Kint. The resulting effect is that as more incriminating arguments of Keaton are drawn, Kujan is proudly circling Kint, lauding his ‘knowledge’ over him, a throwback to when Kujan states he is more intelligent than Kint. The shots on Kint however are still close-ups and tend to be longer as we are made to focus on how Kint is receiving the information, with each close-up the camera is more zoomed in, implying that Kint is feeling more intensely. Finally, the movement stops briefly with Kujan’s declaration that Keaton is Keyser Soze, and we see the first high angle shot of Kint in the scene. Here he is hit with the news that his friend might be responsible for horrible deeds. As Kint shakes his head in vehement denial, and the thematic score intensifies we cut to a rapid sequence of shots between Keaton and Kint culminating in a low-angle barely lit shot of Keaton’s face as he shoots a gun in the fashion of Soze and the knowledge of Edie’s death. This signifies a climax, as it negates the bad cop turned good by love idea of Keaton, that Kint believed was his redeeming factor, in a way confirming the supposed truth about Keaton.

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