Study Guide

The Usual Suspects

The Usual Suspects Summary

Roger "Verbal" Kint has a problem: a bunch of his fellow criminals died in a shoot-out, and he—and a badly burned Hungarian criminal—are the only survivors. (Yeah: we'd call that a problem.)

He's got some explaining to do, but he's a talkative dude (his other defining features are an impressive widow's peak, a limp, and a disabled arm). Fortunately, he's granted legal immunity, and can't be charged with any crimes. Unfortunately, U.S. Customs Special Agent David Kujan has just arrived in L.A., and he's determined to wring the truth out of Verbal.

As Kujan interrogates him, we see Verbal's story unfold: he and five other criminals in New York find themselves in a police lineup, ostensibly because they're suspected in a hi-jacking. One of the criminals is a dude named Dean Keaton—a sensitive soul trying to give up his criminal life (according to Verbal) and a ruthless murderer (according to Kujan).

To get back at the cops for hassling them, they decide to pull of a jewelry heist, stealing emeralds from a smuggler. It goes off without a hitch (no one dies), and they fly to L.A. to sell the jewels.

But their connection, Redfoot, wants them to go in on a new deal: robbing another jewel smuggler. Sounds simple.

But this time, they end up killing the guy they're robbing along with his two guards…and apparently they were actually hired to steal drugs, not jewels. They're not happy about this.

Turns out, they're being lured into a trap. Redfoot's working for a guy named Kobayashi, who represents a mysterious, master-criminal named Keyser Söze. Kobayashi forces them to go along with a plan to steal drugs for Keyser Söze, threatening to kill their family members if they don't.


They accept the deal, because that's just the kind of deal you have to accept.

They intercept the drug dealers on a boat—although it turns out that Söze really wanted them to kill a lot of the drug-dealers so he could apprehend a snitch who was trying to give info about Söze to a rival gang. Söze himself shows up and kills all of the criminals, tying up lose ends. Only Verbal and the burned Hungarian survivor live to tell their stories.

Only Kujan's not buying it. He says that Dean Keaton was actually behind the plot the whole time—Keaton was the closest thing to Keyser Söze. Oh yeah—Kujan asserts that Söze was actually just a myth.

Verbal breaks down crying, and says this is the truth: Keaton was behind it all. Case closed, right?

As Verbal walks out of the station, Kujan realizes that Verbal made up his whole story using details from the bulletin board in the office. (Kobayashi's name was just the brand on the bottom of a coffee mug, for example.)

The fax depicting a sketch of the Hungarian criminal's description of Keyser Söze arrives, and it looks just like Verbal. We see Verbal walking down the street, and his limp disappears along with the feigned damage to his arm: he was faking it.

We're left thinking that Verbal was the true Keyser Söze as a car stops and picks him up, leaving Kujan behind in desperation.

  • Scene 1

    Scene 1

    • As the opening credits go by, we see lights shimmering on water, and the soundtrack conveys an atmosphere of suspense and mystery...
    • The scene switches and a title tells us the scene is San Pedro, California, "Last night."
    • Why does last night look so 90's?
    • We see a wounded guy lighting a cigarette on a boat, as he sits next to a dead body. He smokes the cigarette and uses it to light a trail of gasoline. But a mysterious figure on the upper deck of the boat pees on the fire and puts it out.
    • The shadowy figure comes down the other guy's level and exchanges a few brief words—the guy wants to know what time it is.
    • It looks like the figure's going to kill him. And he does, executing him with a pistol.
    • Before he leaves, the shadowy dude lights the trail of gasoline with his own cigarette and blows up the boat as he escapes to shore. We never see his face.
    • But apparently someone was hiding, observing what happened…
    • We cut to a man in a court hearing in California, telling two authorities about what happened.
    • He says it began six weeks ago in New York, when a truck loaded with gun parts was stolen in Queens…
    • The movie flashes back to New York, where a man is getting arrested in relation to the truck robbery.
    • The cops go around arresting different known criminals, bringing them in for questioning. One is taken in bed, one at a garage, one on a street corner, and one in a fancy restaurant.
    • Customs Special Agent David Kujan arrests the criminal from the fancy restaurant—a guy named Keaton. He takes him in for questioning.
  • Scene 2

    Scene 2

    • The guy telling this story in a California court turns out to be one of these criminals. He continues his story: back in New York, he limps his way into a police lineup. Ooh. Looks like this guy has a permanent limp and a disabled arm.
    • The cops make each one of them say the same threatening thing the criminal who hijacked the truck said. Some intense-yet-hilarious f-bombs are dropped.
    • As the cops interrogate them, the criminals are introduced by name in the voiceover—McManus, Fenster, Hockney, and Keaton. None of them cooperate with the cops or confess.
    • They're all put in a holding cell together, where Fenster worries about whether he'll be charged, and Hockney says that Keaton's gone straight (stopped being a criminal) because he married a lawyer.
    • They want to know who the fifth guy in the cell with them is—the guy who's actually narrating this story.
    • Keaton explains that he's nicknamed "Verbal" and his last name's Kint. Verbal says the nickname is supposed to mean that he talks too much.
    • McManus says he and Fenster have heard about a job (some kind of criminal opportunity), and is wondering if the other guys are interested. They are, except for Keaton, who says he wants nothing to do with any of them.
    • On the voiceover, Verbal says he realized these guys were hardcore—they wouldn't snitch, and seemed good to do business with.
  • Scene 3

    Scene 3

    • The action switches back to the present. An FBI agent, Jack Baer, stops at the dock where corpses who died during the incident on the boat from the first scene are wrapped in body bags.
    • He talks to a cop who tells him that fifteen people died and two survived. One survivor doesn't speak English and the other is "some cripple from New York" (this guy is Verbal, the narrator).
    • Special Agent Kujan flies in from New York to interrogate Verbal. Verbal talks to a cop, Sgt. Rabin, who tells him that the D.A. in L.A. cut a deal with Verbal, agreeing to only charge him with weapons violations in exchange for testimony.
    • He claims Verbal's being protected by someone high up.
    • Rabin leads Kujan into an office. Kujan says he doesn't want to interrogate him; he just wants to have a chat.
    • Kujan thinks there's more to Verbal's story, because there were drugs on the boat where the murders happened—meaning that it probably wasn't a drug deal, which contradicts what Verbal told the cops.
    • Meanwhile, the FBI Agent (Baer) visits the other, badly burned survivor in a hospital—a Hungarian criminal named Arkosh Kovash.
    • Kovash attracts Baer's attention when he starts raving in Hungarian, and speaks the name "Keyser Söze."
  • Scene 4

    Scene 4

    • Back at the L.A. police station, Kujan talks to Verbal. Kujan tells Verbal that he thinks Verbal knows more than he's saying.
    • He suspects that Verbal doesn't want to reveal anything bad about Keaton, who Kujan thinks was a bad dude (he was a formerly corrupt cop).
    • Kujan starts interrogating Verbal, and Verbal takes us back to what happened in New York, weeks earlier…
    • We see Keaton's girlfriend walking out of jail with him. Keaton's worried about the ongoing suspicion surrounding him because of his former ways.
    • He feels humiliated by the way the cops dragged him into the police lineup.
    • He watches Verbal cross the street, and sees the other three suspects hanging out, staring at him while he hugs his wide.
    • Fenster and McManus want Keaton involved in the crime they're planning. Verbal goes to convince Keaton, who's angry at first.
    • But when Verbal explains the crime—intercepting an emerald smuggler from South America—Keaton's intrigued (although he hits Verbal at one point).
    • Some corrupt cops are escorting the smuggler, and the five criminals figure they can get back at the cops by robbing the jewels…and making sure not to kill anyone.
    • The heist will net them more than three million bucks.
  • Scene 5

    Scene 5

    • The heist goes as planned—they hem the corrupt cops in with three vans and rob the emeralds and money at gunpoint, before dousing the car with gasoline and burning it (the cops dive out in time).
    • They successfully get revenge on police cops for putting them in the lineup and hassling them, since—bonus—this crime exposes police corruption and causes havoc in the NYPD.
    • After debating who's going to sell the jewels to their connection in L.A.—a man named Redfoot—they all decide to go, to make sure they don't get ripped off.
    • Before they leave, Keaton goes to look at his girlfriend once at her office.
    • Back in the present (in the L.A. police station) Rabin leaves the office, while Kujan continues to interrogate Verbal. Rabin continues listening in via headphones from elsewhere in the station.
    • Kujan tells Verbal he's not buying the notion that Keaton was regretful about being a criminal because he wanted to please his girlfriend.
    • Kujan says that the Keaton he knew was a cold-blooded killer who murdered other prisoners while he was in Sing-Sing, and killed witnesses who were going to testify against him.
    • The craziest thing, he says, is that Keaton apparently faked his own death at one point—he seemed to have died in a warehouse explosion two years earlier, but the two witnesses to his "death" died mysteriously within three months.
    • At the hospital, Agent Baer gets a doctor who can speak Hungarian to translate for Kovash. Kovash says he and the criminals weren't buying drugs but "people."
    • He also claims he saw the devil—by which he means a master criminal named Keyser Söze—in the harbor killing some of the criminals.
    • He begins describing Söze to the doctors, one of who starts sketching a drawing of what Söze might look like.
  • Scene 6

    Scene 6

    • Back in the police station office, Kujan menaces Verbal, telling him that he knows he's hiding the truth.
    • Verbal continues narrating the story. They bring the emeralds to L.A. and sell them to Redfoot, McManus's connection.
    • Redfoot offers them a new job, stealing jewelry from a jeweler in L.A. They take it.
    • While chatting, Keaton admits that he shivved (stabbed) one of Redfoot's associates in prison, but there seems to be no issue between them. Keaton's reluctant to go on this second job, but McManus nags him into it.
    • They rob the jeweler, Saul Berg, in a parking garage—though things get pretty hairy, and they kill the jeweler and his two bodyguards. (Verbal himself shoots Berg in the head).
    • They escape, but discover that the case they've robbed has heroin in it—not the jewels they were expecting. Berg was actually a drug dealer.
    • Meeting with Redfoot again, Redfoot tells them he didn't know it was drugs they were meant to intercept—someone else, a lawyer named Kobayashi, assigns him these jobs. Things get a little tense, and they pull guns on each other, but Redfoot leaves without incident.
  • Scene 7

    Scene 7

    • In the present day (at the police station) Baer arrives and tells Kujan that Kovash says the boat incident wasn't a drug deal but something else. He also mentions that someone named Keyser Söze was involved.
    • Kujan goes back in the office and asks Verbal who Söze is, to Verbal's obvious displeasure (he curses).
    • As Verbal continues his story, we flash back to Keaton and the other guys discussing what to do next over a game of pool.
    • The mysterious lawyer Kobayashi arrives and says that his employer wants them to do a job for them, though it's very dangerous and they probably won't all survive. But those who do will get ninety-one million bucks.
    • Kobayashi says that each of them owe his employer—Keyser Söze—because of various acts of hijacking and theft and scams they've performed, inadvertently stealing from Söze's interests.
    • Kobayashi explains that Söze's a narcotics dealer, and he wants them to help him stop a drug deal which will threaten Söze's domination of the drug market.
    • They need to destroy the cocaine stored on the rival Argentinian dealers' boat (the Argentinians are selling to a Hungarian gang).
    • Kobayashi leaves them with a briefcase—containing folders demonstrating that Söze knows everything about each one of them.
    • Verbal asks the other criminals who Keyser Söze is. Turns out, he's a mysterious master criminal who seems almost mythical.
    • We see this next part as Verbal narrates it: Verbal tells Kujan that when Söze was a small time drug dealer in Turkey, a group of rival Hungarian gangsters raped his wife and then murdered one of his children in front of him in order to try to make him give them his part of the drug market.
    • Instead, while the gangsters hold his family hostage in front of him, Söze shot the rest of his living family members and then killed all the gangsters except one. He says he'd rather have his family dead than have them live after this.
    • Then, Söze goes and murders the families of all the gangsters, killing even their parents' friends and burning down their houses and businesses. He disappears from public view and becomes a kind of boogeyman gangsters tell their kids about.
    • Kujan asks Verbal if he believes in Söze, and Verbal says he's afraid of him.
  • Scene 8

    Scene 8

    • Verbal tells Kujan that he can't catch Keyser Söze—and that he thinks Söze is already after him.
    • We cut to the hospital, where we see the doctor sketching a picture of Söze based on Kovash's description (though we don't see what the picture looks like).
    • But back to Verbal's story—Fenster tries to bail out of Söze's offer, and gets murdered. Kobayashi directs the four remaining guys to where Fenster's body is, in a cave down by the sea.
    • They decide to kill Kobayashi. Decision made, they bury Fenster in the cave.
    • We see Kobayashi walking into his office building, as the guys spring into action, planning on ambushing him in the elevator.
    • They shoot two of Kobayashi's associates and take Kobayashi captive. They tell Kobayashi they won't go through with the deal, and McManus puts a gun to his head. Keaton says he doesn't believe Söze is real.
    • Kobayashi tells them that Keaton's girlfriend is currently in his office waiting to conduct business on an extradition with him. The implication is that she's at risk of being murdered if they kill Kobayashi.
    • Keaton won't believe him, but Kobayashi shows them that she really is in his office, proving his point. Before seeing them off, Kobayashi names the family members he'll kill if they won't do what he wants.
    • Keaton stares at his girlfriend (who doesn't see him), while Kobayashi goes back into the meeting.
  • Scene 9

    Scene 9

    • The four criminals plan the boat job, sitting in a car and staring at the harbor. Based on how things look, they think it's an impossible task.
    • On the night of their mission, they survey the boat, observing what's going on in the harbor late at night.
    • Keaton tells Verbal that if he (Keaton) doesn't survive, he should go to his girlfriend and tell her that Keaton tried.
    • Keaton moves first towards the ship, and some of the guys from the ship intercept him and stop him. McManus waits with a sniper rifle as a bomb they've planted prepares to go off.
    • It explodes and Keaton and McManus both start shooting the members of the rival drug gang. Hockney takes a machine gun and does the same.
    • They climb onboard and occupy the ship, while Hockney discovers a van filled with crates of money. But he gets shot by someone…perhaps by Söze.
    • Verbal plays more of an observer role during the mission, and he explains to Kujan that he didn't run because he thought Keaton could pull it off.
    • Baer calls Kujan out of the office and tells him they found the body of a guy named Arturo Marquez shot to death on the beach—he was a drug dealer turned snitch who named Keyser Söze to the Feds.
    • Keaton's girlfriend, Edie, was his extradition lawyer.
    • Kujan goes back into the office, and tells Verbal that he knows there were no drugs on the boat—something else was going on.
  • Scene 10

    Scene 10

    • We slip back into the main narrative of Verbal's story, and see that the remaining rival gangsters on the boat are extra nervous…especially when one of them claims that Söze is on the boat, hunting them and killing them.
    • McManus and Keaton sneak around the boat, but can't find any of the cocaine that's supposed to be there—it apparently never was there.
    • We see Söze kill an old gangster—apparently Marquez—on the boat. Of course, we don't actually see Söze's face.
    • Verbal moves towards the boat, wielding a gun. McManus comes out with a knife in the back of his head, and falls over dead. He's been killed by Söze.
    • Söze then shoots Keaton from behind, and Keaton falls over—into the wounded position we saw him at in the beginning.
    • In the office, Verbal gets anxious, saying he knew Söze was the one who killed Keaton and he was too afraid to try to shoot Söze himself.
    • But back to the boat scene—from behind a pile of rope, Verbal sees Söze kill Keaton and light the spilled trail of gasoline on fire, causing an explosion (which is what we saw at the beginning).
  • Scene 11

    Scene 11

    • In the police station office, Kujan tells Verbal about Marquez's death—he says that there were no drugs on the boat because the Argentinians were selling Marquez to Söze's rival Hungarian gang, so they'd be able to get the dirt on Söze.
    • According to Kujan's theory, Söze hired Verbal and the others to kill the Argentinian and Hungarian gangsters so that he or they could kill Marquez.
    • Söze finished them off to tie up loose ends: so they wouldn't be able to rat on him.
    • But since Keaton's girlfriend was actually Marquez's lawyer, Kujan says that this means that Keaton was really masterminding the whole thing—in reality, Keaton was Keyser Söze.
    • Gasp!
    • Kujan says Keaton only left Verbal alive to provide a cover story, but Verbal cries saying it was because Keaton was his friend.
    • But Kujan says that Keaton was heartless, even killing his own girlfriend, Edie, who was recently found shot to death (something Verbal didn't know).
    • Kujan claims Keaton must not have really died—Verbal didn't see what ultimately happened, just heard the shots and saw the fire.
    • Verbal cries saying that Keaton really did lead them into the whole scheme and that Kujan's right.
    • Kujan says Keyser Söze was just a shield, a spook story Keaton used to cover up his own scheme.
    • Verbal gets upset and refuses police protection. Since he's already been granted immunity, he's able to leave without Kujan preventing him.
  • Scene 12

    Scene 12

    • But, now, things get insane. At the hospital, the doctor faxes the sketch of Söze based on Kovash's description to the cops.
    • Verbal makes his way out of the police station, as Rabin and Kujan discuss finding Keaton.
    • But, suddenly, as he sits on the desk looking satisfied, Kujan realizes something: earlier, Verbal had mentioned being in a barbershop quarter in Skokie, Illinois, and the bulletin board in the office was made by a company called Quartet based in Skokie (it's printed on a metal tag on the board).
    • Kujan drops the cup of coffee he's drinking and it shatters. Details from the story Verbal told him—like the name Redfoot and a stray comment about how Verbal had picked coffee beans in Guatemala—are actually from things posted on the bulletin board.
    • The voiceover starts up, re-hashing things Verbal said earlier in an audio collage, all plucked from the board.
    • Even the name "Kobayashi" was the company name printed on the bottom of the coffee cup that Kujan just dropped.
    • Kujan realizes that Verbal was just making the story up as he told it. He runs out of the office, asking the cops at the entrance to the station where Verbal went.
    • We see Verbal walking down the street, and we see that he suddenly stops limping and flexes his damaged arm—it's actually perfectly fine.
    • The fax of the sketch of Keyser Söze arrives at the station, and it looks exactly like Verbal.
    • Kujan runs out to the street but he can't find Verbal.
    • Meanwhile, a car driven by a man who looks like the Kobayashi we saw in the story picks Verbal—or rather, Keyser Söze—up.
    • As they drive away, we see a frantic Kujan turning on the sidewalk, trying to find where Söze's gone.
    • On the voiceover, we hear Verbal/Söze stating something he said earlier, "The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist."