Analysis of The usual suspects


Screenplay Rating:

Recommend

Executive Summary

The screenplay is recommended due to its strong opening that immediately grabs the reader's attention, effective use of visual and auditory elements to create tension and suspense, and well-written dialogue that conveys the characters' emotions and motivations. The use of the match and the flame as a visual motif throughout the scene is effective in creating a sense of danger and impending doom, and the introduction of Verbal Kint's voiceover adds an intriguing layer to the scene. However, there are areas of improvement, such as the smoother transition between scenes, providing more clarity on the significance of certain elements, and making the introduction of Keyser Soze more impactful and mysterious. Additionally, a clearer establishment of the main conflict, more development of the characters and their relationships, and a stronger sense of stakes and consequences are needed. Notable points include the effective use of visual elements to enhance the atmosphere, the insight provided by the dialogue between Edie and Keaton, and the need for smoother transitions and clearer explanations in certain scenes.

Strengths
  • Strong opening that immediately grabs the reader's attention (Scene 1)
  • Effective use of visual and auditory elements to create tension and suspense (Scene 1)
  • Well-written dialogue that conveys the characters' emotions and motivations (Scene 1)
  • The use of the match and the flame as a visual motif throughout the scene is effective in creating a sense of danger and impending doom (Scene 1)
  • The introduction of Verbal Kint's voiceover adds an intriguing layer to the scene and raises questions about his role in the story (Scene 1)
Areas of Improvement
  • The transition between the boat explosion and the subsequent scenes could be smoother (Scene 1)
  • More clarity could be provided on the significance of the gasoline and the urine in the opening scene (Scene 1)
  • The introduction of Keyser Soze could be more impactful and mysterious (Scene 1)
  • A clearer establishment of the main conflict or central question of the screenplay (Multiple scenes)
  • More development of the characters and their relationships (Multiple scenes)
MissingElements
  • A clearer connection between this scene and the overall plot of the screenplay (Scene 2)
  • A stronger sense of purpose or objective for the characters in this scene (Scene 2)
  • A clearer explanation of the proposal that Edie brought and how it relates to the characters' meeting (Scene 3)
  • More development of the conflict between Keaton and Kujan, as well as the potential consequences of the stolen guns (Scene 3)
  • A clearer sense of the stakes and consequences for the characters (Multiple scenes)
NotablePoints
  • The use of visual elements, such as shadows and bright light, effectively enhances the atmosphere of the scene (Scene 2)
  • The dialogue between Edie and Keaton provides insight into their relationship dynamics (Scene 2)
  • The introduction of Special Agent David Kujan and the police department feels abrupt and could be better integrated into the scene (Scene 3)
  • The transition from the meeting with Mr. Renault and Mr. Fortier to the arrival of Kujan and the police could be smoother (Scene 3)
  • The significance of the stolen truck-load of guns and its connection to the characters' meeting is not fully explained (Scene 3)
Summary The movie revolves around a group of criminals, led by Keaton, who find themselves targeted by the police. They are brought into an interrogation room and questioned about a stolen truck-load of guns, with the police using aggressive tactics to try and extract information. Meanwhile, Verbal narrates the unfairness of the situation and the conflict between the criminals and the police is highlighted. As the movie progresses, Keaton and his group execute a daring heist on corrupt cops running a taxi service, leading to a chaotic shootout. However, they soon realize that they have unknowingly stolen from the infamous Keyser Soze. They are then approached by Mr. Kobayashi, who offers them a dangerous job to repay their debt to Soze. Throughout the movie, Verbal is interrogated by Agent Kujan about Keaton's involvement in criminal activities. Kujan reveals Keaton's dark past and alleged death, challenging Verbal's claims of his innocence. Tensions rise as Verbal tries to defend Keaton, but ultimately realizes the truth about Keaton being Keyser Soze. Feeling betrayed, Verbal decides to take his chances rather than becoming a rat and leaves the room. The movie portrays a tense and suspenseful plot, showcasing the conflicts between the criminals, the police, and the mysterious Keyser Soze. It keeps the audience engaged with its twists and turns, leading to a shocking revelation in the end.


Screenplay Story Analysis

Story Critique The plot/story of the screenplay is engaging and suspenseful, with a strong sense of tension throughout. The use of multiple locations and characters adds depth to the story and keeps the audience engaged. The dialogue is well-written and helps to develop the characters and their relationships. The visual elements, such as the use of shadows and bright light, effectively create a sense of danger and urgency. However, there are some areas where the story could be improved. The lack of significant conflict or resolution in some scenes may leave the audience wanting more. Additionally, the repetition of certain scenes and dialogue can make the story feel repetitive at times. Overall, the plot/story is solid and engaging, but could benefit from some refinement.
Suggestions: To improve the plot/story, consider adding more significant conflict and resolution in each scene to create a stronger sense of tension and progression. Additionally, try to vary the dialogue and scenes more to avoid repetition and keep the story fresh. Consider exploring the characters' motivations and backstories further to add depth and complexity to their arcs. Finally, consider tightening the pacing of the story to maintain the audience's interest and keep them engaged throughout.

Note: This is the overall critique. For scene by scene critique click here

Characters in the screenplay, and their arcs:

Dean Keaton

Dean Keaton is a complex and charismatic forty-year-old criminal with a battered face and salty-gray hair. He maintains his composure in the face of adversity and exhibits frustration, anger, and resignation before his death. Despite his involvement in criminal activities, he shows loyalty to his allies and protects them during the heist. His past is shrouded in darkness and mystery.



McManus

McManus is a confident and defiant criminal who challenges the police, refuses to be intimidated, and maintains his composure in the face of aggressive tactics. He is driven by a sense of justice and fairness, and is willing to take risks for the sake of the group. McManus is hot-headed and impulsive, often acting on his emotions rather than thinking things through. He is deeply affected by Fenster's death and demands to bury him. McManus is confrontational and always ready to challenge Keaton's decisions. He is loyal to the group and driven by a strong moral code.



Hockney

Hockney is a gruff and tough auto body shop worker whose tough exterior hides a quick wit and sharp tongue. He is cynical and sarcastic, often questioning authority and the motives of those around him. Despite his gruff exterior, he is highly skilled at thievery and is a valuable member of the group.



Fenster

Fenster is a complex character in the screenplay. At first, he appears to be a casual and observant man who tries to evade the police but is ultimately captured. He sweats profusely and tries to maintain his innocence. Later in the movie, it becomes clear that Fenster is a hot-headed criminal who is frustrated with being constantly targeted by the police. He is outspoken and prone to outbursts. Additionally, Fenster is a nervous and jittery member of the group. He is easily influenced and tends to go along with the decisions of others. Ultimately, Fenster is a deceased friend of the group, whose death leads to tensions and conflicts among the remaining characters.



Keaton

Keaton is a complex character, initially trying to distance himself from his past criminal life but eventually tempted by the allure of a high-stakes heist. He is skeptical and cautious, protective of his group, and a strong and determined leader. He has a dark past that haunts him and burdens him with guilt and agony, but he is also resourceful, quick-thinking, and willing to take risks for the success of the group.



Verbal

Verbal is a character who narrates and observes the scene. He is cunning, intelligent, and quick-witted. He is fiercely loyal to Dean Keaton and is willing to defend him against all odds. Verbal is resourceful, manipulative, and willing to take risks. He highlights the unfairness of the situation and adds depth to the scene by providing commentary on the conflict between the criminals and the police. He is haunted by his past actions and displays vulnerability when he is unsure of his role in the situation.



Kujan

Kujan is a determined, relentless, and manipulative police officer / detective who uses any means necessary to uncover the truth about Dean Keaton's involvement in criminal activities. He is skeptical of Verbal's claims and presents damning evidence against Keaton. He is willing to go to great lengths to get the information he wants, including intimidation and manipulation.



Character Arc Critique Suggestions
Dean Keaton Dean Keaton starts as a confident and charismatic criminal who tries to maintain his composure throughout the heist. However, when one of his closest friends is killed during a drug deal, he becomes more conflicted and vulnerable. He struggles with his dark past and the life he has chosen, feeling guilty about his actions and yearning for redemption. Ultimately, he makes a heroic sacrifice to protect his friends, proving his loyalty and redeeming himself. The character arc for Dean Keaton is compelling and well-defined. However, it could benefit from more explicit hints at his vulnerability earlier in the story, to make his transformation feel more natural. Additionally, there could be a stronger emphasis on his guilt and inner turmoil, to make his redemption arc more poignant.
To improve the character arc for Dean Keaton, it could be helpful to include more scenes that showcase his vulnerability and inner conflict, such as flashbacks to his past or more intimate moments with the other characters. Additionally, emphasizing his guilt and remorse throughout the story could make his ultimate sacrifice feel more powerful and meaningful. Finally, giving him a more explicit goal, such as seeking redemption or revenge, could add more focus and direction to his character arc.
McManus McManus starts off as a confident and cocky criminal who challenges the police and refuses to be intimidated. Throughout the movie, he evolves into a more complex character, driven by a sense of loyalty and justice. He is deeply affected by Fenster's death and demands to bury him, showing his emotional side. He also becomes more confrontational, always ready to challenge Keaton's decisions, and determined to take action for the sake of the group. Despite his impulsive nature, McManus develops into a reliable and resourceful member of the criminal group, willing to take risks to achieve their goals. The character arc for McManus could benefit from more specific examples of how he evolves throughout the movie. The description of his emotional side could be expanded upon to show how his loyalty and sense of justice deepen throughout the story. Additionally, some of the descriptions of him being hot-headed and impulsive could be balanced with more moments of him showing restraint or strategic thinking.
To improve the character arc for McManus, it could be helpful to focus on specific moments in the movie where we see his character developing. For example, his confrontation with Keaton about burying Fenster could be a turning point for him. It could also be helpful to show moments where he demonstrates more strategic thinking or restraint, to balance out his impulsive actions. Finally, adding more specific details or dialogue to show his sense of justice and loyalty could deepen his character arc.
Hockney Throughout the film, Hockney starts off as a confrontational and defensive individual who does not easily trust others. As the plot progresses, he becomes increasingly skeptical of Kobayashi's claims and questions the group's decisions. However, in the end, he ultimately follows the lead of Keaton and McManus and becomes a hot-headed and impulsive member of the group. While he still maintains his sarcastic and cynical personality, he becomes more open to trusting those around him and working together towards a common goal. While Hockney's arc is intriguing and adds an element of skepticism and tension to the group, it could be further developed. The audience does not learn much about his background or motivations, which would add more depth to his character and make his arc more impactful. Additionally, his transformation from skeptical outsider to loyal team member could be further explored and fleshed out.
To improve Hockney's arc, consider adding more backstory about his past, including his upbringing and how he became involved in thievery. Additionally, show more explicitly why he decides to ultimately follow the lead of Keaton and McManus. Perhaps he develops a stronger bond with one of them, or realizes the gravity of the situation and decides to trust in their leadership. Allowing Hockney's transformation to be more nuanced and organic would make it more satisfying for the audience.
Fenster Fenster's character arc centers on his transformation from a casual and observant man to a hot-headed criminal. As the film progresses, Fenster becomes increasingly frustrated and angry with the police. He begins to lash out, resulting in conflicts with the rest of his group. However, when Fenster is ultimately killed, his death serves as a catalyst for the remaining characters to reflect on their own criminal behavior and the consequences that come with it. Fenster's arc is well-executed, but it could benefit from more development. While his transformation from a casual criminal to a hot-headed criminal is evident, it would be interesting to see more of the events that led to this change. Additionally, Fenster's death could have been more impactful if he had been given more screen time to build his relationship with the other characters.
To improve Fenster's character arc, consider showing more of the events that led to his transformation. Perhaps there are experiences in his past that have caused him to become increasingly angry and frustrated, and exploring these could add depth to his character. Additionally, giving Fenster more screen time and building up his relationships with the other characters could make his death even more impactful.
Keaton Keaton starts off trying to distance himself from his criminal past but is ultimately drawn back in due to the allure of a high-stakes heist. Initially skeptical of Verbal's offer, he eventually decides to join the heist, showcasing his willingness to take risks. Keaton is torn between his desire for a clean life and the loyalty he feels towards his friends, and this conflict adds tension to the scene. Throughout the movie, Keaton is portrayed as a strong and determined leader, but the guilt of his past catches up to him, and he is forced to confront the consequences of his actions. The character arc for Keaton is well-developed, but there could have been more exploration of his guilt and the consequences of his actions. The audience is told that Keaton has a dark past that burdens him with guilt and agony, but there are few moments in the movie where this is fully explored. It would have added depth to the character if we had seen more of his internal struggle and how it affects his interactions with the others in the group.
To improve Keaton's character arc, there could have been more flashbacks or moments where we see Keaton grappling with his guilt and the consequences of his actions. It would have also been interesting to explore his relationships with the other characters, especially his loyalty towards them despite his desire for a clean life. Adding more moments of vulnerability could have added depth to the character.
Verbal Verbal's character arc involves facing his fear and revealing important information. Initially, Verbal denies any knowledge of Arturo Marquez and is caught between loyalty to Keaton and his own survival instincts. However, he eventually realizes the truth about Keaton and becomes emotionally affected by the revelation. Verbal confronts Agent Kujan about being tricked and proves to be more resourceful and perceptive than he lets on. He is willing to take his chances instead of becoming a rat. The character arc is interesting and develops well throughout the movie. However, there could have been more exploration of Verbal's vulnerability and the reasons behind his loyalty to Keaton. Additionally, the final reveal about Verbal being Keyser Soze could have been built up more throughout the movie to create a more satisfying twist.
To improve the character arc, the movie could have delved deeper into Verbal's background and shown more of his vulnerability. The reveal about him being Keyser Soze could have been built up more throughout the movie, perhaps through flashbacks or subtle hints. Additionally, there could have been more exploration of Verbal's motivations and his reasons for being loyal to Keaton.
Kujan At the beginning of the movie, Kujan is driven to uncover the truth, but he is also over-confident in his abilities. As the movie progresses, he becomes increasingly obsessed with solving the case, to the point where he becomes blinded by his own biases and assumptions. However, by the end of the film, Kujan is forced to confront the fact that he has been manipulated by Verbal and that all the evidence he presented against Keaton was a fabrication. This realization leads him to question his own abilities as an investigator and to reevaluate his methods and biases. The character arc is well-crafted, but it could benefit from a clearer sense of Kujan's motivations at the beginning of the film. It's not entirely clear why he is so determined to uncover the truth, and this can make his character feel somewhat one-dimensional. Additionally, Kujan's blind acceptance of the evidence against Keaton is somewhat implausible, given his experience as an investigator. It would be more interesting to see him grappling with doubts and uncertainties, rather than simply bulldozing his way through the investigation.
To improve the character arc, consider giving Kujan more backstory and motivation. Perhaps there is a personal reason why he is so invested in this case, or maybe he has a history of being outsmarted by criminals and is eager to prove himself. Additionally, consider having him engage in more internal conflict and self-doubt, rather than simply being a one-note antagonist. This will make his character more complex and interesting to watch.
Theme Theme Details Themee Explanation
BetrayalThe theme of betrayal is evident throughout the screenplay. Characters like Keaton and Verbal are involved in criminal activities and are ultimately betrayed by their associates. Keaton is shot by Keyser Soze, who was revealed to be his own lawyer, and Verbal is revealed to be Keyser Soze himself, betraying the trust of Agent Kujan.Betrayal is a central theme in the screenplay as it drives the plot and character motivations. It explores the consequences of trust and the lengths people will go to protect themselves.
IdentityThe theme of identity is explored through the character of Verbal, who is revealed to be Keyser Soze. Verbal assumes a false identity to manipulate those around him and hide his true nature. The concept of identity is also explored through the various aliases and criminal activities of the characters.Identity is a significant theme in the screenplay as it raises questions about the true nature of individuals and the masks they wear. It delves into the idea of hidden identities and the power of perception.
Crime and ConsequencesThe theme of crime and its consequences is prevalent throughout the screenplay. The characters are involved in various criminal activities, such as theft and murder, and face the repercussions of their actions. The consequences of their crimes drive the plot and create tension.Crime and its consequences serve as a major theme in the screenplay, exploring the moral and ethical dilemmas faced by the characters. It delves into the idea of accountability and the price one must pay for their actions.
Power and ControlThe theme of power and control is explored through the character of Keyser Soze. Keyser Soze is a powerful and feared figure who manipulates others to maintain control. The characters in the screenplay are constantly vying for power and control over their own lives and situations.Power and control play a significant role in the screenplay, highlighting the lengths people will go to gain and maintain power. It examines the dynamics of power struggles and the consequences of seeking control.
DeceptionThe theme of deception is present throughout the screenplay. Characters like Verbal and Keyser Soze use deception to manipulate others and achieve their goals. The plot is driven by the revelation of hidden truths and the consequences of deception.Deception is a central theme in the screenplay, exploring the idea of trust and the consequences of being deceived. It raises questions about the nature of truth and the impact of lies on relationships and outcomes.



Screenwriting Resources on Themes

Articles

Site Description
Studio Binder Movie Themes: Examples of Common Themes for Screenwriters
Coverfly Improving your Screenplay's theme
John August Writing from Theme

YouTube Videos

Title Description
Story, Plot, Genre, Theme - Screenwriting Basics Screenwriting basics - beginner video
What is theme Discussion on ways to layer theme into a screenplay.
Thematic Mistakes You're Making in Your Script Common Theme mistakes and Philosophical Conflicts
Goals and Philosophical Conflict
internal Goals The protagonist's internal goals in the screenplay evolve as they navigate dangerous situations, protect themselves and their loved ones, seek justice, and confront their fears and past actions.
External Goals The protagonist's external goals in the screenplay involve escaping danger, avoiding arrest, convincing others, gathering information, completing criminal activities, and protecting themselves and their allies.
Philosophical Conflict The overarching philosophical conflict in the screenplay revolves around the protagonist's beliefs and values being challenged by the corrupt and unpredictable criminal world they inhabit. They must navigate moral ambiguity, confront their fears, and question their understanding of truth and justice.


Character Development Contribution: The protagonist's internal and external goals contribute to their development by forcing them to confront their fears, question their beliefs, and make difficult choices. Through their journey, they evolve from a vulnerable and uncertain individual to a more resilient and self-aware character.

Narrative Structure Contribution: The protagonist's goals and conflicts drive the narrative structure of the screenplay, creating tension, suspense, and a sense of urgency. Their pursuit of survival, justice, and personal growth propels the story forward and keeps the audience engaged.

Thematic Depth Contribution: The protagonist's goals and conflicts deepen the thematic exploration of the screenplay by raising questions about morality, justice, loyalty, and the consequences of one's actions. The screenplay delves into the complexities of the criminal world and the human condition, challenging the audience to reflect on their own beliefs and values.


Screenwriting Resources on Goals and Philosophical Conflict

Articles

Site Description
Creative Screenwriting How Important Is A Character’s Goal?
Studio Binder What is Conflict in a Story? A Quick Reminder of the Purpose of Conflict

YouTube Videos

Title Description
How I Build a Story's Philosophical Conflict How do you build philosophical conflict into your story? Where do you start? And how do you develop it into your characters and their external actions. Today I’m going to break this all down and make it fully clear in this episode.
Endings: The Good, the Bad, and the Insanely Great By Michael Arndt: I put this lecture together in 2006, when I started work at Pixar on Toy Story 3. It looks at how to write an "insanely great" ending, using Star Wars, The Graduate, and Little Miss Sunshine as examples. 90 minutes
Tips for Writing Effective Character Goals By Jessica Brody (Save the Cat!): Writing character goals is one of the most important jobs of any novelist. But are your character's goals...mushy?