Suspect number one, please step forward and repeat the line you've been given.
The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist.
— Verbal Kint
This dark and multilayered neo-noir film helped launch the careers of Kevin Spacey (who earned an Oscar for his performance), Benicio Del Toro, and director Bryan Singer, as well as relaunch that of Gabriel Byrne.The movie is told mostly in flashback form. Kevin Spacey is Roger "Verbal" Kint, the only survivor of a bombing and shootout that occurred the night before on a cargo ship that left close to 30 people dead. While his lawyer fights for his speedy release from police custody, Kint begrudgingly reveals the events leading up to the previous night's explosion. Meanwhile, in a hospital not far away, it is revealed that a Hungarian dealer survived the blast. Unfortunately, he only speaks Hungarian and is not in much shape to be divulging his story. Customs Agent David Kujan (who has long investigated and had a vendetta against Dean Keaton [Byrne], one of Kint's fellow "suspects") is determined to get the truth out of Kint, the Hungarian, and whoever else might be involved... no matter what it takes.Eventually, the crux of Kint's story begins to center around the presence of a criminal mastermind named Keyser Söze. Kujan at first doubts the existence of the "bogeyman of the criminal underworld", but as Kint continues his story, Kujan eventually realizes just how deep this particular rabbit hole goes.The film's ending is one of the most famous cases of The Ending Changes Everything, to the point that some critics have said any subsequent rewatching is essentially like watching a different movie.
Avengers Assemble: It's done through the team's arrests. In lock-up, one of them suggests they get back together to do another job.
Ax-Crazy: The backstory for Keyser Söze told by Kint portrays Söze as this. When his family was held hostage by a Hungarian gang, he killed his wife and children first, then killed the hostage takers, their colleagues, their families, and even their rivals, then disappeared completely and became a legend.
Those who speak Hungarian get to hear a cut off joke from Hockney finished by two Hungarian henchmen later in the film.
An ambiguous one: "Söz" in Turkish means a word or saying, but there's no such word as "söze" (aside from the dative form of "söz"). Unless it's supposed to be short for "sözebesi" (one who finds words easily, one who talks a lot) but that wouldn't make sense to speakers of Turkish either. There really seems to be a connection though. It comes together if you realize that Verbal says that he is often berated for talking too much which is yet another hint that Verbal is Soze.
The burned Hungarian man also has a lengthy line making fun of the police for trying to interrogate him in English.
Break the Haughty: Agent Kujan. His constant flaunting of his intelligence to Verbal returns to bite him in the ending.
From the final paragraph of the screenplay:A moment later, Agent David Kujan of U.S. Customs wanders into the frame, looking around much in the way a child would when lost at the circus.
Brick Joke: Halfway through the film, the group discover it was Hockney who stole the truck full of gun parts.
Cast as a Mask: Scott B. Morgan as the Keyser Söze in Kint's flashback. Morgan's elbows do not fully extend, causing his arms to be slightly crooked at all times. Singer thought it looked interesting.
Confirmation Bias: Discussed In-Universe by Verbal Kint, who acusses Inspector Kujan of this at his interrogation. Later, the audience will discover that Verbal not only discussed it, but exploited it
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.
Consummate Liar: Verbal Kint. The Mind Screw really sets in when you realize that everything you think you know about Keyser Söze potentially comes from Keyser Söze himself.
Composite Character: Originally, there was two San Pedro Policemen working with Kujan - Sergeant Rabin and Capt. Leo. However, the writer had to trim down the script, so he compressed the two characters into one, the Sergeant Rabin of the film. In the commentary, the Singer and the writer thought this was for the best, as Leo was envisioned as a stereotypical angry police chief.
Conveniently Cellmates: The main characters first meet in a jail cell, and this is revealed to be part of Keyser Söze's plot. The main characters lampshade this as being improbable, since when you're in a lineup it's almost always you and four volunteers the police hired to fill out the lineup.
Screenwriter Chris McQuarrie is one of the cops conducting the line-up — he ad-libs the "In English, please!" remark to Fenster when Benicio del Toro mumbles his line.
Bryan Singer has two. The most traditional is that his hands double as the hands of Keyser Soze in one scene. The less obvious is also a case of Throw It In: during the line-up scene, after Benicio del Toro mumbles one of his lines in a bizarre voice, Singer can be heard, presumably as one of the cops, shouting "In English, please!" That was actually Singer-as-director shouting, because he had no idea what del Toro was doing with the character, but he decided to leave that take in the movie.
Corrupt Cop: Keaton used to be one, before becoming a flat-out criminal and then trying to become an legitimate businessman. Additionally, there's New York's Finest Taxi Service, a ring of corrupt cops who drive drug dealers and other criminals from the airport to wherever they're doing their business.
Cut Lex Luthor a Check: In Kint's story, Keaton returns to crime because he couldn't get a legitimate occupation. However, staying out of crime has earned him a beautiful hot-shot attorney for a girlfriend. As long as he's with her, he won't need a profitable career. It's really his vanity that drives him back to crime.
Dead Man Switch: Kobayashi lets the protagonists know that if he dies under suspicious circumstances, his boss Keyser Söze will immediately know who did it and take revenge on them and their families.
Interrogation Cop: I'll charge you when I'm ready.
Fred Fenster: A guy had his finger up my asshole tonight!
Todd Hockney: Is it Friday already?
And, to Verbal, who has been silent this whole time:
Verbal Kint:(about his nickname) Roger really. People say I talk too much.
Todd Hockney: Yeah, I was gonna tell you to shut up.
Deep Cover Agent: Verbal Kint may or or may not be a cover identity. If it's a cover, it goes back some considerable time, likely years - Keaton refers to having met Verbal "once or twice" prior to the events of the movie, with the conversation implying that this was not particularly recently. Of course, this is all assuming that Verbal is actually telling the truth about this scene...
Designated Love Interest: Edie and Keaton to each other. Verbal is the only person in the whole movie who seems to believe they cared for each other, even though Edie doesn't seem to be all that fazed by Keaton's complete disappearance from her life, and Keaton ignores essentially all attempts at connection from his girlfriend.
Diabolical Mastermind: Keyser Söze, an almost-legendary crime lord who, if he exists at all, works through layers upon layers of proxies. Except in the occasional case where hiding in plain sight as one of the supposed "proxies" works to his advantage.
The Dreaded: Keyser Söze is a legend among criminals. Most of them fear him, some doubt his existence, but everyone has heard his story.
Dressing as the Enemy: Hockney twice fools the Hungarian mooks, taking advantage of the fact that they don't know all the Argentinians; the first time by casually waving his submachine gun, the second time by shouting in Spanish.
DVD Commentary: The commentary is played straight until the final scenes, when director Singer and screenwriter McQuarrie suddenly engage in a heated argument. Portions of the argument fade in and out of the commentary track much like the dialogue of the film's climax. The filmmakers each land a parting insult before the track ends.
The Ending Changes Everything: Popularized by this film. A police prisoner, Verbal Kint, is being interrogated about a ship explosion the previous night. His interrogator Agent Kujan believes that the explosion was caused by Dean Keaton, a crooked cop, but Kint tells how a diabolical mastermind called Keyser Soze was behind it all. Eventually, Kint relents under Kujan's pressure and admits that Keaton was Keyser Soze all along. Just after Kint is released from custody, however, Kujan realizes that Kint has been spinning a gigantic lie using objects around the office as inspiration. It's suggested that it was Kint himself who is Keyser Soze and was simply playing a role the whole time. This is all foreshadowed in the beginning, when Kujan states that cops almost always find what they expect to find. Kujan expected Kint to be a weak patsy protecting Keaton, so that's the role Kint played.
Faking the Dead: Keaton is infamous within the New York underworld for having faked his death to dodge a murder rap. When the cops confront him with this, Keaton claims he did no such thing. He is living in the same city, using the same name and the same face, it has nothing to do with him that the cops messed up and thought he was dead. Towards the end of the story, Kujan believes that Keaton has done this a second time, and Keyser is either him or a smokescreen.
Feet-First Introduction: Used to hide the identity of Keyser Söze. This is cleverly used as Book Ends for The Reveal, as Verbal Kint's limp slowly changes to a confident stride as he walks away from the police station.
The Chick/The Dark Chick: Poor Fenster never got a chance to shine, and his main characteristic is being hammier than the others and having the odd accent.
Fore Shadowing: There's an early scene of Verbal Kint alone in Rabin's office looking around at his surroundings. This sets up that he was just pulling details from Rabin's clutter for his story
And Rabin himself gives Kujan this gem just before The Reveal:
JEFF RABIN: ... but it all has a system, Dave. It all makes sense when you look at it right. You gotta, like stand back from it, you know?
When Keaton demands Kobayashi tell him who he works for during their first meeting, if you look closely, Kobayashi's eyes look towards Verbal, before he looks back at Keaton and says, "I work for Keyser Soze".
Gangsta Style: Hockney holds his gun to one side in a scene, and how Söze finishes off Keaton.
During the jewel heist, McManus aims two pistols and gets kill shots on two different targets who are both grappling with his accomplices.
Notable that he hesitates for several seconds trying to line up both shots and the others look at him incredulously
Keaton uses two pistols during the climax.
Gut Feeling: Kujan believes he already knows what happens and tries to get Verbal to confirm his suspicions. Early in the film, Verbal encourages this behavior by sarcastically asserting that, when a cop thinks the brother did it, he's usually going to be right.
Hand of Death: Söze's identity is hidden by showing various parts of his body — his hands, the back of his head — but never his face, except in a single dark and blurry shot of him walking away from a burning building. Söze was played in flashbacks by about six different people, including three members of the main cast ( Baldwin, Byrne and Spacey). One of the other people was Bryan Singer himself. When people ask him who Keyser Söze really is, he always answers, "Me."
As mentioned above, Gabriel Byrne was one of the actors who stood in for Söze. The first time someone asked him who Keyser Söze was, he replied: "Until I saw the film finished, I thought he was me."
Homoerotic Subtext: Hockney gets right in McManus' face during their argument over whether they should go to Los Angeles.
Horrifying the Horror: The Hungarians are totally ruthless because they rule purely through intimidation. When Agent Baer recognises Arkosh Kovash in the hospital, he insists the hospital staff immediately put a guard on the door. Kovash however is too busy trying to get police protection from 'the Devil' to cause any trouble.
Verbal tells everyone that McManus is "crazy", but the only time McManus acts even a little weird is after Fenster dies. Otherwise, Verbal may be exaggerating McManus' temper or eccentricities.
Kujan states Keaton is a "cold-blooded bastard", informing Verbal of the ex-cop's murderous past. However in the movie, Keaton is reluctant in killing a jeweler, and cares for Verbal and Edie. This being Verbal's flashback, it may be colored by his personal feelings or an outright lie.
Inspector Javert: Customs agent Dave Kujan is obsessed with arresting cop-turned-criminal Keaton. Trouble is, while there's little doubt that Keaton is a thief and murderer, he seems to be genuinely trying to go legitimate at the start of the movie. But Kujan's dogged pursuit lets Keaton's potential business partners know about his criminal background, torpedoing his career and sending him back to a life of crime. In Kujan's interactions with Verbal, we also see he's willing to break the law himself (including issuing death threats) if it means catching Keaton, and is so focused on that goal that he ignores any explanation that doesn't paint Keaton as the criminal mastermind behind everything.
Interrogation Montage: The interrogations of the team before the famous "line-up scene", where they successively blow off the cops.
Ironic Nickname: "Verbal" Kint is chatty in the interrogation, but in the flashbacks he's very reticent. He doesn't utter a word before introducing himself, saying, "People say I talk too much." Hockney quips, "Yeah, I was just about to tell you to shut up."
Agent Kujan: You know a dealer named Ruby Deamer? Verbal Kint: You know a religious guy named John Paul?
Jurisdiction Friction: Averted in the film. But in the DVD commentary the director and writer comment that apparently in real life, the FBI and U.S. Customs did not get along with each other.
Kansas City Shuffle: Late in the film, Kujan becomes convinced that Verbal's story is one big smokescreen concocted to shield the true perpetrator of the crime from the blame. He's right, of course. Where he goes wrong is in assuming that said perp is Keaton, which Verbal goes with to shift the blame even further from himself.
Karma Houdini: At the end, Verbal Kint manages to talk his way out of his prison time.
Karmic Death: All of the other criminals who died in the boat shootout didn't suffer this. Keaton, who is the second most evil criminal, right closer to being as evil as Söze himself, did die this way (all because he embraces his life of crime because the police won't let him off). And his death is well deserved.
Kill 'em All: In the end all the suspects except for Verbal die — though this is more or less hinted at in the first scene of the movie, almost making it a Foregone Conclusion.
Fenster. Del Toro basically added this characterization himself. The character on the page was pretty flat and nondescript. Word of God says that he did this because he was supposed to be the token Red Shirt of the movie. He wanted his character to stand out more.
Also seen during the lineup, where various characters act up to annoy the police or look more Bad Ass.
Line-of-Sight Name: Many details from Verbal's story turn out to be taken from objects in the room. Verbal is seen looking around the room before his interrogation, and a later shot even shows him looking up at the bottom of Kujan's coffee cup.
Living Legend: "The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist."
Lost in Translation: In-film example. The Hungarian translator the cops get, who speaks it with a strong American accent and thus isn't a native, mishears one word he translates as "package" instead of "guy" because it's native Hungarian slang. The sentence thus reads "We picked up a package" instead of "We picked up a guy".
Masquerading As The Unseen: Keyser Soze is never seen during Verbal's account, and he interacts with the characters through an intermediary. This may become an inversion though, when it's revealed that Verbal is Keyser Soze.
Meaningful Name: Keyser Söze is speculated to be German or Turkish. Kaiser, a homonym of Keyser, is the German word for emperor, and Söze means "talks too much" in Turkish, making Keyser Söze "Emperor Talks Too Much," a hint that he is "Verbal" Kint, who says he's accused of talking too much. The cops REALLY should have taken into account that the man who is telling them the entire plot of the movie is a con-man nicknamed "Verbal." It's Fridge Brilliance once you realize the entire movie (quite literally, as everything we, the audience, have been told about the movie's plot is from Verbal's perspective) has consisted of him lying through his teeth.
The Mob Boss Is Scarier: This seems to be the case when Kujan brings up Keyser Söze and Verbal reacts with stark terror. Subverted at the end when it's revealed that Verbal is Keyser Soze.
Obfuscating Disability: Verbal Kint's limp is just an act to make him seem more harmless; in the film's final scene, it disappears in a single stride.
Obfuscating Stupidity: Verbal Kint, pretending to be a weak-willed and crippled sap who was taken advantage of by Dean Keaton, rather than the diabolical crimelord he is.
Oh, Crap: Kujan gets an epic one when he spots that the cork board in Rabin's office was made in Skokie, Illinois, where one of Kint's anecdotes took place, making him realize that Kint was making stuff up in order to buy time
One Last Job: Dean Keaton claims robbing the New York Taxi Service was this. No-one believes him; and Verbal says it only took a day of badgering from McManus to convince him to take on another job.
Orphaned Punchline: To distract Saul and his bodyguards before attacking them, Hockney is telling a story - the line we hear is "so I open the car door, and this chick is totally naked..." Apparently, later in the movie one of the guards on the boat gives the setup to this line in Hungarian.
Papa Wolf: Subverted by Söze. He has a beautiful wife, three adoring children, and he's big and hairy and aggressive- then his family is taken hostage. He killed his wife and both surviving kids himself rather than allow his enemies to do it. That way, he explains to the surviving enemy mook, they won't have to live with the humiliation.
Personal Effects Reveal: The gold watch and lighter featured in the opening as belonging to Söze are given back to Verbal Kint when he leaves the police station.
Pet the Dog: McManus comes across a dog while on the boat in the climax, and gives it a head rub before moving on. Before that, we find out he actually cared about his partner, Fenster, and the two were close friends.
Police Lineup: How the suspects all meet each other. It's the picture used on the posters and DVD cover.
"Not from me, you piece of shit! There is no immunity from me."
Red Shirt: Fenster, who actually wears a red shirt.
The Reveal: Aside from the obvious, there's a rare case where it's mostly inconsequential to the plot. When Kobayashi is rattling off everyone's crimes against Söze, he reveals that Hockney is the one responsible for the heist at the start of the film.
Roaring Rampage of Revenge: In the backstory, semi-mythical criminal mastermind Keyser Soze is faced with other gangsters who try to take over his business by threatening to kill his family. Instead, he kills his family himself, then the gangsters, then their wives, children, friends, and anyone else even tangentially associated with them, and then vanishes into legend.
Robbing The Mob Bank: Each of the suspects has unwittingly stolen from from one of Söze's fronts or minions.
Sacrificial Lion: According to Benicio Del Toro, his character (Fenster) is this.
Saying Too Much: If you listen closely during the final interrogation, Verbal actually says, "I did kill Keaton," but neither the detective nor the audience pick up on it.
Scheherezade Gambit: Verbal uses his tale-spinning talent to outwit his captors and not only to gain time: He continually changes his story until he finds the correct one to convince Kujan of his In-UniverseConfirmation Bias so he would release Verbal
Screw the Rules, I Have Connections!: Söze is able to manipulate law enforcement agencies to a truly disturbing extent. Despite admitting (as Verbal Kint) to a raft of crimes, the most the police can hit him with is a minor weapons charge. Rabin says he's "protected from up on high by the prince of darkness." Later on, Kint's story includes Kobayashi saying that Söze arranged the line up to gather up the five crooks whose crimes had interfered with Söze and get them to repay their "debt".
Self-Proclaimed Liar: Verbal is not only an admitted con artist, but there are several scenes where he will say something Kujan doubts, admit to lying, and then revise his story.
Shaggy Dog Story: The end reveals that Verbal Kint's story, which comprises the bulk of the film, is a fabrication. The audience is never shown, what, if anything, from Verbal's story is true and is left to decide for themselves what they believe.
Shout-Out: The scene near the end where we see Verbal's "crippled" foot gradually untwist itself and walk normally as he passes under a series of shadows cast by trees planted along the sidewalk is a visual reference to "The Howling Man" episode of the Twilight Zone where we see the released prisoner's human face gradually take on satanic features as he walks under a succession of column shadows.
The Spook: Keyser Söze was something similar to this. The nature of the movie made his shadow-ness even more obscure and vague. But even with the things confirmed by the police interrogators, Söze was someone who has never had a confirmed sighting, regarded as a myth, has multiple versions of his backstory and you don't know what is fact or fiction about him.
The Summation: Subverted as part of the infamous plot twist. Agent Kujan believes he has figured out that Keaton was Keyser Soze and explains this to Verbal Kint, complete with revelatory montage. The explanation seems to hold water and Verbal is allowed to go. Seconds later, Kujan realizes that Verbal's story, from which Kujan created his explanation, was completely fabricated—Verbal himself is Keyser Soze.
Then Let Me Be Evil: Keaton claims that he is really in love with his lawyer girlfriend and was trying to set himself up as a legitimate restauranteur. However, when the police bring him in for the line-up right at the beginning of the movie, arresting him at dinner with his potential investors, he realizes that his investors are going to back out of doing business with an ex-con, and he will never be able to set up a legal business. So, since the police will never let him put his past behind him, he might as well embrace it.
There Is No Kill Like Overkill: "He lets the last Hungarian go. He waits until his wife and kids are in the ground and then 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."
Too Clever by Half: Detective Kujan condescendingly tells Verbal Kint, the prisoner he is interrogating, that Kujan is smarter than him, that Verbal is stupid, a cripple, weaker than the criminals he associated with, and that Verbal will not be free until he will tell Kujan exactly wants he wants to know. Cue Break the Haughty at the Twist Ending.
Undercover When Alone: Despite the fact that Verbal and Keyser are the same person, this is actually averted. Verbal is constantly showing facial expressions that contradict what he is saying when he is talking to Kujan, and only when Kujan isn't looking. In addition his first reaction when Keyser is mentioned is anger, which he then pretends is fear. This is also averted in flashbacks as Verbal is never alone and obviously telling the story.
The Unintelligible: Fenster. Benicio del Toro thought the character was too boring on the page and came up with a bizarre accent (Chinese and Hispanic, by his account) to spice things up. He drew inspiration from Mumbles in the Dick Tracy film. The director told the other actors to make him repeat himself if they ever couldn't understand him. This happens a few times in the film. Word of God says that he did this because he was supposed to be the token Red Shirt of the movie. He wanted his character to stand out more.
Unreliable Expositor: Detective Kujan suspects that Verbal Kint knows more than he told the grand jury. Boy, is he right.
Verbal: "Back when I was in that barbershop quartet in Skokie, IL, the baritone was this guy named Kip Diskin. Big fat guy. I mean like, Orca fat..."
Unreliable Narrator: Verbal. Kujan constantly accuses him of lying, and ultimately Verbal confirms Kujan's preconceived notion that Keaton was Keyser Söze. Of course, Verbal wanted him to think that all along. Also, Kint narrates things he wasn't actually there to see. Unless he was Söze.
Unreliable Voiceover: The film primarily uses Unreliable Narrator, but the flashbacks are slightly closer to reality than the narration. Eg, his story involves a man named "Kobayashi", but the flashbacks show an obviously non-Japanese man in that role.
Unstoppable Rage: Keyser Söze himself killing his wife and child to stop the home invaders from using them as hostages, then killing all but one of the invaders (so he'd go tell his associates), then going out and killing everyone connected with the people who did the home invasion of his house, including people whose only connection was that they owed money to them or had dealings with them.
"He becomes a myth, a spook story that criminals tell their kids at night. 'Rat on your pop, and Keyser Söze will get you.' And no one ever really believes."
Vapor Trail: In the opening scene, a dying Keaton lights a trail of fuel leading to some tanks stacked on the deck of the ship, only for the fire to be casually urinated on by the as-yet unrevealed Big Bad. He shoots Keaton after some brief dialogue, then casually drops a lit cigarette into the fuel to set it and the ship itself alight.
When the lawyer introduces himself, the men all fall silent when he tells them the following:
Kobayashi: I work for Keyser Söze.
Near the end of Agent Kujan's interrogation, he rattles off his theory that Dean Keaton orchestrated the entire scheme because he was Keyser Söze all along. The final line that hits Verbal Kint in the face is when Kujan tells him that Keaton's girlfriend Edie Finnerman has been found shot to death.