A Tale Of Two Verbals
A mild-mannered criminal-lite. A sociopathic criminal mastermind. And they happen to be the same dude.
In our opinion, Verbal Kint's name should have been Widow's Peak Kint—for us, that's his most defining feature. But "Verbal" is a little easier, so that's what the screenwriter went for.
However, the character of Verbal is anything but easy. In fact, it turns out that there are two Verbals: there's Verbal as he presents himself in the story he tells, and there's Verbal as he really is.
We'll start with the first Verbal.
Verbal presents himself as a physically disabled person; he's got a limp and a damaged arm. Consequently, he needs to get by with words. But, as he explains to the other four criminals, "People say I talk too much." (Hence his nickname.)
Occasionally, this gift o' gab helps him get out of tight situations: he's able to talk Dean Keaton into joining forces with the rest of the gang and participating in their heist, for one thing. But, at the same time, this stream of words can morph into verbal diarrhea, like when he starts babbling about the barbershop quartet he used to belong to in Skokie, Illinois, or about picking coffee beans:
"Back when I was picking beans in Guatemala we used to make fresh coffee. Right off the trees I mean. That was good. This is s***, but hey, I'm in a police station."
Fortunately for him, Verbal's struck a sweet deal with the police—as one of only two survivors from a dockside shoot-out, he gets immunity in return for his testimony about what happened. It seems like a cakewalk—aside from a weapons charge, he's pretty much home free.
But there's one fly in the ointment—U.S. Customs Special Agent David Kujan, who's not buying Verbal's story. He wants to know the truth.
Let's Play the Blame Game
As Kujan interrogates him, we learn more about Verbal—or at least we think we learn more about him.
He portrays himself as someone who's weak, who's a little scattered, and who couldn't be the leader of a gang if he tried:
"But why me? Why not Hockney or Fenster or McManus? I'm a cripple. I'm stupid. Why me?"
At this point in the movie, we want to enroll Verbal in some self-esteem-boosting seminars. We also want to tell him to cool it on the hero-worship when it comes to talking about Dean—Verbal talks about Dean in the kind of way that aspiring actors talk about Meryl Streep.
He puffs up Dean Keaton as a man he admired, the most competent and straightforward guy in their group. When Kujan argues that Keaton must have masterminded their first heist, Verbal says,
"You keep trying to lay this whole ride on Keaton. It wasn't like that. Sure he knew, but Edie [Keaton's girlfriend] had him all turned around. I'm telling you straight, I swear."
Instead, Verbal blames Keyser Söze—a seemingly mythical super-villain—for the dockside massacre. He makes Söze sound so evil and powerful that Kujan ends up believing that Söze's a fake; that the name Keyser Söze is just a convenient smokescreen for Keaton.
In the end, after Kujan berates at him and insists Keaton was the true villain, Verbal breaks down crying. He puts on a show worthy of the Oscar that Kevin Spacey actually won for playing Verbal:
"It was all Keaton! We followed him from the beginning! I didn't know! I saw him die! I believe he's dead, oh Christ!"
He admits he might've imagined that he saw Söze shooting Keaton, or didn't see it clearly. Verbal leaves, seemingly angry at Kujan for wringing the truth out of him.
And that's the last we see of weak, milquetoast, mild Verbal.
But almost as soon as Verbal limps out of the police station, we start to get a glimpse of the real Verbal…a.k.a. Keyser Söze.
Guess it's too late to yell "Spoiler Alert," huh?
In truth, Verbal isn't weak, and he's definitely not stupid. In fact, he doesn't even have a limp or a bad hand—he drops the disabled act as he strolls from the station. He's a criminal mastermind of mythic proportions who's been toying with Kujan this whole time.
By telling Kujan about Keyser Söze—and by comparing him to the Loch Ness Monster even as he insists that he exists—Verbal intentionally convinces Kujan not to believe in Söze. He's so good at this game (and he knows he's so good at this game) that he even talks about what he himself is doing while he's doing it:
"The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist."
Oh, Keyser. You are good. You're very good.
International Man Of Mystery
But who is Söze, really? Is he actually the international, soulless killing machine that Verbal presents him as being? Or is he someone completely different?
Since we know that Verbal/Keyser is lying about Söze's identity, we start to doubt all the information we've been given in this movie.
What about the story about the four other criminals and their adventures together—was that true? Did Söze really play the role of Verbal the whole time…or did he just invent that identity to tell his tale in court? Was he hanging out with the other criminals since they met in the police lineup in New York?
Thanks, The Usual Suspects. Now we're going to be up all night, pondering every detail. (No wonder this movie's so popular.)
But we know one thing for sure: Verbal's extremely smart, and he's extremely ruthless. He's a force of pure wrath, even though he seems cool, calm, and collected. In short, he's the ultimate criminal.