The Usual Suspects - Movie Review (Ending Analyzed & Explained)

The Usual Suspects,  directed by Brian Singer and written by  Christopher Macquarie, this 1995 mystery crime piece arrived in great acclaim and won many awards, telling the story of a heist gone wrong, the film plays out largely in flashback with Kevin Spacey's character Verbal Kent relaying the story to US customs agent Dave Kuyan.

Verbal was part of a five-man group who were pulled as suspects in a truck hijacking only to be released, they then decided to pull off a jewelry heist together and through a series of unfortunate occurrences, they end up at the mercy of the mysterious Kaiser Soze, a Turkish crime lord shrouded in secrecy, on his orders, the crew were sent to destroy millions of dollars worth of cocaine on a drug smuggling ship, which is where the film begins, we see Gabriel Burns's character Keaton, who is badly wounded and dying on the ship, he's confronted by Kaiser and then shot, the boat goes up in flames, the only survivors were Verbal who is a cripple with cerebral palsy and a Hungarian mobster who escaped with severe burns, so this is a film in which four-fifths of our core main characters are locked into a mortal fate, the only one who is going to survive as we now know it is Verbal who tells the whole story from the formation of the crew to their meeting with a lawyer named Kobayashi, an employee and associate of Kaiser Soze,In the opening scene as the boat goes up in flames, we see a close-up of ropes wood and steel, the   push-in from the  camera suggests something we need tofocus on, something we're not quite seeing for our selves, later on verbal recounts the night of the attack on the boat and we see that he was hiding behind the ropes and saw kaiser kill keaton, or so he thinks, kuyan however believes from everything verbal has told him that keaton is Kaiser Soze, in the commentary track for the usual suspects Brian Singer and Christopher Macquarie say that they show you the truth in the first five minutes of the film, then spend the rest trying to convince you that you saw something else, as verbal leaves kuyan's office distraught at the idea that keaton had betrayed him and with kaiser soze all along, the pieces suddenly begin to fall into place.

In a brilliant use of sound design or lack thereof, kuyan's mug hits the floor as the mystery starts to unwrap, he realizes that many of the details in the story that verbal has just told him, the story that we as an audience have just spent an hour and a half watching, have been lifted from notes and details that litter his own office, even down to the brand name of the mug "Kobayashi", kuyan scrambles to catch up with Verbal fearing the worst and we see him outside limping the layering of audio becomes overwhelming as the fragments are all blended together, the scene building to a crescendo and we simply see verbal's feet, limping at first as we saw him before, before smoothly transitioning into a normal and purposeful stride, the implication and a fairly heavy one at that are that verbal is kaiser Soze and he just walked away scot-free, it's a hell of a twist ending and one that's been parodied and discussed for decades now, the kind of ending that just permeates the pop culture landscape even if you've never seen the usual suspects, you probably have a base awareness of its final twist, the surface it's fairly clear-cut once the film shows you verbal's obvious deception, can the entire film and story that he spun to kuyan be viewed as a complete fabrication, clearly not as we have the Hungarian who survived the burns and who was able to give a description of kaiser one that matches verbal's face pretty damn closely, yet a lot of the elements of the story can easily be called into question, based on how freely and loosely verbal was cherry-picking details from kuyan's office, that in and of itself, however, could be yet another deception tactic.

There are a number of things throughout the film that links between these two realities, Kobayashi for one appears at the end when verbal gets into the car, now it's highly likely that Kobayashi is an employee of Kaiser, but the verbal merely gave him an alias when telling kuyan the story, but then there's the scene in which Kobayashi supposedly is in the same room as verbal supposedly, there's a lot of different things that come into play once you know what happens at the end because it reframes the entire story, but does the ending really clarified the verbal is definitively kaiser Soze? is everything wrapped up in a neat little package the moment he lights his cigarette and gets into the car, maybe not there's always the possibility that Kobayashi, as we came to know him, is actually kaiser Soze, verbal doesn't quite seem as old or as experienced as an almost mythical figure that kaiser has built up to be might look like, at one point verbal tells kuyan of a rumor that Soze murdered his entire family when they were held hostage by Hungarian mobsters, but again this is a story coming directly from Verbal, so many pinches of salt need to be taken

Then there's Keaton, he could still very possibly be Soze too, he was the one who planned everything and was a former cop, he would know what it would take to evade the law and to get away with this grand master plan when it comes down to it almost anyone could be Soze, in the opening scene when Keaton is faced with kaiser, brian singer had Gabriel Byrne play the figure of Kaiser even though you don't see his face, the film is intentionally trying to play tricks with you and keeps you guessing, at the time that it came out Kevin Spacey wasn't the big name he eventually became towards the back half of the 90s and the usual suspects bagged him an academy award leading to a slew of success, he didn't immediately stand out as someone you should be looking at more closely in the film and in the 25 years since it was released, Kevin spacey arguably became the most decorated actor of the entire cast, his recent allegations aside of course, but that wasn't the case in 1995, Gabriel Burn has said that his job was to take the attention off spacey, in the opening scene we see kaiser using a gold lighter and then also wearing a gold watch, in the final scene verbal is seen with both, incontrovertible evidence that verbal is kaiser? maybe, they're certainly placed there for a reason but wants to say he isn't  holding on to them, for the real kaiser, the film is primarily designed however to buy you  into the idea that the twist is that Keaton is kaiser Soze, verbal is framed as the eccentric intelligent but nevertheless sympathetic party with a weakness inherent in the way that he holds himself, some may look on it now as too obvious and especially with spacey's more well-known status since the film's release, it still holds up as a genuinely well-executed twist either way though in my opinion and when watching the film again the scenes with verbal telling the story are played very fair, and they come fresh with a newly subtle layer of context

For example, if you go back to that opening scene pay close attention to the way tha t keaton looks up at kaiser when he registers his face and realizes it's verbal, it's written all over his face, it's the surprise, it's I should have known, it's all there in the facial expressions and it pays off again when you re-watch the film, Verbal shows the true power that can lie in the unreliable narrator, a method used countless times in the the genre of film Noir, a genre that the usual suspect certainly owes a great debt to just because you're being shown something as an audience, much like kuyan is being painted a mental image, as an audience to verbal's potentially tall tale, doesn't mean that it's true but it doesn't mean that it's false either and finding the exact truth in the story like the usual suspect would be impossible, ultimately though the real through line of the film is that Verbal is kaiser souza, it's fun t speculate but that's the carpet pull they're going for, when verbal tells kuyan that keaton can convince anyone he's someone else but never himself, it's a sly wink to the truth, in the famous lineup scene and throughout that early section of the backstory in fact, verbal doesn't really have much of a presence, he's more in the background, he isn't shown being arrested, he isn't shown being interrogated and unlike the other four men who read out the same line, when Verbal delivers his version, he's shown in close-up, the rest of the group out of focus, it's likely that he was never actually in this lineup, that he was never arrested or interrogated for the truck hijacking, he's inserting himself into the narrative but he's being subtle not showing his hand too obviously in the story he's telling kuyon, another clue is that many times in the film, when kaiser soze is mentioned, the next cut will be direct to Verbal, then there's the name"Verbal Kent" which sneakily alludes to Kaiser Soze. in Turkish, which is meant to be the nationality of Kaiser, the word Soze translates to verbal, and in german, some say his father was german, The word Kaiser translates to Emperor or king, The question that forms the central mystery of the film who is Kaiser Soze? the answer is that it doesn't matter because he's already gone



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