The ‘big twist!’ Is there any movie ending more satisfying than a scene sequence where you realize the writer has totally played you, set you up to think one thing, then through the course of events in the scene, methodically let you in on the secret the writer has carefully crafted and kept to him/herself. One of the best ‘big twists’ in recent memory is in The Usual Suspects (1995). Written by Chris McQuarrie, the movie is a nifty crime noir story with an odd angle to it: the real or mythological crime lord Keyser Söze.
Here in the final sequence, Roger ‘Verbal’ Kint, a limping weakling played masterfully by Kevin Spacey, prepares to leave a lengthy interrogation with Dave Kujan (Chaz Palminteri), U.S. customs agent.
Kujan pulls the microphone out from under his tie and puts it on the desk. Verbal actually manages to snort a laugh, but only briefly, overcome by an apparent wave of nausea. KUJAN You're not safe on your own. VERBAL You think he's..? KUJAN Is he Keyser Soze I don't know, Verbal. It seems to me that Keyser Soze is a shield. Like you said, a spook story, but I know Keaton - and someone out there is pulling strings for you. Stay here and let us protect you. VERBAL I'm not bait. No way. I post today. KUJAN You posted twenty minutes ago. Captain Leo wants you out of here a.s.a.p., unless you turn state's. VERBAL I'll take my chances, thank you. It's tougher to buy the cheapest bag- man than it is to buy a cop. KUJAN Where are you going to go, Verbal? You gonna run? Turn states evidence. You might never see trial. If somebody wants to get you, you know they'll get you out there. VERBAL Maybe so, but I'm no rat, Agent Kujan. You tricked me, that's all. I won't keep my mouth shut 'cause I'm scared. I'll keep it shut 'cause I let Keaton down by getting caught - Edie Finneran too. And if they kill me, it's because they'll hear I dropped dime. They'll probably hear it from you. Verbal stands, mustering his shattered dignity and walks towards the door. Rabin opens it for him from outside. For once Kujan cannot bring himself to look at Verbal. Verbal turns to the door, stopping to look Rabin in the eye. VERBAL Fuckin' cops. He steps out of the room and into the hall. Rabin follows him. INT. HOSPITAL - DAY Daniel Metzheiser comes out of Arkosh Kovash's room with a single sheet of 15x20 inch paper in his hand. He inspects the sketch with great interest. He folds the edges of the paper back to make it smaller. INT. HOSPITAL RECEPTION ROOM Metzheiser walks behind the reception desk without asking the nurse for permission and helps himself to the fax machine. INT. DEPOT - LATER Verbal is downstairs in the depot of the police station picking up his personal belongings. A FAT, WHITE-HAIRED COP is checking off the items as he takes them out of the tray in which they are kept. COP One watch: gold. One cigarette lighter: gold. One wallet: brown. One pack of cigarettes. Verbal collects his personal items and shuffles on his lame leg toward the exit. INT. DISPATCHER'S OFFICE Jack Baer stands by a fax machine. A green light comes on next to a digital display. THE DISPLAY READS: RECEIVING INT. RABIN'S OFFICE Kujan stares solemnly at the bulletin board, drinking from Rabin's coffee cup. Rabin sits at the desk, sifting through the mound of gapers as though considering organizing them once and for all. RABIN You still don't know shit. KUJAN I know what I wanted to know about Keaton. RABIN Which is shit. KUJAN No matter. He'll have to know how close we came. RABIN Keyser Soze or not, if Keaton's alive he'll never come up again. KUJAN I'll find him. RABIN Waste of time. KUJAN (to himself) A rumor is not a rumor that doesn't die. RABIN What? KUJAN Nothing. Something I - forget it. Kujan shakes his head. He gestures to the desk. KUJAN Man, you're a fucking slob. Rabin regards the mess of his office. RABIN Yeah. It's got its own system though. It all makes sense when you look at it right. You just have to step back from it, you know? You should see my garage, now that's a horror show... Kujan is not listening. He has been staring at the bulletin board, lost in thought, his unfocused eyes drifting across the mess of papers, not looking at anything at all. EXT. STREET Verbal steps out into the sunlight, putting on a pair of cheap sunglasses. He looks up and down the crowded street. People on their way to and from lunch, no doubt. Cars choke the street in front of the police department as they wait for pedestrians to clear the way. INT. DISPATCHER'S OFFICE A single sheet of paper comes out of the fax machine, face down. INT. RABIN'S OFFICE Kujan still stares at the bulletin board. SUDDENLY, Kujan's face changes. He leans in closer to the bulletin board and squints his eyes. His face changes again. First a look of puzzlement, then confusion - finally realization. The coffee cup tumbles from his hand. It hits the floor with the SMASH of cheap porcelain. Coffee splatters everywhere. Rabin snaps out of his droning and looks up in surprise. KUJAN'S P.O.V. Kujan is staring not at what is on the bulletin board, but at the bulletin board itself. His eyes follow the aluminum frame, mounted firmly to the wall. One might note it's sturdy construction and it's convenient size. Big enough to hold a lifetime of forgotten and disregarded notes and facts. Years of police trivia that has been hung and forgotten with the intention of finding a use for it all someday. One might want such a bulletin board for one's self. One would look to see who makes such a bulletin board. Kujan's eyes are locked on a metal plate bearing the manufacturer's name. It reads: QUARTET - SKOKIE, ILLINOIS Kujan's eyes flash all over the bulletin board. He finds a picture of Rabin in the far corner. He stands beside a scale in fishing gear. He proudly holds a hand out to his freshly caught marlin. His eyes skim quickly over and stop on an eight and a half by eleven inch fax sheet of what must be a THREE HUNDRED POUND BLACK MAN. Kujan glazes over his name, it is irrelevant. His aliases stand out. Slavin, BRICKS, Shank, REDFOOT, Thee, Rooster... KUJAN'S EYES WIDEN with sudden realization. He runs for the door. His foot crushes the broken pieces of Rabin's coffee cup. The cup that hovered over Verbal's head for two hours. Kujan is in too much of a hurry to notice the two words printed on the jagged piece that had been the bottom of the cheap mug. KOBAYASHI PORCELAIN. EXT. HALLWAY Kujan is sprinting wildly down the hall for the stairs. EXT. STREET Verbal looks behind him and sees ANOTHER COP standing just inside the doorway, lighting a cigarette. The cop notices Verbal and watches him in the way that cops look at people they cannot place in the category of idiot citizen, or stupid criminal. Verbal smiles politely, meekly at the cop and walks down the steps into the moving throng. INT. DEPOT Kujan runs up to the desk where Verbal had only moments before picked up his belongings. Rabin is right behind him, a look of absolute confusion on his face. KUJAN WHERE IS HE? DID YOU SEE HIM? COP The Cripple? He went that way. The cog gestures towards the door. Kujan runs outside looking around frantically. EXT. SIDEWALK Verbal limps his way carefully across the sidewalk, avoiding people as best as he can. He looks over his shoulder, getting farther away from the police station. He can see Rabin and the cop on the steps, looking around with strange, lost expressions on their faces. He does not notice the car creeping along the curb beside him. INT. CAR DRIVER'S P.O.V. The driver's hands tap the wheel patiently. His eyes follow Verbal as he fumbles through the crowd. EXT. SIDEWALK Kujan pushes and shoves, looking this way and that. EXT. STREET LOW ANGLE on the feet of dozens of people. Verbal's feet emerge from the crowd on the far side. They hobble along the curb. SUDDENLY, the right foot seems to relax a little, the inward angle straightens itself out in a few paces and the limp ceases as though the leg has grown another inch. CRANE UP VERBAL'S BODY Verbal's hands are rummaging around in his pockets. The good left hand comes up with a pack of cigarettes, the bad right hand comes up with a lighter. The right hand flexes with all Of the grace and coordination of a sculptor's, flicking the clasp on the antique lighter with the thumb, striking the flint with the index finger. It is a fluid motion, somewhat showy. Verbal lights a cigarette and smiles to himself. He turns and sees the car running alongside. INT. DISPATCHER'S OFFICE Jack Beer pulls the sheet out of the fax machine and turns it over, revealing the composite sketch of Keyser Soze. Though crude and distorted, one cannot help but notice how much it looks like VERBAL KINT. EXT. STREET The car stops. The driver gets out. IT IS KOBAYASHI, or the man we have come to know as such. He smiles to Verbal. Verbal steps off of the curb, returning the smile as he opens the passenger door and gets in. The man called Kobayashi gets in the driver's seat and pulls away. A moment later, Agent David Kujan of U.S. Customs wanders into the frame, looking around much in the way a child would when lost at the circus. He takes no notice of the car pulling out into traffic, blending in with the rest of the cars filled with people on their way back to work. BLACK THE END
Now compare to the way the scene plays out in the movie:
Notice how much dialogue didn’t make it into the final cut. As they say, “Less is more.”
Do you remember the moment you realized the truth about Keyser Söze when you first watched The Usual Suspects?
[Originally posted August 22, 2008]