Saturday, March 31, 2007

Blogathon Review: The Usual Suspects

Thought I'd put in my 2 cents worth for the screenwriting blog-a-thon that Mystery Man in Film has graciously thought up and discuss The Usual Suspects.

There are several things about Christopher McQuarrie's script and the resulting movie by Bryan Singer which made this one of my overall favorite movies.

With The Usual Suspects how could you not want to write a movie as well it shows on the page. McQuarrie pulls a little bit of trickery by presenting 'Verbal' Kint and then allowing him to play everyone for the entire movie only to escape in the end and poor Agent Kujan is left having to clean up his broken coffee cup.

But, in order for us to believe this clever deceiver, McQuarrie first shows Verbal into our hearts.

...FOLLOW A PAIR OF FEET as they shuffle across the cement floor. The shoes are shabby and worn, as are the wrinkled pants that hang too low and loose at the cuffs. The right foot is turned slightly inward and falls with a hard limp. It is clear that the knee does not extend fully...

...ROGER KINT, VERBAL to his few friends. He has a deeply lined face, making his thirty-odd years a good guess at best. From his twisted left hand, we can see that he suffers from a slight but not debilitating palsy...

It didn't make sense that I be there. I mean these guys were hard-core hijackers, but there I was. At that point, I wasn't scared, if knew I hadn't done anything they could do me for. Besides, it was fun. I got to make like I was notorious...

Awww he's a poor gimp (as Hockney calls him in the jail scene) who gets picked on by the five guys and even gets gut punched by Keaton. Afterwords Verbal states he'll "shit blood tonight".

So, McQuarrie makes him the narrator of the movie--he's gonna explain everything. So, he can't be a bad guy right?

Not so sure.

Also, by presenting Verbal talking through VO throughout the screenplay he is clearly telling a story which ends up being Agent Kujan and thus we never get to see the inner aspects of Verbal and his true hand is not never revealed.

So the game starts.

Since The Usual Suspects starts near the end of the action in the movie we learn what is going to happen to the main characters. The only clue we're given is in Keaton's demise by Keyser.

Then we learn that Verbal has some connections--

...David Kujan is walking quickly beside SERGEANT RABIN, a dark and weathered looking man in his late thirties. They move up a staircase into the heart of police headquarters.

What do you mean I can't see him?

The D.A. came down here last night ready
to arraign before they even moved him to
county. Kint's lawyer comes in and five
minutes later, the D.A. comes out looking
like he'd been bitch-slapped by the
boogey man. They took his statement and
cut him a deal.

Did they charge him with anything?

Weapons. Misdemeanor two.

What'he fuck is that?...

I give the D.A. credit for getting that
much to stick. This whole thing has
turned political. The Mayor was here -
the chief - the Governor called this
morning, for Christ's sake. This guy is
protected- From up on high by the prince
of fucking darkness...

So begs the question who is Verbal's connection? Then we learn more about this Keyser starting with the one survivor, Arkosh Kovash, of the shipyard incident where the whole screenplay starts. And so the mystery of Keyser Soze is built layer by layer by McQuarrie--

...He is the Devil.
You've never seen anyone like Keyser
Soze in all your miserable life you
idiot. Keyser Soze. Do you at least
understand that? Keyser Soze. The
Devil himself. Or are you American
policemen as stupid that you haven't
even heard of him. Keyser Soze, you
ridiculous man. KEYSER SOZE ...

Several more references are made by different characters saying "Who is Keyser Soze?" And again it is up to Verbal to explain Soze's back story (or so it may seem) but first we must meet Mr Kobayashi, Soze's supposed lawyer...

I work for Keyser Soze.

A strange look crosses Keaton's face. Skepticism, mockery and just a hint of fear. Hockney, McManus and Fenster all share similar looks.

What is this?

Who's Keyser Soze?

I am sure you've heard a number of tall
tales, myths and legends about Mr. Soze
I can assure you gentlemen, most of them
are true.

Who's Keyser Soze?

Who indeed. McManus, Hockney and Fenster are confused enough that they think Kobayashi is Soze and nearly knock him off. But McQuarrie continues to unfold the mystery--

He is supposed to be Turkish. Some say
his father was German. Nobody believed he
was real. Nobody ever saw him or knew
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....

McQuarrie adds a wonderful scene showing how Soze became the "Devil" as he is known when Soze kills his own family and the Hungarians who were trying to take over his business except one so that the story can be passed along. The way it is told though allows the mystery to sustain itself. Soze is never revealed and in the end you only see a shadowed figure walking away from a huge fiery blaze.

But after Verbal has spent time making it seem as though Keaton is the real Soze and Kujan is going right along with it. McQuarrie could have left that mystery solved in our minds and we all would have thought it's Keaton all along. But that wouldn't be the best screenplay would it? McQuarrie wants us to know who the real Soze is but doesnt want to stick it out there. Instead he plants just enough to know that it will come later--

Kovash's room is now filled with people. Jack Baer stands next to DANIEL METZHEISER, a balding man in his forties. Next to him is Doctor Plumber. Across from her is Ridgly Waiters.

Sitting beside the bed is TRACY FITZGERALD, a casually dressed woman in her late twenties. She holds a 15x20 inch drawing pad on her lap...

(To Bodi)
This is Tracy Fitzgerald. She's a
composite sketch artist from county....

He says he saw him in the harbor. He was
shooting... Killing... Killing many men.

Did he say Keyser Soze? He saw Keyser

Keyser Soze. Keyser Soze. I've seen his
face. I see it when I close my eyes.

He says he knows his face. He sees it
when he closes his eyes.

Ask him what this Devil looks like.

(To Tracy)

Tracy holds up her pad and pencil. She nods.

So we know at some point we are going to have a picture which doesn't get completed till the last pages of the screenplay rolling across the fax as Verbal walks out of the police station.

But McQuarrie adds another layer of detail toward the beginning of the screenplay that is so hidden but ultimately plays a huge factor in the deceit by Verbal--

...Rabin's office can only be described as a disaster area. The desk is cluttered with weeks, perhaps months or even years of paperwork that could never conceivably be sorted out.

Above his desk is a bulletin board. It is a breathtaking catastrophe of papers, wanted posters, rap-sheets, memos and post-its. This is in the neighborhood of decades. Rabin is a man with a system so cryptic, so far beyond the comprehension of others, he himself is most likely baffled by it...

A small detail about Rabin. Doesn't seem like much. And then later--

Kujan shakes his head. He gestures to the desk.

Man, you're a fucking slob.

Rabin regards the mess of his office.

Yeah. It's got it's 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.

The detail is brought up again. What's up with the bulletin board? McQuarrie finally reveals--


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 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.

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...

All this details fulfill something Verbal said Soze would end up doing--

You think you can catch Keyser Soze? You think a guy
like that comes this close to getting caught, and sticks
his head out? If he comes up for anything it'll be to
get rid of me. After that... my guess is you'll
never hear from him again...

There was alot more I could have tapped into with this work by McQuarrie but I chose to center on Soze and the reveal of the bulletin board because those were to major things in the screenplay that elevated this one screenplay for me.

This is why The Usual Suspects is one of my favorite screenplays and ultimately one of my favorite movies, because McQuarrie succeeded in creating this mythical character in the movie. None of them ever realizing he was a "devil" walking right in their midst till it was too late...

....and like that he was gone.