The Usual Suspects is a 1995 American neo-noir film directed by Bryan Singer and written by Christopher McQuarrie. It stars Stephen Baldwin, Gabriel Byrne, Benicio del Toro, Chazz Palminteri, Kevin Pollak, Pete Postlethwaite, and Kevin Spacey.
The film follows the interrogation of Roger "Verbal" Kint, a small-time con man who is one of only two survivors of a massacre and fire on a ship docked at the Port of Los Angeles. He tells an interrogator a convoluted story about events that led him and four other criminals to the boat, and of a mysterious mob boss known as Keyser Söze who commissioned their work. Using flashback and narration, Kint's story becomes increasingly complex.
The film, shot on a $6 million budget, began as a title taken from a column in Spy magazine called "The Usual Suspects", after one of Claude Rains' most memorable lines in the classic film Casablanca. Singer thought it would make a good title for a film, the poster for which he and McQuarrie had developed as the first visual idea.
The Usual Suspects was shown out of competition at the 1995 Cannes Film Festival, and then initially released in a few theaters. It received favorable reviews, and was eventually given a wider release. McQuarrie won an Academy Award for the screenplay and Spacey won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance.
On a ship in San Pedro Bay, a faceless figure identified as "Keyser" speaks briefly with an injured man called Keaton (Byrne), then appears to shoot Keaton, before setting the ship ablaze. The next day, agents Jack Baer (Esposito) and Dave Kujan (Palminteri) of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and U.S. Customs Service respectively, arrive in San Pedro separately to investigate what happened on the boat. There appear to be only two survivors: Roger "Verbal" Kint (Spacey), a con artist with cerebral palsy, and a hospitalized Hungarian criminal named Arkosh Kovash. Baer interrogates the severely burned Kovash in the hospital, who claims that Keyser Söze, a Turkish criminal mastermind with a near-mythical reputation, was in the harbor "killing many men". Kovash begins to describe Söze through an interpreter while a police sketch artist draws a rendering of Söze's face. Meanwhile, Verbal has testified at length about the incident in exchange for near-total immunity. While waiting to post bail on a minor weapons charge, Verbal is placed in the cluttered office of San Pedro Police Sergeant Jeffrey Rabin (Hedaya) where Kujan demands to hear his story from the beginning. Verbal's tale starts six weeks earlier in New York City:
Five criminals are brought together in a police lineup: Dean Keaton, a corrupt former police officer who has apparently given up his life of crime; Michael McManus (Baldwin), a short-tempered professional thief; Fred Fenster (del Toro), McManus' partner who speaks in mangled English; Todd Hockney (Pollak), a hijacker; and Verbal.
While in holding, McManus convinces the others to join forces to commit a robbery targeting New York's Finest Taxi Service, a group of corrupt New York City Police Department officers who escort smugglers to their destinations around the city. After the successful robbery, the quintet travel to Los Angeles to sell their loot to McManus's fence, "Redfoot" (Greene), who talks them into another job: robbing a purported jewel dealer. Instead of carrying jewels or money as they were told, however, the dealer had heroin. An angry confrontation between the thieves and Redfoot reveals that the job came from a lawyer named Kobayashi (Postlethwaite). The thieves later meet with Kobayashi, who claims to work for Keyser Söze and who blackmails them into attacking a ship at San Pedro harbor. Kobayashi describes the boat as smuggling $91 million worth of cocaine to be purchased by Söze's rivals. The thieves are to destroy the drugs and, if they choose to wait until the buyers arrive, split the cash.
In the present, Verbal tells Kujan the story of Keyser Söze. Years before, his Hungarian rivals invaded his home and demanded his territory, raping his wife and killing one of his children to show him their resolve. In response, Söze surprised them by killing his own wife and remaining children, then massacred the entire mob. He then went underground, never directly dealing with anyone in person, and became "a spook story criminals tell their kids at night". Baer tells Kujan that he has heard rumors for years about Söze's insulating himself behind layers of minions who do not know for whom they are working.
Verbal resumes his story. Fenster attempts to run away, only to be killed by Kobayashi. The four remaining thieves kidnap Kobayashi, intending to kill him if he does not leave them alone. Unbowed, Kobayashi reveals that Edie Finneran (Amis), Keaton's lawyer and girlfriend, is in his office (believing she was hired for legal services), and he threatens to kill her as well as the families of the four thieves, should they refuse the job.
On the night of the cocaine deal, the sellers (a group of Argentine mobsters) and the buyers (a group of Hungarian mobsters) are on the dock. Keaton tells Verbal to stay back, and to take the money to Edie if the plan goes awry so she can pursue Kobayashi "her way". Verbal reluctantly agrees, and watches the boat from a distance. Keaton, McManus, and Hockney attack the men at the pier, killing most of them. Keaton and McManus board the ship to find the drugs while Hockney goes after the van carrying the cash, though he is fatally shot by someone unseen when he finds it. Keaton and McManus discover there is no cocaine on the boat. Meanwhile, the unseen assailant shoots a closely guarded Argentine passenger; this same figure kills McManus and wounds Keaton. The mysterious figure appears to speak briefly with Keaton before shooting him again.
With Verbal's story finished, Kujan reveals what he knows: the Argentinian man murdered on the boat was Arturo Marquez, a drug dealer who, in order to escape jail time, had revealed to authorities that he could identify Keyser Söze. A group of Hungarians Kujan assumes to be the same group that Söze nearly annihilated in Turkey were offering to buy Marquez from the Argentinian group for $91 million. Using the fabrication of a drug deal, Kujan speculates, Söze had Verbal and his crew sent to the docks as a cover for Söze to personally enter the boat and kill Marquez undetected. Kujan concludes that Keaton actually was Keyser Söze; he is convinced that Keaton has faked his death (as he had done some years earlier to escape another investigation) and deliberately left Verbal as a witness. Under Kujan's aggressive questioning, Verbal tearfully admits that the whole scheme was Keaton's idea from the beginning, but refuses to testify.
His bail having been posted, Verbal retrieves his personal effects from the property officer. Moments later, Kujan, relaxing in Rabin's office, realizes that details and names from Verbal's story are culled from various objects around the room - including Rabin's crowded bulletin board and the "Kobayashi Porcelain Company" logo on the bottom of his coffee cup. Kujan realizes that most of Verbal's story was improvised for his benefit and chases after him, running past a fax machine as it receives the police artist's impression of Keyser Söze's face, which resembles none other than Verbal Kint.
Meanwhile, Verbal walks away from the police station, dropping his feigned limp. He gets into a waiting car driven by "Kobayashi", pulling away just as Kujan comes outside, searching in vain. Verbal's quote from Charles Baudelaire is repeated: "The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist." This is followed by his earlier description of Keyser Söze: "And like that, he's gone."
- Gabriel Byrne as Dean Keaton
- Kevin Spacey as Roger "Verbal" Kint/Keyser Söze
- Chazz Palminteri as U.S. Customs Special Agent Dave Kujan
- Stephen Baldwin as Michael McManus
- Kevin Pollak as Todd Hockney
- Benicio del Toro as Fred Fenster
- Pete Postlethwaite as Mr. Kobayashi: Söze's right-hand man
- Suzy Amis as Edie Finneran: an influential criminal lawyer and Keaton's girlfriend.
- Giancarlo Esposito as FBI Special Agent Jack Baer: investigating the boat explosion on the pier.
- Dan Hedaya as Sergeant Jeffrey "Jeff" Rabin: assists in Dave Kujan's interrogation of Roger "Verbal" Kint.
- Peter Greene (uncredited) as Redfoot the Fence: He not only sets up a job for the five criminals in Los Angeles but also puts them in touch with Kobayashi.