The Usual Suspects

“Who is Keyser Soze?” The phrase was echoed by critics and audiences alike during the summer of 1995, when The Usual Suspects arrived on the big screen. Not since 1949’s The Third Man had such attention been paid to the mystery of a movie character’s true identity. In director Bryan Singer (X-Men) and writer Christopher McQuarrie’s complex thriller, Soze is a criminal mastermind who gets five thieves to go on a suicide mission to destroy $91 million worth of cocaine. It’s a cat-and-mouse game in which the characters, like the audience, are in the dark about what’s actually going on.

The five crooks – McManus (Stephen Baldwin), Hockney (Kevin Pollak), Fen- ster (Benicio Del Toro), Dean Keaton (Gabriel Byrne), and Verbal Kint (Kevin Spacey, who won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar) – are bound together by their fear of Soze, who holds damning information on all of them. McQuarrie’s Oscar- winning script (his directorial debut, The Way of the Gun, opens this month) is filled with great lines and finely etched characters. In this scene, the weaselly Kint is being questioned by federal agent Dave Kujan (Chazz Palminteri) at the San Pedro Police Department. After explaining to Kujan how the group was coerced by a lawyer named Kobayashi into doing the job for Soze, Kint tells the fed what he knows of the legendary gangster.

Verbal Kint: He’s supposed to be Turkish; some say his father was German. Nobody ever believed he was real. Nobody ever knew him or saw anybody that ever worked directly for him. But to hear Kobayashi tell it, anybody could have worked for Soze. You never knew. That was his power. The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist. One story the guys told me – the story I believe – was from his days in Turkey. There was a gang of Hungarians that wanted their own mob. They realized that to be in power you didn’t need guns or money or even numbers. You just needed the will to do what the other guy wouldn’t. After a while, they come into power and then they come after Soze. He was small-time then, just running dope, they say. They come to his home in the afternoon looking for his business – [Cut to: a flashback of three Hungarians bursting into a room in Soze’s house] They find his wife and kids in the house and decide to wait for Soze. He comes home to find his wife raped and children screaming. The Hungarians knew Soze was tough, not to be trifled with, so they let him know they meant business. [A Hungarian slashes the neck of one of Soze’s sons.] They tell him they want his territory, all his business. Soze looks over the faces of his family… then he showed these men of will what will really was.

[Soze shoots two of the Hungarians, and then, turning the gun on his family, he shoots them too, leaving one of the Hungarians standing.] He tells him he would rather see his family dead than live another day after this. He lets the last Hungarian go, then waits until his wife and kids are in the ground, and then he goes after the rest of the mob. He kills their kids, he kills their wives, he kills their parents, and their parents’ friends. [Soze walks away from a stream of fire that is erupting behind him.] He burns down the houses they live in and the stores they work in. He kills people that owe them money. And like that [Kint, back in the police station, blows on his fingers, as if to say, “Poof!’], he’s gone. Underground. Nobody’s ever seen him since. He becomes a myth, a spook story that criminals tell their kids at night. “Rat on your pop and Keyser Soze will get ya.” And no one ever really believes.

Dave Kujan: Do you believe in him, Verbal?

Kint: Keaton always said, “I don’t believe in God, but I’m afraid of Him.” Well, I believe in God, and the only thing that scares me is Keyser Soze.

Premiere, September 2000, page 96