Stuck in the middle of Bryan Singer and Christopher McQuarrie’s pulp fiction mindfuck thriller, The Usual Suspects, is a quiet scene void of ego and laced with genuine fear. Noting the absence of ego is important, because much of The Usual Suspects is basically watching men measure the length of their cocks through sarcasm, verbal intimidation and physical violence. But during the scene in question, four of our Suspects do nothing more than sit in a car and debate their inevitable deaths. They don’t yell or scream or make jokes; there are no guns or explosions or flexed muscles, only stares and thoughts and fears.
The scene opens with a master shot of a ship port, the site where Keaton (Gabriel Byrne), Verbal (Kevin Spacey), Hockney (Kevin Pollak) and McManus (Stephen Baldwin) will interrupt a dangerous drug deal at the behest of unseen criminal mastermind, Keyser Söze. The Suspects are stuck. If they don’t complete the job, Söze will kill them and their loved ones. If they attempt the job, they’ll likely die trying, but could come out filthy rich.
For Keaton, that should be that. But he knows it’s not. There is too much at stake, not to mention the greed itching away at him and his cohorts. “There’s nothing that can’t be done,” Baldwin says with a perfect balance of assuredness and caution. And then something really interesting happens. The group shares a collective, earned silence and after a moment, Baldwin finally breaks the tension with his flawless, impassive delivery of: “The news said it’s raining in New York.”
Initially, this line appears wildly out of place. But upon reflection, the simplicity of the line is actually kind of heartbreaking. We have four guys from New York, sitting in a car in L.A., debating fate. And although fear motivates their logic, greed is able to cloud it. So they’re stuck. Despite the threat of physical harm, the greed of the green, and the boner bravado of victory, these four hardened criminals are discussing something as trivial as the weather. “The news said it’s raining in New York.” It’s my favorite line from Christopher McQuarrie’s Oscar-winning script. It’s a line that says, “Fuck, we’re in it bad here, boys,” or, better put, “I wish we could forget about this and just go the hell home.”
The scene runs 60 seconds and is executed with very basic camera coverage and only a few lines of dialogue. Yet it resonates with me as much as anything in the film, including its infamous ending. Strangest thing.