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Archive for September 27th, 2009

Back in June I posted a review of Awaydays, a film about football hooligans in the 1980’s. In it I explained that as a football fan I just don’t understand football hooligans. With yet another film on the subject I still don’t get football hooligans.

The Firm

The Firm is a remake of the 1988 TV movie of the same name staring Gary Oldman. The film starts like any other in the sub-genre. A young man , Dom (Calum McNab) with no direction in his life and nothing better to do with himself becomes infatuated with the glamour of football violence. Yes I did say glamour, Nick Love and other directors of these films do seem to have a romanticised view of hooligans. In this case the leader of the “Firm” is Bex (Paul Anderson) he is happily married, has a good job and wears the latest fashions, ugly garish coloured 80’s tracksuits. Dom gets more and more sucked into the lifestyle as things hot up between the firm and their local rivals. You know things aren’t going to end well. And true to form the plot unfolds in a predictable way. This isn’t Nick Love’s first foray into football violence, 2004’s The Football Factory covered the same subject. The problem with all these films, Awaydays and Green Street (2005) (known as Hooligans in America) is none of them give a satisfactory explanation to the phenomenon. They all give a vague idea of why young men who get involved suggesting they are looking for identity and a sense of belonging. But more often than not the main character often walks away. Not explaining those that stay remain with the firm. There is also a recurring theme of ridiculing older people who are still involved. It is almost as if it is acceptable as a younger person to get involved as long as you grow out of it.

So why do I keep watching these films. I could use an array of excuses suggesting I am desperately trying to understand the subject matter. The truth is far simpler than that, it is morbid curiosity, the cinematic equivalent to rubberneckers gawping at car accidents. The other almost bizarre thing is the film is very watchable and actually quite good. Despite a or possible because of a certain repulsion to the subject matter I was actually drawn into the narrative. The dialogue is snappy and often funny. McNab and Anderson are both good in the leading roles. It is not original and has nothing new or interesting to say for itself but it does have a certain style that suggests we haven’t seen the best of Nick Love yet.

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Roundup the usual suspects.

M. Carter @ The Movies started all this by writing a review of The Usual Suspects, No. 3 on her list of favourite movies. I then acted as a catalyst by suggesting the film would have been better if there end had “a little more ambiguity leaving the viewer able to question what they have just seen”. Then Darren from “the movie blog” added to the debate.

The Usual Suspects

So who is Keyzer Soze? How you read the film is very much dependent on what you believe or more accurately chose to be true. Clearly what we see can not all be true, a straight reading of what we see provides contradictions for example when Dave Kujan (Chazz Palminteri) describes what he believes to have happened we see it as a flashback in the same way as when Verbal (Kevin Spacey) is telling his story. In this description we see clearly Keaton (Gabriel Byrne) is Keyzer Soze. This can not be as we saw at the start that Soze shot Keaton. It would be easy to say that it was only Kujan’s speculation and not true, but if that is the case can we trust what Verbal tells us? Clearly not as his description is implied if not proved to be a fabrication therefore everything in the film is fair game to be accepted or dismissed as the viewer chooses to.

So where do we go from here? We could look at cinematic conventions that say what we see within direct narrative is true but flashbacks like Verbal’s explanation of events are only a representation of the story someone is telling us therefore are open to be manipulated by the person telling the story or could even be completely untrue. This is a convention that is easy to accept, the TV show CSI often shows flashbacks of various scenarios that untimely turn out not to be true. Back in 19995 when The Usual Suspects came out this was less common. So if we take this point where does that leave us and what is true?

The opening scene described as “last night in San Pedro” depicts Keaton being shot by a person he calls Keyzer but we don’t actually see who that person is. We can also take from his tone that he is assuming that it is Keyzer Soze but does not actually know it is him or even that he exists. By the same logic we can also say all the other scenes in and around San Pedro are true. This includes FBI agent Jack Baer’s (Giancarlo Esposito) visit to the hospital to see the burnt survivor and his subsequent visit to the police station where he tells Kujan about Keyzer Soze. We can also take it that Kujan’s interview/conversation with Verbal happened as seen but that what verbal told him was not necessarily true. We can also say that verbal’s disability was faked and that he got into a car with the person we know as Kobayashi (Pete Postlethwaite). What we don’t know is who that person was and what connection he has to Verbal. The person we know as Kobayashi could himself be Soze! What we also know is that the flashbacks can not be entirely true as they do contradict each other as described above.

If we take everything we see to be true the group are told they must destroy the drugs on the boat. We know by the end of the film that there aren’t any drugs but they don’t know that (remember we are assuming everything we saw was true therefore the first time we find out there are no drugs is when Keaton tells McManus). The money is in a van with one man guarding it therefore the plan is flawed. once they have taken out the guards why didn’t the do this: One man drives away with the van full of cash. The rest of them stay to destroy the drugs (they still think are there). They use their contacts and money earned on previous jobs to purchase military grade munitions such as Limpet Mines enabling them to sink the ship without the danger of entering the ship. The most logical explanation is that one of the group wants to get onto the ship to kill someone possibly Arturro Marquez (Castulo Guerra) suggesting one of them is Soze.

The best piece of evidence for those who think Keaton is Keyzer Soze is when we see what happened via Verbal’s description to Dave Kujan we see what we saw at the start when Keaton was shot, but this time the shot lingers on some ropes and Keaton clearly isn’t there to get shot. We also know from what Dave Kujan told us that Keaton has faked his own death before. Even allowing for this Keaton, the person put forward as Keyzer Soze at times is the hardest to accept as him as we have to discount the opening scene when he is sat shot and talks to someone he calls Keyzer who then appears to shoot him. If you discount this scene he has as much chance as anyone of being Keyzer Soze as anyone else. So is someone else Keyzer Soze? Here are the possibilities:

  • McManus (Stephen Baldwin): We only see him die in Verbal’s version of events, furthermore his death happened on the boat out of sight of Verbal.
  • Hockney(Kevin Pollak): As above we only have Verbal’s word that he was shot and he was at the van with the money out of sight of Verbal.
  • Fenster (Benicio Del Toro): Once again we only have Verbal’s word that he was killed and that they buried him.
  • Verbal: Clearly lies about his disability, the belongings he collects when released include the gold watch and lighter the man who shot Keaton (and called Keyzer by Keaton) had at the start of the film. He also got into a car driven by the person we know as Kobayashi who (in Verbal’s flashbacks) admitted to working for Keyzer Soze. He is also the only one we don’t see getting arrested for the line-up, is this because he engineered the line-up?
  • Kobayashi: He along with Verbal and Keaton is one of a select group who is seen both in flashback and present day. During the flashback he is the only person we see who works for Keyzer Soze then at the end he is driving the car that picks Verbal up. He could work for Keyzer Soze or he could be Keyzer Soze using the cover of a solicitor to hide his identity.

Does the film have a life of its own beyond what the writer and director intended? If not there is a big clue in the directors commentary when Bryan Singer tells us that “Keyser Soze” can be roughly translated to mean “King Blabbermouth” (using Turkish and German, the supposed nationalities of Soze’s parents) this could be a reference to the nickname “Verbal”. It appears the actors didn’t know who Keyzer Soze was while making the film; on the trivia section of the films IMDB page it says: “Actor Gabriel Byrne, when asked at a film festival. “Who is Keyser Soze?” replied, “During shooting and until watching the film tonight, I thought I was!”

From all of this I chose to accept the cinematic convention that the present day scenes are all true and happening as if we were there to see them ourselves. The flashback scenes are untrue and told only for the benefit of the person telling the story, Verbal. From this we can determine any character in the film other than Keaton could be Keyzer Soze as we saw him being shot by someone he believed to be Keyzer Soze (even if this person wasn’t Soze the fact that Keaton thought he could be reinforces the idea that Keaton could not be Soze). With this information I believe one of two conclusions to be true; either Verbal is Keyzer Soze or Keyzer Soze does not exist and Verbal and his associates including the man we know as Kobayashi are using the legend/myth of Keyzer Soze to their own advantage. You may have your own ideas!

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