Study Guide

The Usual Suspects Criminality


VERBAL: It was bulls***. 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-f***ed-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…

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