Mu Sigma Video Synthesis Round II
The Usual Suspects - Kujan realises that he has been conned...
That is how director Bryan Singer remembers the scene that tops the Observer poll. “The film won two Academy Awards but in a way this is more significant because then we were up against the best films of 1995, while this survey is comparing a moment in The Usual Suspects to all the great moments in film history.” The nature of the list also appeals to Singer: “Films to me are great lines and great moments – it is amazing to me that we should come out top. It is a testament to how much people like to be tricked: if you trick them the right way, they will love you forever; if you get it wrong, you will never work again.”
The whole film is built on lies. Five criminals meet at a police line-up, plan and execute a successful robbery. And they are then approached by the arch criminal Keyser Soze via his henchman, the lawyer Kobayashi, played by Pete Postlethwaite. He makes them an offer – work for the devil or die. The tale is told in flashback by Kevin Spacey’s character, the crippled Verbal Kint – already granted immunity from prosecution – as he is interrogated by customs officer Dave Kujan, played by Chazz Palminteri.
But this revelation scene is not the original. Singer screened the first version for two friends – his agent and his lawyer – before realising that it was, “too flat?it was confusing and just kind of died”. It had the crashing coffee cup falling out of Kujan’s hand, the bulletin board and the fax with the face of Keyser Soze, which seems to take forever to come off the machine. But after that first screening, Singer introduced the visual flashbacks as Kujan scans the board and finally realises that he has been conned by Spacey’s Kint – aka Keyser Soze – who is shuffling out of police headquarters after being released by Kujan.
Singer added audio flashbacks. So in hindsight we hear from disembodied voices, with Spacey’s saying: “It’s all there, I’m telling it straight, I swear,” as Kujan scans the board and finds references to some of the places and characters from Spacey’s elaborate lie staring down from the board.
“It works because of the way Kevin carries the moment, the choice of music – how it shifts gear and takes a completely different rhythm from the rest of the film,” says Singer. “There are all kinds of scenes and pieces of the film being played out before your eyes – the images are flooding down from the bulletin board. The coffee cup goes crashing in slow motion and all the time you are seeing images from the film that you thought meant one thing but you now realise mean something completely different. We pulled together every bit of sound which hinted that Kevin was Keyser Soze. The flashbacks and audio were all keenly placed to sit with certain images and then we stuck all the magnetic tape together and waited to see the result.” The scene was the idea of screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie. He and Singer had made a low-budget film, Public Access, in 1993 that won an award at the Sundance film festival. The duo was seeking a new project and McQuarrie came up with the idea of five criminals meeting at a police line-up. The bulletin board scene was the second he wrote and the film was then effectively written in reverse. “It is one of the few times I can watch something that I have done. Obviously I am biased, but I think it was a successful surprise, and it had been a long time since a surprise ending had actually caught people by surprise.”