The Usual Suspects is a 1995 masterpiece that was written by Christopher McQuarrie, directed by Bryan Singer and if you haven’t seen it already you need to go to Amazon and buy it for a penny right now.
It’s my favourite film; the story of five criminals forced to pull off a daring heist to escape Kaiser Soze, the shadowy mastermind behind every east-coast crime ever. It features an amazing cast with Kevin Spacey, Gabrielle Byrne, the worst Baldwin, Benicio del Toro and the late Pete Postlethwaite, as well as one of the greatest twist endings in film because, spoiler alert, Kevin Spacey was Kaiser Soze the whole time. Naturally, this revelation forced a 10-year-old me to rewind the tape and re-watch the whole movie in its entirety.
Except he’s not.
For anyone unfamiliar with the film, it’s a story within a story. Verbal Kint (Kevin Spacey) is telling DEA Agent Dave Kujan about the events leading to his arrest, starting with stolen guns in New York and ending with a shootout in the Los Angeles harbour, all orchestrated by the mysterious Soze. After telling his story, Kint leaves the station, allowing Kujan to realise that all whole tale was taken from the interview room; posters and words on coffee mugs being pieced together to create narrative. As Kujan desperately chases the fleeing Kint, a police sketch is sent to the fax machine, revealing that it was Kint who killed everyone at the shipyard. But (and this is important) he isn’t Kaiser Soze.
Kaiser Soze doesn’t exist. He’s made up, just like Kint says he was.
You see, McQuarrie and Singer wasn’t really making a crime movie; they were making a movie about movies. The criminals, the drug dealers, the lawyers and gangsters? They’re just inventions. Characters that Verbal Kint came up with so he could make a clean getaway. He looked at the world around him and combined bits and pieces into a story that ended the way he needed it to. In other words, he’s a screenwriter.
And Kujan is just a captive audience sat in the cinema, desperate to learn how the movie ends. He wants to believe what Kint is saying, and even ignores inconsistencies in the story because he gets the ending that he wanted.
There’s a scene where Kujan asks about Kaiser Soze. Verbal didn’t mention him; it was a Hungarian gangster, a man who had never seen Soze, that immediately pointed him out as the bad guy. That’s the only reason the name got brought up in the first place; an Eastern-European criminal with 80% burns and almost certain brain damage described a face that he saw once in the dark. Is that person definitely going to be Kaiser Soze? Or is it more likely that the guy with massive head trauma was wrong?
But Kint just deals with it, immediately weaving the new character into the narrative. Before Kint hears the name Soze, he might as well not exist. Afterwards, he’s the main villain of the story.
That’s why Kint stopped limping and why Kobayashi was driving the town car; because none of it was real. Most of the crimes never happened. The lawyer isn’t a lawyer. Everything, from the moment Verbal opened his mouth (now the name makes sense) to the second he leaves the station, is a lie. Can we even say for sure that Verbal Kint is his name?
Because after all, the greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.