Study Guide

The Usual Suspects What's Up With the Title?

What's Up With the Title?

Unusually Usual

Can't come up with a title? When in doubt just…rip it off of a magazine article. (You can't copyright a title—so technically, you can write a book and name it Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban if you want).

At any rate, jacking a title from a magazine worked for Christopher McQuarrie, screenwriter of The Usual Suspects.

McQuarrie said he got the idea for the title from a Spy Magazine article entitled…wait for it: "The Usual Suspects." (Source)

But the term actually comes from a way less obscure source. At the end of the movie Casablanca—usually considered one of the three or four greatest movies of all time—Captain Renault (played by Claude Rains) decides against arresting his friend Rick for shooting a Nazi officer. Instead, he tells the cops, "Round up the usual suspects."

The Usual Suspects begins with rounding up "the usual suspects"—five known criminals, all familiar to the cops, and all possible culprits in hijacking a truck. We think we're just going to see these guys pulling off crimes together, pooling their forces, which is what we do see, at first.

But the focus of the movie changes entirely when Keyser Söze enters the picture.

Since Söze's this masterful, mythical, arch-criminal, he's really an unusual suspect. The five guys are criminals the cops have all heard of; they're known on sight. Söze isn't. He's a rare species, maybe a legendary one like the Loch Ness Monster (to whom Verbal compares him).

Of course, the twist comes when we realize that one of the usual suspects is really this unusual suspect. Milquetoast Verbal is really ruthless killer Söze. What appeared to be "usual" was really anything but.

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