Film Review Of The Usual Suspects (with spoilers!)

This film is a widely recognised crime thriller containing a suspenseful plot twist regarding cinematic history; American film director Bryan Singer has created an exceptional film that leaves the audience intrigued to see what the outcome is…

The Usual Suspects cast features:

kevin spacey

Kevin Spacey as Verbal


Stephen Baldwin as McManus


Gabriel Byrne as Keaton


Benicio del toro as Fenster

kevin pollak

Kevin Pollak as Hockney


Chaz Palminteri as Special agent Dave Kujan


Pete Postlewaithe as Kobayashi


Giancarlo Esposito as FBI agent Jack Baer


Suzy Amis as Eddy Finneran

Beginning the film is the scene where a boat is on fire and 27 bodies are discovered through a police a investigation to find who the culprits are. Then through a flashback character “Verbal” describes how he and four other men were previously questioned in a New York police station due to them being the usual suspects for crimes including this hijacked truck offence. All of the men undergo tense interrogation by police agent “Dave Kujan” but none of them own up to their supposed criminal offence and later decide to team up to seek revenge for the corrupt police force. After their release they are contacted by a man called” Kobayashi” who represents the renowned global criminal “Keyser”; they are assigned a job to invade an Argentinean boat with a large net worth of drugs (cocaine).

Back into the present day as “Verbal” is being questioned by police agent “Dave Kujan”, he reveals the story “Keyser” murdered his own family during an attack by Hungarian criminals, also murdering them too. Soon after he went undercover, never to be seen or heard of again; only using other people to complete his business. “Verbal” explains how their ship attack was carried out killing many other criminals since they were emotionally blackmailed by “Kobayashi” through using threatening to harm their loved ones if they didn’t do as he was told by “Keyser”. Although, they didn’t find any drugs and “Mcmanus” and “Hockney” were murdered by an anonymous man, Verbal exclaimed he saw the man who must of been “Keyser” kill “Keaton” as well as. However, “Dave Kujan” does not believe “Verbal” and insists “Keaton” is in fact the so called “Keyser” as “Verbal” had informed him that it was all “Keaton’s” idea from the start.

Therefore, “Verbal” is released on bail and slowly begins to leave the police station but it is not until moments later that “Dave Kujan” draws evidence from the police pin board and the police artist’s image “Jack Baer” retrieves from a surviving victim, turns out to be the face belonging to “Verbal”. This directly indicates that”Verbal” had simply made up this entire story and is the mastermind behind “Keyser”.

Whilst “Dave Kujan” attempts to run outside to find and arrest “Verbal”, “Verbal” is pictured walking with his limp which suddenly disappears along with flexing his meant to be paralysed hand. He then jumps into a car who has “Kobayashi” inside waiting for his return; signifying the end to a bemusing narrative where “Verbal” is actually the supposed “Keyser”.


I absolutely love the ending quote by Kevin Spacey for the reason that the film centres around trust and subsequently the audience’s ability to identify who is who in terms of the antagonist when confronted with a disabled person that would not usually be addressed as this being truthful or not.

I believe the cinematography is exceptional in the sense that the multiple use of close up shots during the interrogation scene really captures the audience’s desire to know the antagonist’s name. For the reason that the depth of field maintains focus on the character Verbal and the police agent Dave Kunjan when in a tense conversation; as the shot duration extends over a period of 20+ seconds, the audience feel the suspense will reach a limit where Verbal will either confess details about Keyser or uncover what had occurred. Neither of the two expectations from the audience happen, exemplifying another way the film constructs what Roland Barthes describes as the Hermenuetic and Proairetic code due to the tension developing within the film narrative.


In addition the camera zoom is effective throughout this scene as from a long shot to close up shot of agent Dave Kunjan pressurising Verbal makes the audience feel sympathetic towards Verbal because he appears in this moment of time, a vulnerable person under the very demanding and influential police force. I find it’s significant to note how he conforms to the stereotypical role of a person with a disability, since the agent consistently refers to him as a “cripple” and he plays up to gain the audience’s pity for him; so they would not for a minute question he could perhaps be the criminal.

But also the fact that the men can be viewed as innocent by the audience at the very start of the film through the theme suggestions of police corruption in the voice-over as the narrator describes how the police would investigate each one of the suspects individually to “see which one would slip up”. I find the voice-over adds an element of realism to the film, resulting in the audience feeling as though this happens on a day to day basis in the actual police force.

Furthermore, the high key lighting used during each of the “suspects” interrogations symbolises their innocence as evidence of three point lighting with the back lighting in particular, emphasising the characters presence in a darkly lit police station; this signifying the corruption of the American police. But it is not until the ending when the plot unfolds because the character “Verbal” is in fact the culprit to the crime and is portrayed throughout the film as an innocent disabled man.

I can deduce that The Usual Suspects is inspired by 1950’s film noirs as they used the black and white cinematography to intensify the contrast and the use of shadows were heightened as a result. Moreover, the iconography exemplifies the themes of lies and deception being central to the plot/narrative; director Bryan Singer takes on board the conventions and characteristics of film noir to produce a neo noir in the sense of the first scene beginning with low-key lighting. The shadows created in the dark lit set draw attention to the bright orange colour of the fire flames; the audience can connote fire symbolises the theme of danger. As a result, the film interrupts the audience’s calm nature due to being directly introduced to the action where the details will later be revealed in the film. Through the silence and non-diegetic sounds of the lighting of a match, the audience gain a sense of ominosity as though the men on the burning ship have very little chance of survival. In contrast to the extreme close up shot of the antagonist’s golden watch which signifys wealth and subsequently has the power in this situation; demonstrating his character’s state of being a fearful crime-lord known as “Keyser”. Also the fact that sound effects of gun shots and then the massive explosion at the end conforms to the conventions of the thriller genre as crime, violence and the binary opposition between the antagonist and protagonist leading to conflicted is exhibited.

I consider the circular narrative has great significance because about two thirds of the way through the film the audience are drawn to the revelation of whether the suspects had committed the crime. The tracking shot and camera panning as it goes up over building roof leads to a high angle shot of the boat where the deaths occurred;the suspects are in the shadows indicating their involvement in these deaths.

The pure intensity would not be created if the film followed a linear narrative as personally speaking I would not feel intrigued to see the revelation behind who the mysterious “Keyser” actually is. In which I strongly enjoyed the parallel editing in the present for when the detectives try to solve the case by interrogating suspects and then flashbacks occur when the plot is triggered to the crime committed.

Although the ending is clear because I had thought what if “Verbal” was hiding the truth since seeing this happen in modern films today which had used screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie’s idea. Therefore, if I had not watched previous films that used and recreated this then I would find the ending clever in the sense of how the truth is uncovered through the high angle shot of Verbal’s feet as he walks along the path. The audience watch in pure anticipation because the voiceover informs them of the previous interrogation conversation where Dave Kujan demands he learnt on his “first day of the job how to spot a murderer”. But it’s ironic as Verbal is displayed as no longer having a physical disability and getting away with murder through acting as though he does. Which the non-diegetic soft background music of whistling when the camera rotationally pans around the window of the car, Kobayashi can be seen next to Verbal; indicating these two characters were in fact working together and thus escape from any form of punishment. Then the camera gradually pans to the right, increasing in sync with the tempo of the music to police agent Dave Kunjan looking around with confused facial expressions to see if he can locate Verbal. I feel like this signifies how police corruption is similar to the criminals actions as both may appear as innocent when truly they are not what they expect.

Overall, I would rate this film 4/5 stars because I was expecting more of the thriller conventions such as pure anticipation throughout watching the film, since I believe this only picked up near the end of the film.




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