The Usual Suspects
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On the deck of a ship in San Pedro, California, a figure identified as Keyser speaks with an injured man called Keaton. The two talk briefly, then Keyser appears to shoot Keaton before setting the ship ablaze.

The next day, FBI Agent Jack Baer (Giancarlo Esposito) and U.S. Customs special agent Dave Kujan (Chazz Palminteri) arrive in San Pedro separately to investigate what happened on the boat. 27 people have been killed in the fire. There appear to be only two survivors: a crippled man named Roger 'Verbal' Kint (Kevin Spacey) and a hospitalized Hungarian criminal and crewman. Baer interrogates the Hungarian, who claims that Keyser Sze, a Turkish criminal mastermind with a nearly mythical reputation, was in the harbor "killing many men." The Hungarian begins to describe Sze while a translator interprets and a police sketch artist draws a rendering of Sze's face.

Meanwhile, Verbal Kint tells the authorities everything he knows in exchange for immunity. After making his statement to the district attorney, Kint is placed in a police station office of Sgt. Jeff Rabin (Dan Hedaya), where both he and Kujan requests to hear the story again, from the beginning....

Verbal's tale starts six weeks earlier in New York City, when an armored truck containing spare gun parts is hijacked in Queens. The driver of the stolen truck was grabbed from behind and never saw the person or persons who accosted him, but the unknown hijacker spoke to him. Subsequently, the NYPD round up five different criminals: Dean Keaton (Gabriel Byrne) is a corrupt former police officer who has apparently given up his life of crime, and is arrested while eating dinner at a fancy restaurant; Michael McManus (Stephen Baldwin) is a crack shot with a temper and a wild streak, arrested in the middle of the night in his bed; Fred Fenster (Benicio Del Toro) is McManus's Hispanic partner who speaks in mangled English, and is nabbed on a street corner; Todd Hockney (Kevin Pollak) is a car mechanic and part-time hijacker who forms an instant rivalry with McManus, and is picked up while working on a car in his garage; and Verbal himself, who is a con artist that suffers from cerebral palsy. The five men are brought together for a lineup, and are told to say the phrase, "Give me the keys, you fucking cocksucker." They all manage to butcher the phrase. Later, while sitting in a holding cell, McManus convinces the others to join forces to commit a robbery targeting New York's Finest Taxi service, a group of corrupt NYPD police officers who escort smugglers to their destinations around the city. Their attack on one smuggler (Paul Bartel) goes off without a hitch, with farther reaching consequences as numerous other officers are indicted on corruption charges.

With their loot, the quintet travels to California to sell it to McManus's fence, Redfoot (Peter Greene). Redfoot talks them into another job: robbing a purported jewel smuggler named Saul Bass. Instead of jewels or money, as they were told he was carrying, the smuggler had heroin. An angry confrontation between the thieves and Redfoot reveals that the job came from a lawyer named Kobayashi (Pete Postlethwaite). The five criminals later meet with Kobayashi, who claims to work for Keyser Sze and blackmails them into destroying the cargo of a ship coming to San Pedro harbor.

In the present, Verbal Kint tells Kujan the story of Keyser Sze as he apparently heard it. Verbal's flashback reveals Sze's family being harassed by a rival Hungarian gang in Turkey. Sze goes on a murderous vendetta against all those who were involved. Afterwards, he apparently disappears; thereafter, he rarely conducts business without an alias and maintains anonymity between himself and anyone working for him. With time, Sze's story takes on mythic stature, with most people either doubting his existence or disbelieving it entirely.

Back in the present, Kint continues to tell his version of what happened then. His flashback resumes to reveal Fenster's attempt to run away, but he is tracked and killed (off-camera) by Kobayashi. The remaining four thieves kidnap Kobayashi, believing Sze to be a cover for his activities and intending to kill him if he does not leave them alone. Before McManus can execute him, Kobayashi reveals that lawyer Edie Finneran (Suzy Amis), Keaton's girlfriend, is in his office. Kobayashi also says that he has the will, the information, and the means to injure or kill the remaining four criminals' relatives if they do not go through with the arrangement.

On the night of the cocaine deal, the sellers--a group of Argentine mobsters--are on the dock, as are the buyers--a group of Hungarian mobsters. Keaton tells Verbal to stay back, and to take the money to Edie if the plan goes awry so she can pursue Kobayashi "her way;" Verbal reluctantly agrees to do so. He watches the boat from a distance, in hiding, as Keaton, McManus and Hockney attack the men at the pier in a huge gunfight.

During the battle, Hockney is killed as Keaton and McManus discover separately that there is no cocaine on the boat. Meanwhile, the Hungarians, yet untouched by the thieves, are being picked off by an unseen killer, and a closely-guarded Hispanic passenger is killed by an unseen assailant. McManus is killed with a knife to the back of his neck, and Keaton, turning away to leave, is shot in the back. A figure in a dark coat appears, presumably Keyser Sze, and lights a cigarette with a gold lighter. He appears to speak briefly with Keaton before apparently shooting him (the scene which began the film in medias res).

In the present, with Verbal's story finished, Kujan reveals what he has deduced, with the aide of Agent Baer: The boat hijacking was not about cocaine, but rather to ensure that one man aboard the ship--the Hispanic passenger held captive, one of the few individuals alive who could positively identify Sze--is killed. After Sze presumably killed the man, he eliminated everyone else on the ship and set it ablaze; Kujan reveals that Edie has also been killed. Kujan has concluded that Keaton was Keyser Sze. Verbal admits that the whole affair, from the beginning, was Keaton's idea. His bail having been posted, Verbal departs with his immunity.

Verbal retrieves his personal effects from the property officer as Kujan, relaxing in Rabin's office that he used for the interrogation, notices that details and names from Verbal's story are words appearing on various objects around the room. 'Redfoot' is the name on a wanted poster, for example, and 'Kobayashi' is written on the bottom of a coffee cup that Verbal handled earlier. Quickly putting the pieces together, Kujan realizes that Verbal made up practically the entire story as he talked. He runs outside just as a fax arrives with the police artist's impression of Keyser Sze's face.... which resembles Verbal Kint.

As he leaves the police station, Verbal's distinctive limp gradually disappears and he shakes out his palsied hand. He steps into a waiting car driven by "Mr. Kobayashi," departing just as Kujan comes outside to see too late that Kint is gone. Verbal Kint is Keyser Sze, so how much of his narration was truthful is open to interpretation.


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