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The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist.
This dark and multilayered neo-noir film helped launch the careers of Kevin Spacey (who earned an Oscar for his performance), Benicio Del Toro, and director Bryan Singer, as well as relaunch that of Gabriel Byrne.
The movie is told mostly in flashback form. Kevin Spacey is Roger "Verbal" Kint, the only survivor of a bombing that occurred the night before on a cargo ship. While his lawyer fights for his speedy release from police custody, Kint begrudgingly reveals the events leading up to the previous night's explosion. Meanwhile, in a hospital not far away, it's revealed someone else survived the blast. Unfortunately, he only speaks Hungarian and isn't in much shape to be divulging his story. Customs Agent Dave Kujan (who has long investigated and had a vendetta against Dean Keaton [Byrne], one of Kint's fellow "suspects") is determined to get the truth out of Kint, the Hungarian, and whoever else might be involved... no matter what it takes.
Eventually, the crux of Kint's story begins to center around the presence of a criminal mastermind named Keyser Söze. Kujan at first doubts the existence of the "bogeyman of the criminal underworld", but as Kint continues his story, the agent soon realizes just how deep this particular rabbit hole goes.
This film contains examples of:
- Absence of Evidence:
- Where's the cocaine?
- Where did the van with all the money go after Hockney got shot?
- All There Is to Know About "The Crying Game"
- Amoral Attorney: Kobayashi
- Anyone Can Die: All but one of the Suspects die in the final shootout, but Fenster dies before the third act.
- Ax Crazy: The backstory for Keyser Söze told by Kint portrays Söze as this.
- Bad Boss: Söze's minions are disposable, and his enemies...
- The Bad Guy Wins
- Be as Unhelpful as Possible: Inverted, as Verbal's quite helpful until you realize he's only telling the story to buy time until his release.
- Bilingual Bonus:
- Those who speak Hungarian get to hear a cut off joke from Hockney finished by two Hungarian mooks later in the film.
- Speakers of Turkish get a hint at a major spoiler, as Söze is Turkish for "talks too much".
- Break the Haughty: Agent Kujan. His constant flaunting of his intelligence to Verbal returns to bite him in the ending
- Cast as a Mask: Scott B. Morgan as the Keyser Söze in Kint's flashback. Morgan's elbows do not fully extend, causing his arms to be slightly crooked at all times. Singer thought it looked interesting.
- Clueless Mystery
- Consummate Liar: Verbal Kint A.K.A. Keyser Söze. The Mind Screw really sets in when you realize that everything you think you know about Keyser Söze comes from Keyser Söze. Then there's the fact that Keyser Söze was essentially screwed as he was being questioned about Keyser Söze and had to come up with a story on the spot. It goes to show how smooth an operator Verbal is when he is able to grab names and details from wanted posters in the room he's being questioned in and get the agent he's talking to to buy it hook, line and sinker. Not to mention the discipline and mental awareness to maintain an awkward limp and hand posture; just one slip and he'd have a much more difficult story to explain.
- Conveniently Cellmates: The main characters first meet in a jail cell, and this is revealed to be part of Keyser Söze's plot.
- Creator Cameo: Screenwriter Chris McQuarrie is one of the cops conducting the line-up -- he ad-libs the "English, please" remark to Fenster when Benicio del Toro mumbles his line.
- Dead-Man Switch: Kobayashi lets the protagonists know that if he dies under suspicious circumstances, his boss Keyser Söze will immediately know who did it and take revenge on them and their families. Fridge Brilliance of course as Keyser is Kint so it's not just a bluff. He'll know because he's there.
- Deadpan Snarker: Hockney.
Cop: We can put you in Queens on the night of the hijacking.
- Deep-Cover Agent: Verbal Kint may or or may not be a cover identity. If it's a cover, it goes back at least as far as the original line-up in NYC. Kint also has a criminal history that includes ratting on a drug dealer named Ruby Deamer.
- Diabolical Mastermind
- The Ending Changes Everything: This trope was formerly called the Usual Suspects Ending.
- Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Keyser Soze threatens the crew with killing their loved ones.
- Mr. Fanservice: McManus.
- Even Evil Has Loved Ones: How Kobayashi blackmails the Suspects.
- Everyone Is a Suspect: Who's Keyser Söze?
- Evil Brit: Kobayashi, who has a British Indian accent. He's apparently based on the person who picks Söze up at the end, which is probably why Söze didn't make him Japanese, to fit the name.
- The Faceless
- Faking the Dead: Keaton is infamous within the New York underworld for having done this to dodge a murder rap.
- Five-Man Band/Five-Bad Band
- The Hero: Keaton, who Verbal admires and turns into the main character and cool-headed leader of the Suspects during his flashbacks.
- The Lancer: McManus, the hotheaded, impulsive opposite of Keaton, and, as Verbal tells it, the initial leader of the Suspects.
- The Smart Guy: Verbal. Although Kujan thinks Verbal is stupid, this is just not true, and as a Con Man, Verbal relies more on brains than any of the other Suspects, who are mostly highjackers.
- The Big Guy: Hockney may be the smallest of the suspects, but he's the one always looking for a fight and the explosives expert, which more than makes up for his small size.
- The Chick: Poor Fenster never got a chance to shine.
- Gangsta Style: How Söze finishes off Keaton. Hockney also holds his gun to one side in a scene, which is a Red Herring.
- Gory Discretion Shot: Several, mostly done quite artfully.
- Guns Akimbo:
- During the jewel heist, McManus aims two pistols and gets kill shots on two different targets who are both grappling with his accomplices, after clearly concentrating hard, and waiting for a clean pair of shots.
- Keaton uses two pistols during the climax, but again it is handled fairly realistically, as he mostly uses the two guns at very close range, and when he gets a moment to catch his breath and move on he only uses one gun.
- Gut Feeling: Kujan believes he already knows what happens and tries to get Verbal to confirm his suspicions. Early in the film, Verbal encourages this behavior by sarcastically asserting that, when a cop thinks the brother did it, he's usually going to be right.
- Hand of Death: Söze's identity is hidden by showing various parts of his body -- his hands, the back of his head -- but never his face, except in a single dark and blurry shot of him walking away from a burning building. Söze was played in flashbacks by about six different people, including three members of the main cast (Baldwin, Byrne and Spacey). One of the other people was Bryan Singer himself. When people ask him who Keyser Söze really is, he always answers, "Me."
- He Knows Too Much: the one surviving Hungarian from that boat.
He says it was the devil. He saw the devil...
- Hidden Villain
- Improbable Aiming Skills: McManus pulls off a few impressive shots, notably the one during the jewel heist.
- In the Back: Keyser Soze shoots Hockney and Keaton in the back, and stabs McManus in the back of the neck.
- Indy Ploy: The whole movie is a story Söze pulls out of his ass when he's stuck in police custody.
- Ironic Nickname: "Verbal" Kint is chatty in the interrogation, but in the flashbacks he's very reticent. He doesn't utter a word before introducing himself, saying, "People say I talk too much." Hockney quips, "Yeah, I was just about to tell you to shut up."
- Karma Houdini: Keyser Söze
- Kill Them All: In the end all the suspects except for Verbal die -- though this is more or less hinted at in the first scene of the movie, almost making it a Foregone Conclusion.
- Large Ham: Fenster. Del Toro basically added this characterization himself. The character on the page was pretty flat nondescript.
- Line-of-Sight Name: Many details from Verbal's story turn out to be taken from objects in the room. Verbal is seen looking around the room before his interrogation, and a later shot even shows him looking up at the bottom of Kujan's coffee cup.
- Living Legend: "The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist."
- Lost in Translation: In-film example. The Hungarian translator the cops get, who speaks it with a strong American accent and thus isn't a native, mishears one word he translates as "package" instead of "guy" because it's native Hungarian slang. The sentence thus reads "We picked up a package" instead of "We picked up a guy".
- Meaningful Name: Keyser Söze is speculated to be German or Turkish. Kaiser, a homonym of Keyser, is the German word for emperor, and Söze means "talks too much" in Turkish, making Keyser Söze "Emperor Talks Too Much," a hint that he is "Verbal" Kint, who says he's accused of talking too much.
- Name's the Same: Almost: FBI agent Jack Bayer.
- Never Trust a Trailer: Some early trailers for the film implied that the main characters, in a combination of self-preservation and horror at Keyser Söze's activities, were banding together to take him down.
- Obfuscating Disability: Verbal Kint
- Obfuscating Stupidity: : Verbal Kint, who is Keyser Söze.
- Papa Wolf: Brutally subverted by Söze. He has a beautiful wife, three adoring children, and he's big and hairy and aggressive- then his family is taken hostage. He killed his wife and both surviving kids himself rather than allow his enemies to do it. That way, he explains to the surviving enemy mook, they won't have to live with the humiliation.
- Or maybe he realized that his family would always be in danger from people who would torture them to hurt or manipulate him and thought killing them quickly was the kindest thing he could do for them. He never actually said anything about humiliation, only that he couldn't allow them to live another day.
- Personal Effects Reveal: The gold watch and lighter featured in the opening as belonging to Söze are given back to Verbal Kint when he leaves the police station.
- Pet the Dog: McManus comes across a dog while on the boat in the climax, and gives it a head rub before moving on. Before that, we find out he actually cared about his partner, Fenster, and the two were close friends.
- Police Lineup: How the suspects all meet each other. It's the picture used on the posters and DVD cover.
- Posthumous Character: Most of the characters.
- Rabid Cop: David Kujan of U.S. Customs:
"Not from me, you piece of shit! There is no immunity from me."
- Red and Black and Evil All Over: Fenster's clothes in his first appearance.
- Red Oni, Blue Oni: McManus and Fenster.
- Red Shirt: Fenster, who actually wears a red shirt.
- The Reveal: Aside from the obvious, there's a rare case where it's mostly inconsequential to the plot. When Kobayashi is rattling off everyone's crimes against Söze, he reveals that Hockney is the one responsible for the heist at the start of the film.
- Robbing the Mob Bank: Each of the suspects has unwittingly stolen from from one of Söze's fronts or minions.
- Sacrificial Lion: According to Benicio Del Toro, his character (Fenster) is this.
- Saying Too Much: If you listen closely during the final interrogation, Verbal actually says, "I did kill Keaton," but neither the detective nor the audience pick up on it.
- Seamless Spontaneous Lie: The entire movie is one long example.
- Scheherezade Gambit: Verbal/Söze uses his tale-spinning talent to outwit his captors.
- Screw the Rules, I Have Connections: Söze is able to manipulate law enforcement agencies to a truly disturbing extent. Despite admitting (as Verbal Kint) to a raft of crimes, the most the police can hit him with is a minor weapons charge. Rabin says he's "protected from up on high by the prince of darkness." Later on, Kint's story includes Kobayashi saying that Söze arranged the line up to gather up the five crooks whose crimes had interfered with Söze and get them to repay their "debt".
- Self Proclaimed Liar: Verbal is not only an admitted con artist, but there are several scenes where he will say something Kujan doubts, admit to lying, and then revise his story.
- Shaggy Dog Story: The end reveals that Verbal Kint's story, which comprises the bulk of the film, is a fabrication.
- Shrouded in Myth: Söze. Somewhat unusually, he lives up to his reputation.
- Throw It In:
- The famous line-up scene was originally scripted as serious. The day prior to filming the scene was a long, tense day of filming in a prison. Singer decided to take the cast to lunch the next day, the day of the line-up scene, to lighten the mood. The lunch turned into a "lovefest" according to Bryan Singer, with all the actors becoming giddy. The giddyness carried over into the scene in that they couldn't stop laughing and making jokes. Singer was originally frustrated, but then liked the takes so much and the idea that it shows them bonding in-story, he threw the funniest ones into the film.
- Actors were directed to ask Benicio del Toro to repeat himself if his line readings were ever unintelligible. At least two of these ad-libs were included in the final cut.
- In the scene where Redfoot throws a cigarette at McManus, he was supposed to aim for the chest. Instead, he hit McManus' eye, and the reactions were not scripted.
- Twist Ending: Just when Kujan thinks he's got it all figured out, he looks at the pin board papers and realizes that Kint's story is a massive ball of lies. Convince me.
- Two Aliases One Character: Verbal Kint/Keyser Söze.
- The Unfettered: Keyser Soze.
- The Unintelligible: Fenster. Benicio del Toro thought the character was too boring on the page and came up with a bizarre accent (Chinese and Hispanic, by his account) to spice things up. He drew inspiration from Mumbles in the Dick Tracy film. The director told the other actors to make him repeat himself if they ever couldn't understand him. This happens a few times in the film.
- Unstoppable Rage: Keyser Söze himself killing his wife and child to stop the home invaders from using them as hostages, then killing all but one of the invaders (so he'd go tell his associates), then going out and killing everyone connected with the people who did the home invasion of his house, including people whose only connection was that that owed money to them or had dealings with them.
- Unreliable Narrator: Verbal. Kujan constantly accuses him of lying, and ultimately Verbal confirms Kujan's preconceived notion that Keaton was Keyser Söze. Of course, Verbal wanted him to think that all along. Also, Kint narrates things he wasn't actually there to see. Unless he was Soze.
- Urban Legends: Keyser Söze himself is one.
"He becomes a myth, a spook story that criminals tell their kids at night. 'Rat on your pop, and Keyser Söze will get you.' And no one ever really believes."
- Villainous Breakdown: McManus and Keaton after finding out there's no cocaine on the boat. Cue Ham-to-Ham Combat.
- Would Hurt a Child: Keyser Soze and Kobayashi.
- You All Meet in a Cell