The sophomore film of director Bryan Singer, The Usual Suspects, quickly became an iconic film of the 1990s upon its release midway through the decade, largely for its impressive ensemble cast, including Kevin Spacey, Gabriel Byrne, Steven Baldwin, Benicio Del Toro, Giancarlo Esposito and Clark Gregg.
Centring on a small-time con man, Verbal (Spacey), and his interrogation regarding the events of a massacre on a ship docked at the LA harbour, The Usual Suspects’ most iconic moment comes at the very start of the film when five potential criminals appear in a police line-up.
Appearing as a sophisticated, rugged, and odd group of criminals, it’s not until each of the individuals in the line-up are given a specific line to read that we discover that they are more like puerile school children. Reading “hand me the keys, you fucking cocksucker”, the group can’t help but erupt into fits of laughter when each individual in the line-up makes a mockery of the police scenario. This, however, wasn’t scripted, with the scene originally meaning to be played dead-pan, though the actors themselves couldn’t take the scene seriously, so the ‘failed’ takes stood as final.
When asked on Twitter about whether this was indeed true, the screenwriter for the film, Christopher McQuarrie, explained that it was, in fact, the flatulence of one Benicio Del Toro that caused such a commotion. Though, as McQuarrie noted, this ended up being a saving grace for the impact of the scene: “This solved a major script issue: I was constantly being asked to include a scene of the suspects bonding (the sort of scene that stops the story cold). The line-up became the bonding scene. Since then I’ve held to the belief that sometimes you’re good, sometimes someone farts”.
Without the abrupt flatulence on set, we may never have received this glorious scene in the same way, and the characters of Singer’s compelling thriller may never have seemed so organic. Such is an ode to the power of improvisation, as whilst Del Toro’s flatulence may have been inappropriate in the final edit, the reactions of each and every character feels natural and makes for a better scene than the one Christopher McQuarrie had initially proposed.
The screenwriter has since penned multiple screenplays featuring the Hollywood goliath Tom Cruise, including Edge of Tomorrow, Mission: Impossible – Fallout and Top Gun: Maverick, and has leapt to great critical acclaim. Perhaps this valuable, if puerile, lesson on the set of The Usual Suspects gifted the screenwriter with a necessary lesson in dramatic levity.