Great scene: “The Usual Suspects”

January 11th, 2014 by

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]

3 thoughts on “Great scene: “The Usual Suspects”

  1. I’d like to ask something related to this. You pointed out that the final movie ended up not using a lot of the dialogue from the script – extremely well written, by the way.

    While I understand that sometimes the scripted dialogue makes into the movie verbatim, have you ever felt like you were reading some kind of transcription instead of a screenplay? Are there such cases?

    Let me elaborate on it. Earlier today, after watching “Silver Linings Playbook”, I decided to replay the movie while reading the script. And I was kind of puzzled when I noticed that a good part of the dialogue (I didn’t read it entirely, jumped through somes scenes) was exactly as scripted. And that the script lacked a lot of descriptions or directions – the opposite of “The Usual Suspects” excerpt posted above.

    It was puzzling because in a particular scene (page 149), when Tiffany – played by Jennifer Lawrence – cries, there’s nothing on the script that says she should cry.

    I’d love to read your thoughts on this — if there’s already a post in the website and/or any books about this particular matter, I’d be glad to be pointed to them!
    Thanks.

  2. Gordon says:

    I think Jennifer Lawrence cried because that’s how she felt. Same with Da Niro crying. All the actors were watching his performance in awe. As screenwriters we have to come up with a great script but the actors have to make it come to life. We have to inspire them, but they make it real. We have to walk the fine, moving line between providing enough inspiration and giving enough freedom (for the actors, set directors, wardrobe, et. al., especially the director.

    You saw brilliance. That emotion cannot be scripted.

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