VERBAL: It was bullshit. The whole rap was a setup. Everything is the cops' fault. You don't put guys like that in a room together. Who knows what can happen?
Verbal puts the blame for everything that happened on the cops. This is ironic, considering that, in the end, we realize that Verbal's a master criminal who probably orchestrated everything himself.
VERBAL: What the cops never figured out, and what I know now, was that these men would never break, never lie down, never bend over for anybody. Anybody.
Verbal says he learned this hanging with the guys after they were all in the lineup together. He emphasizes the toughness of his fellow criminals, acting like they're a band of brothers—but he forgets to mention the old adage, "There's no honor among thieves.
KEATON: I'm a businessman now.
INTERROGATION COP: What's that? The restaurant business? Not anymore. From now on you're in the getting-fucked-by-us business.
In Verbal's story, Keaton is a basically decent man trying to go straight—and here, Verbal demonstrates that by relating this incident to Kujan. It suggests that Keaton's criminality was a product of circumstance, not of any inner maliciousness on Keaton's part—the cops were persecuting him. But Kujan knows that Keaton was actually a monstrous and unrepentant murderer.
FENSTER: They treat me like a criminal. I'll end up a criminal.
HOCKNEY: You are a criminal.
FENSTER: Why you gotta go and do that? I'm trying to make a point.
This is how the criminals in Verbal's version of events justify their behavior. The cops hassle them by accusing them of participating in a hijacking, so, to get back at them, they decide to actually pull off a job, targeting two corrupt cops. Of course, Hockney highlights the irony—the cops aren't really wrong about them being criminals, just about this specific hijacking.
KUJAN: The first thing I learned on the job, know what it was? How to spot a murderer. Let's say you arrest three guys for the same killing. Put them all in jail overnight. The next morning, whoever is sleeping is your man. If you're guilty, you know you're caught, you get some rest—let your guard down, you follow?
Kujan clearly has experience, and he knows that the guy who arguably has more to fear is actually going to be more relaxed. The innocent people are probably freaking out over the injustice being committed against them. Ironically, Kujan has this seasoned approach to criminals—but he can't see the super-criminal sitting in front of him until it's too late.
KOBAYASHI: Get your rest, gentlemen. The boat will be ready for you on Friday. If I see you or any of your friends before then, Miss Finneran will find herself the victim of a most gruesome violation before she dies. As will your father, Mr. Hockney. And your Uncle Randall in Arizona, Mr. Kint. I might only castrate Mr. McManus's nephew, David. Do I make myself clear?
Success at being a criminal depends on ruthlessness. And since Kobayashi's boss, Keyser Söze, is supposed to be the baddest of bad boys, and the most successful criminal, he's also the most ruthless, renowned for brutal tactics like this.
REDFOOT: The way I hear it, you did time with ol' Spook. Good man, wasn't he? I used to run dope for him. Too bad he got shivved
KEATON: Yeah. (Pause). I shivved him. Better you hear it from me now than from somebody else later.
REDFOOT: Yeah, well, I appreciate that. Just out of curiosity, was it business or personal?
KEATON: A bit of both.
This makes it sound like Keaton might've had his reasons for stabbing this guy—and maybe they weren't so bad. But since we learn at the end that Redfoot isn't real, we recognize that Verbal was just messing with Kujan—we don't know what Keaton was like, in a first-hand way.
We just get Verbal's distorted version.
Keaton remains a closed book to us at the end, when we see Verbal/Söze kill him in a flashback to the boat massacre. Was he a bad guy? Yeah, probably.
But we only ever encounter him as a character in Verbal's story—the Keaton we know is a fictional representation, though one possibly based on fact.
KOBAYASHI: One cannot be betrayed if one has no people.
This is true of all the criminals. Being criminals, they can't really trust each other and definitely can't trust people like Kobayashi and Söze. Even though they're working together, they are, on a fundamental level, alone.
VERBAL: They tell Söze they want his territory—all his business. Söze looks over the faces of his family... Then he showed these men of will what will really was... He tells them he would rather see his family dead than live another day after this.
Söze actually kills his own wife and remaining children, after his wife is raped and one of the children killed. He's so ruthless, so hardcore, that he wants to show his enemies that he can't be intimidated. His determination to act outstrips all human emotion. He then kills the families of these criminals and burns down their homes and businesses…
KOVASH: Why are you just standing there, you idiot? I'm not speaking English am I? Wouldn't it make sense to find someone who could talk to me so you could find the person that set me on fire, perhaps? He is the Devil. You've never seen anyone like Keyser Söze in all your miserable life, you idiot. Keyser Söze. Do you at least understand that? Keyser Söze. The Devil himself. (Translation Source)
If you don't remember these lines from the movie, it's because they were spoken in Hungarian without subtitles. Also, since we're getting it from someone who isn't Verbal, we realize that Keyser Söze could really be everything he's cracked up to be—this nefarious incarnation of evil, akin to the Devil himself. Verbal expands on this idea, but we don't know how far we can trust him. But Kovash is probably more trustworthy.
KUJAN: Let me tell you something. I know Dean Keaton. I've been investigating him for three years. The guy I know is a cold-blooded bastard. N.Y.P.D. indicted him on three counts of murder before he was kicked off the force, so don't sell me the hooker with the heart of gold... Keaton was under indictment a total of seven times when he was on the force. In every case, witnesses either reversed their testimony to the grand jury or died before they could testify. When they finally did nail him for fraud, he spent five years in Sing Sing. He killed three prisoners inside - one with a knife in the tailbone while he strangled him death.
In contrast to Verbal's story, Kujan says Keaton was really a total monster. Verbal gives us a more human, less evil version of Keaton, but it turns out that this is a fiction. Keaton probably was just as bad as Kujan makes him out to be.
VERBAL: He lets the last Hungarian go, and he goes running. He waits until his wife and kids are in the ground and he goes after the rest of the mob. He kills their kids, he kills their wives, he kills their parents and their parents' friends. He burns down the houses they live in and the stores they work in, he kills people that owe them money. And like that he was gone. Underground. No one has ever seen him again. He becomes a myth, a spook story that criminals tell their kids at night. If you rat on your pop, Keyser Söze will get you. And nobody really ever believes.
The way Verbal describes Keyser Söze makes us think that Söze is a total monster—an epitome of evil. But, when we realize that Verbal is Keyser Söze, it occurs to us that he might just be pumping up his own legend by telling this story. Of course, he might be telling the truth too—he did kill Keaton's girlfriend, Edie (apparently).
VERBAL: Who is Keyser Söze? 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 Söze. You never knew. That was his power… And like that, poof. He's gone.
Söze is so mysterious he seems far beyond our experience—like he exists on this higher, transcendent level of evil. Of course, the irony here is that Verbal is Keyser Söze—he's a normal-seeming dude who looks like Kevin Spacey.
VERBAL: The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist.
This famous line actually comes from the great French poet, Charles Baudelaire—it's a quote. If you don't believe in the devil, Verbal implies, you're ready to be manipulated by the devil, because you won't be on guard against him. This is the same way Kujan relates to Keyser Soze: he doesn't believe he's real, and hence is ready to be manipulated by him—which is exactly what happens.
VERBAL: To a cop, the explanation is never that complicated. It's always simple. There's no mystery to the street, no arch criminal behind it all. If you got a dead body and you think his brother did it, you're gonna find out you're right.
Verbal is basically describing the way Kujan thinks. Kujan doesn't believe in the myth of Söze, and, ironically, by telling him this story, Verbal convinces Kujan that Söze isn't real, and that Dean Keaton is the main bad guy. Of course, this is what Verbal intended to do, since he (Verbal) is actually Söze.
VERBAL: What about it, Agent Kujan? If I told you the Loch Ness Monster blew up that boat, what would you say?
By telling Kujan about Söze, and making Söze sound like a mythical creature, Verbal actually helps convince Kujan that Söze must not be real. Even though Verbal says he believes in Söze (and, in fact, is Söze), he subtly insinuates that Söze is an implausible explanation.
VERBAL: Keaton always said, "I don't believe in God, but I'm afraid of him." Well, I believe in God...and the only thing that scares me is Keyser Söze.
This is ironic considering that Verbal actually is Keyser Söze. He makes Söze sound so evil that it would be hard for Kujan (or us) to believe that this Kevin Spacey character is actually the world's most ruthless arch-criminal.
VERBAL: Do...do you really think he was...
KUJAN: Keyser Söze? I don't know, Verbal. Keyser Söze's a shield, or, like you said, a spook story. But I know Keaton, and someone is out there pulling strings for you. Stay here and let us protect you.
Kujan doesn't get what's going on until it's too late—and he doesn't see that Verbal has been subtly nudging him towards rejecting the belief in Söze this whole time.
VERBAL: 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 shit, but hey, I'm in a police station.
This is a pretty innocent comment. It doesn't seem to have much importance. But it's not actually true—it's a detail that Verbal/Söze picked from the bulletin board in the police station office to concoct his story. Kujan notices it and the other details at the very end, and realizes what a mistake he's made.
KUJAN: A rumor's not a rumor that doesn't die.
Kujan thinks that there must be some truth to a rumor with staying power. Unfortunately, he forgets this himself, imagining that Söze doesn't really exist, and that Keaton was behind the caper.
VERBAL: A man can convince anyone he's somebody else, but never himself.
In retrospect, this takes on deeper meaning. Verbal convinces Kujan that he, Verbal, is really the man he claims to be—when he's actually Keyser Söze. His confidence in his true, evil identity makes him a pretty cool customer.
KEATON: His name is Verbal. Verbal Kint.
VERBAL: Roger, really. People say I talk too much.
Verbal talks too much—and he also speaks in wild, improvisatory lies that totally convince Kujan. Since Kujan thinks Verbal talks too much, he thinks Verbal is revealing things about Keaton that he doesn't intend to reveal—but that's exactly what Verbal is trying to do.
VERBAL: That was how I ended up in a barbershop quartet in Skokie, Illinois.
KUJAN: That is totally irrelevant.
VERBAL: Oh, but it's not. If I hadn't been nailed in Illinois for running a three card monte in between sets, I never would have took off for New York. I never would have met Keaton, see. That barber shop quartet was the reason for everything.
As Keaton discovers at the end, this barbershop quartet was just something fabricated from the label on the bulletin board, which was made by a company called Quartet, in Skokie, Illinois. So, even if it's not the "reason for everything" it is a clue that tips Kujan off—all too late.
KUJAN: Dean Keaton was dead. Did you know that? He died in a fire two years ago during an investigation into the murder of a witness who was going to testify against him. Two people saw Keaton enter a warehouse he owned just before it went up. They said he had gone in to check a leaking gas main. It blew up and took all of Dean Keaton with it. Within three months of the explosion, the two witnesses were dead, one killed himself in his car and the other fell down an open elevator shaft.
This is evidence that Keaton is a deceitful and malevolent dude. It contradicts the rosier picture of Keaton that Verbal tries to paint.
KUJAN: It was his idea to rob the taxi service back in New York, wasn't it? C'mon, tell me the truth.
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!
After we learn that Verbal is Söze, we realize that he's deceiving Kujan here by pretending to have been deceived by Keaton!
RABIN: 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...
Rabin comments on the disorder in his office, and speaks truer words than he realizes. The "system" Kujan missed seeing was right on the bulletin board—the source of all Verbal's extravagant lies.
VERBAL: The D.A. gave me immunity.
KUJAN: Not from me, you piece of shit. There is no immunity from me. You atone with me or the world you live in becomes the hell you fear in the back of your tiny mind. Every criminal I have put in prison, every cop who owes me a favor, every creeping scumbag that works the street for a living, will know the name of Verbal Kint. You'll be the lowest sort of rat, the prince of snitches, the loudest cooing stool pigeon that ever grabbed his ankles for the man. Now you talk to me, or that precious immunity they've seen so fit to grant you won't be worth the paper the contract put out on your life is printed on.
Kujan thinks he can manipulate Verbal through these kinds of scare tactics. But Verbal is way out in front on the manipulation score. The criminals who owe Kujan won't be able to attack Verbal because Verbal is really Söze, and his identifying marks as Verbal—limp, bad arm—are fake.
VERBAL: Where's your head, Agent Kujan? Where do you think the pressure's coming from? Keyser Söze—or whatever you want to call him—he knows where I am right now! He's got the front burner under your ass to let me go so he can scoop me up ten minutes later! Immunity was just a deal with you assholes. I got a whole new problem once I post bail.
KUJAN: So why play into his hands? We can protect you.
VERBAL: Oh, gee, thanks, Dave. Bang-up job so far. Extortion, coercion. You'll pardon me if I ask you to kiss my pucker. The same fuckers that rounded us up and sank us into this mess are gonna bail me out? Fuck you. You think you can catch Keyser Söze? You think a guy like that comes this close to getting caught and sticks his head out? If he comes up for anything, it will be to get rid of me. After that...my guess is you'll never hear from him again.
Verbal manipulates Kujan by acting like he's afraid of Söze, when he really is Söze. And, ironically, he has stuck his head out—he's in this office with Kujan. But, once he leaves, Kujan probably won't be able to track him down, as Verbal's last statement strongly suggests.
KUJAN: You had a gun, then why didn't you help him? He was your friend!
VERBAL: Because I was afraid, okay? I was afraid.
KUJAN: Afraid of what?
VERBAL: It was Keyser Söze, Agent Kujan! The Devil himself! How do you shoot the Devil in the back? (Pause, holds up his crippled hand). What if you miss?
Verbal doesn't really have a damaged hand or a limp. This is pure manipulation. He convinces Kujan that he's physically disabled and afraid, when, in reality, he's the very man who killed Keaton and the other criminals.
KUJAN: No, Verbal. You weren't friends. Keaton didn't have friends. He saved you because he wanted it that way. It was his will.
KUJAN: Keaton was Keyser Söze.
Kujan doesn't really believe Keaton was Söze, just that he's the nearest thing—the main criminal manipulating events from behind the scenes. Kujan doesn't believe that the actual Söze, with his masterly criminal abilities, really exists (though he knows better once the movie ends).
KUJAN: He used all of you to get him on that boat. He couldn't get on alone and he had to pull the trigger himself to make sure he got his man. The one man that could identify him.
VERBAL: This is all bullshit.
KUJAN: He left you to stay behind and tell us he was dead. You saw him die, right? Or did you? You had to hide when the first police cars showed up. You heard the shot, just before the fire but you didn't see him die.
When Verbal says, "This is all bullshit," he's actually telling the truth. He's successfully manipulated Kujan into believing a false version of events and mistaking Keaton for the arch-criminal. Verbal pretends to be resistant to Kujan's theory about Keaton, but it's actually the very thing he wants Kujan to believe.
KUJAN: He programmed you to tell us just what he wanted you to. Customs has been investigating him for years. He knew we were close. You said it yourself. Where is the political pressure coming from? Why are you being protected? It's Keaton making sure you tell us what you're supposed to. Immunity is your reward.
In reality, Verbal's being protected because he is a master manipulator pulling the strings of power. He's been protecting himself through his own devious application of his abilities. But Kujan thinks Keaton is still alive, contrary to what Verbal told him.
VERBAL: But why me? Why not Hockney or Fenster or McManus? I'm a cripple. I'm stupid. Why me?
KUJAN: Because you're a cripple, Verbal. Because you're stupid. Because you were weaker than them. Because you couldn't see far enough into him to know the truth.
Verbal is actually super smart, and has successfully convinced Kujan that he's stupid and that he wasn't able to catch on to Keaton. He plays his part like an actor, manipulating Kujan into believing that he (Verbal) was left alive in order to feed the cops a line of nonsense about Keaton being a good guy. (Of course, Keaton probably was a truly bad guy, but still no match for Verbal/Söze as a criminal mastermind.)