Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Usual Suspects (1995)


     Two words. Spoiler alert.

     Anyway, this past summer, I counted: I watched a total of forty-seven movies for the first time. Among them were films that I’ve already talked about on “Reel Christianity”: “O Brother, Where Art Thou”, “Witness”, last week’s “The Thin Red Line”, and many others. One of the last ones I got to see was “The Usual Suspects”, a mystery film from 1995 that seemed to me like a mediocre crime drama until the half third of the movie. At that point, there’s a twist. And it’s crazy.

     “The Usual Suspects” starts with a boat on fire in San Pedro, with numerous murdered bodies on the ship and only two survivors. One of them is a severely burned Hungarian criminal, and the other is Verbal Kint (Kevin Spacey), a physically disabled man who has been involved in schemes in New York. Dave Kujan (Chazz Palminteri) calls Verbal into his office and asks him to tell him the whole story of what happened that led to the murders in San Pedro. So Verbal tells him, with rather specific details, the origin of a group of conmen, including himself, who were accused in New York of a truck hijacking. The group is made up of Verbal, Todd Hockney (Kevin Pollak), Michael McManus (Stephen Baldwin), Fred Fenster (Benicio del Toro), and Dean Keaton (Gabriel Byrne).

     However, they are not the men who are responsible for the hijacking. So they decide to go after the corrupt New York police force. And after a successful robbery, they travel to California and make a deal with a man who McManus knows, who has them rob a jewel smuggler. However, it turns out that the smuggler doesn’t have jewels, but drugs. And through this—somehow, I only watched the film once so I don’t have every detail in my head, I’m sorry to say—the five of them are introduced to Kobayashi (Pete Postlethwaite), a lawyer who gives them a job to do that will earn them altogether $91 million, but may not see all of them live. When they question him, Kobayashi reluctantly reveals that he works for Keyser Soze.

     Kujan doesn’t know who this guy is. And neither did Verbal when he heard his name for the first time. But Verbal explains to Kujan in his office who Keyser Soze is. Soze was a legendary drug dealer whose house and family were attacked by Hungarian gang members. Soze showed them the willpower he really had: he killed all but one of the Hungarians, but he also killed his wife and two kids, saying that he would rather see his family dead than live another day. So he lets the Hungarian go and attacks the mob, killing each mobster’s family and even those who they weren’t related to but had done business with one way or another. But soon, he disappeared, and was considered almost a myth.

     So long story short, the five criminals are basically blackmailed by Kobayashi and Soze to destroy the cargo of the ship in San Pedro, which apparently is carrying drugs. Fenster tries to get out of the deal, but is killed by Kobayashi. Keaton’s girlfriend is kidnapped, and Kobayashi uses this to make Keaton go through with the job. Verbal stays behind as Keaton and McManus search the cargo ship, but they find no drugs. Instead, they find somebody going around and murdering everyone on the ship, which includes several Hispanics. Eventually, McManus and Keaton are killed as well, presumably by Keyser Soze.

     So Kujan puts the pieces together and determines that Keaton must have been Keyser Soze. He murdered those on the ship, and his girlfriend, in order to protect his identity. Verbal, in tears, finally admits that it must have been Keaton all along, and he limps out of the police department. Meanwhile, the other survivor, the severely burned Hungarian, has been describing all the time the face of Keyser Soze.

     And that’s when the twist happens. Kujan, satisfied, drinks his coffee and suddenly notices what’s on the big bulletin board on his office wall. It includes names and places that Verbal referenced when telling Kujan his story. Kujan realizes: Verbal Kint made the whole story up. Even Kujan’s coffee mug says on the bottom: “Kobayashi”. And Kujan rushes out of the police department in search for Verbal, and on his way out, he picks up a fax of a drawn description of Keyser Soze’s face—which resembles Verbal Kint. Verbal/Keyser, meanwhile, has slowly started walking out the limp in his leg and his disabled hand and has secretly dropped his disguise. Kobayashi—or whoever he is—picks him up in a car and drives him away before Kujan can find him again. As this all happens, we hear clips of what the characters have said that led up to this twist ending, which ends with Verbal talking about Keyser Soze.

VERBAL: After that, my guess is you’ll never hear from him again. The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist. And like that, he’s gone.

     And with his deception, Keyser Soze has tricked the police, the conmen, the drug dealers, and the world by presenting himself as a physically disabled man that no one has confidence in. And that made me think: Keyser Soze used weakness to present himself. But in reality, because he made himself a weak man, he was able to use it as a strength to trick everybody!

     No, I’m not saying that the Bible says we can trick people. But I do know that the Bible says that weaknesses are strengths in the eyes of God. In 2 Corinthians 12, the Apostle Paul says that he has nothing to boast about to others but his weaknesses: “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (12:9b-10) And as a believer, I should not focus so much on my strengths, but humble myself and boast about my weaknesses. For when I make myself humble, I become stronger.

     My prayer for you, the reader, is that you will humble yourself before Christ today and boast only in weaknesses, so that He can give you the strength to serve him.

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