Author: Cameron Young
Writer’s Potential: 7
Logline:A mobster trying to carry out a hit is mistaken for a priest by his intended target.
Synopsis:Early 1960s. Manhattan. Mobster FRANKIE SMILES forces a crane operator to crush one car in a passing motorcade with his wrecking ball. He goes to a dank office in the Bronx, where SAL and PETE wait. Behind them, hidden in shadows, is mob boss DON ANGELO (ANGIE). Sal and Pete taunt Frankie because the hit killed everyone except the target, who was transported to the hospital and is under 24-hour FBI surveillance. Angie says he’s going to bring Vincent on this job. Frankie balks, but Angie’s the boss.
In Chicago, VINCENT NOVENA watches a mobster return to his car from a pizzeria. He climbs into the car, starts it, and it explodes. Satisfied, he drives away. At an apartment building, he rigs the elevator so that the doors open without the elevator car moving. His mobster target pushes the button for the elevator and walks into the shaft, plunging to his death. Vincent quickly fixes the elevator and leaves. He goes to New Orleans, where he shoots another mobster. Vincent returns to his home in St. Petersburg, Florida. He buys a New York Times, which has a headline referring to the opening incident, about a banker surviving an assassination attempt. Vincent flips to the personal ads and finds a coded message to “Saint Vincent,” “Love, Angela.” Vincent sets down the paper and sees Frankie Smiles waiting for him. Vincent mocks him for his failure, but Frankie doesn’t want to hear it. He’s just there to escort Vincent back to New York.
At his hotel, Vincent lays out his weapons and various articles of subterfuge (e.g., doctor’s white coat, police uniform), Vincent surveils the hospital, tries to figure out how to penetrate the security. He goes to a café, where he’s waited on by an attractive girl, LUCY. They recognize each other, flirt a bit. She asks him to stick around, but he disappears on her. Vincent goes to St. Amelia’s, a cathedral. He wanders around the shadowy place, stuffs some money in the poor box. At Mercy Hospital, a PRIEST tries to push past the detectives waiting outside. They start asking questions, and the priest looks up — it’s Vincent. He has a detailed cover story, so they reluctantly let him in. Vincent goes up to the fifth floor, where he sees three federal agents on the target’s door. Vincent wanders, memorizing everything he can about this particular floor — faces, nurses’ work schedules, etc. — when he finds a tough-looking agent with a CREWCUT staring at him. Vincent goes to the elevator, and Crewcut follows. He asks Vincent about confession.
Vincent answers the questions in detail but is surprised when Crewcut actually wants him to talk to ALEXANDER KNOX, Vincent’s target, rather than himself. He leads Vincent into the room. Knox is asleep; Vincent agrees to wait for him to awaken. Crewcut leaves them alone. Vincent sneaks into the bathroom and finds a microphone wired so the agents can listen from the hall. He assembles a .22 handgun and attaches a silencer, then goes back into the room. He maneuvers a pillow over Knox’s face to protect from the splatter, then listens for the right moment. Outside, he hears the wail of a bus’s airbrakes, so he waits for the bus to get closer — and then he hears a loud wheezing, which turns into a moan. There’s another patient in the room, a kid in an iron lung. A NURSE comes in to check on him, with Crewcut following; Vincent hides the gun. Knox wakes up and brightens when he sees Vincent. Crewcut introduces them. Knox makes an absurd non-confession about dreams and Saul/Paul’s epiphany on the road to Damascus. Vincent’s bewildered but plays along until Knox falls asleep. Vincent prepares to go after him again when Crewcut interrupts — the D.A. has arrived for Knox, who intends to testify against Angie.
Crewcut leads Vincent through the children’s ward, asking how the confession’s going, then asking about confessions in general — how absolution and penance work, how many “repeat offenders” he gets, etc. Vincent gives fairly generic answers, even as Crewcut’s questions get more penetrative. Across from the hospital, on the roof of a brownstone, Vincent is dressed as a TV repairman. He finds the antennae on the roof and pulls a radio receiver/reel-to-reel out of his toolbox. He clips a wire to it and listens through earphones, picking up the signal Crewcut has set up. He overhears Knox and Crewcut arguing. Knox refers to money he stole from Angie (nearly a million dollars), says he wants to donate it to the children’s ward. Crewcut tries to convince him it’s a waste of money — these kids are all going to die anyway.
Vincent goes to a liquor store to buy some whiskey and cigarettes requested by Knox. Frankie Smiles tracks him there and tells him Angie wants to see him. He’s in the confessional at St. Amelia’s, so he’s still shrouded in shadows. He tells Angie that he’s sure Vincent is just being careful, but he hears rumors that Vincent has been close enough to pull off the hit and hasn’t. He tells Vincent that he should go faster, but if he can’t, he should tell Angie if there’s anything he overhears while waiting. Vincent says nothing.
Later, he follows Lucy to her apartment, knocks on the door. They play catch-up awkwardly — she’s now a widower, kind of lamenting the fact that she and Vincent never got together. He claims to be a TV antenna salesman. She believes him, softens a bit. They make love. In the middle of the night, Vincent tries to sneak away, but stops to write a note. Lucy gets up, hands him a rosary she claims he left behind the last time they made love (years ago). He goes back to his hotel, sleeps, dresses in his priest outfit, goes back to the hospital. Knox is having tests done, so Crewcut and a doctor beg Vincent to give a dying child last rites. Vincent is uncomfortable, but he does it to keep his cover. Vincent goes back to Knox’s room. Knox asks about the first time he ever performed last rites; Vincent tells a story — obviously true, except for the part about him being the priest — about a five-year-old kid who got hit by a car.
Some time later, Knox asks Vincent a bunch of questions about moral relativism; Vincent gives a bunch of noncommittal answers, eventually telling Knox he needs a philosopher, not a priest. Knox says he wants to whisper his prayers to Vincent. Vincent prepares him to do this by bringing another pillow behind his head, ostensibly to raise the neck but really so he can position his .22 behind it. Knox leans in to whisper as the bus approaches, and Vincent is so surprised by what he hears that he doesn’t pull the trigger. Meanwhile, Crewcut can’t hear a thing over the bus brakes. Disoriented, he runs away, but as he runs through the hospital lobby — he sees Frankie, dressed as an orderly. He asks for courtesy phones, but they’re broken. Outside, Vincent searches for a phone booth, eventually ending up in a bar. The only phone is in the back, where BIG AL refuses to let a priest use a phone for a matter of life and death. Vincent wraps the phone cord around Al’s neck and hangs up on him. He dials the hospital, asks for Crewcut. He’s not there, so the hospital tries connecting him elsewhere. Vincent hangs up, runs outside as a fire truck roars by. He heads back to the hospital, where he sees a fire blazing in the children’s ward. He sneaks past the cops into the hospital, runs up, and saves the kid in the iron lung by diving out onto a huge catcher in the street below.
After he’s checked out by a paramedic for a concussion, the press start chasing Vincent, who can’t have his photo taken. He starts running, then sees Big Al driving in a car. He forces Big Al to drive him far, as quickly as possible. They end up in the Jersey marshlands. Vincent walks Big Al out into the middle of nowhere, pretending he’s going to kill him; instead, he lives him alone but steals the car. Fingering the rosary, Vincent drives to Lucy — still in his priest clothes. She takes one look at the collar, punches him, and slams the door. We hear Knox’s whispered confession — he told Vincent exactly where to find the missing stolen money — accompanied by a montage of Vincent following the trail Knox laid out, at Knox’s mother’s gravesite. Just as Vincent gets the money, he turns around to find Frankie leading Knox to him. Frankie is amused by this predicament, while Vincent chastises him for killing so many innocent people. Frankie doesn’t care. He gets the drop on Vincent, knocks him out, takes him back to Angie’s warehouse.
As Vincent regains consciousness, Frankie sets up a reel to reel and the phone rings. Sal picks it up — it’s Don Angelo, who sends Frankie on an errand. With him gone, Vincent tricks Sal and Pete into enjoying his whiskey and smokes — when, in fact, both are laced with poison. They both die, and just as Vincent gets himself out of his handcuffs, Angie shows up. He plays the tape of Crewcut and Knox arguing about the stolen money, then tells him he knows all about Vincent letting Knox go. Angie takes him to another part of the warehouse, where they have Knox strung up. He’s been brutally beaten. Angie gives Vincent a knife, forces him to kill Knox right in front of him, after which he can go after Frankie for mucking things up so badly in the first place — this will be his penance. Instead, he jams the knife into Angie’s hard and cuts Knox free. Frankie returns to the warehouse just as the FBI surrounds the place. Frankie has just enough time to shoot Vincent before the FBI rush in and arrest him. Crewcut calls an ambulance for Vincent, but it’s too late. Vincent forces Crewcut to absolve him of his sins, which he reluctantly agrees to. He begs Crewcut to do one more thing — another inaudible whisper.
Crewcut talks to the CORONER, who’s puzzled by the dead priest. Crewcut mutters that he’s just another criminal. The Coroner asks why he was dressed like a priest. Crewcut shrugs, then they go out for coffee.
Comments:This is a compelling but ultimately unsatisfying story with a nice, gritty neo-noir feel. The writer does a nice job with the sense of place and the unpleasant characters, and the dialogue is mostly good, aside from a few flat chunks of exposition near the beginning.
Vincent’s a puzzler, and really, his ambiguity causes the downfall of this script. He spends the entire story impersonating a priest, being grilled by Crewcut and Knox with all sorts of difficult theological and philosophical questions. The problem is, we’re never sure whether or not his answers are reliable — is he answering for himself or in the guise of a priest? We don’t get a clear sense of who he is. He’s so taciturn that he makes decisions for unclear reasons (e.g., did he take the money out of greed or to atone for his sins?), and he vacillates between “stately priest” and “cold-blooded sociopath” (as in the scenes with Big Al) it muddles the idea that, perhaps, he wants to atone for his life of sin. The inconsistency is also what makes me question the reliability of his responses to questions while acting as the priest.
Narratively, the story goes off the rails in the third act. It’s mostly just an extended monologue from Angie — who does not come across as sinister as we’re supposed to think he is — followed by a double-cross so obvious, it’s even commented on in the script itself (though that doesn’t forgive it for still being obvious), and his death does not seem to serve a real person. The writer mentions Vincent looking peaceful in the morgue, but again, his character becomes so murky by the end of the script, it’s very hard to understand why the events of this story have led him to peace.
A seemingly minor but actually significant issue is the strange moment when, after hearing Knox’s confession, Vincent runs from the hospital, seeing Frankie along the way and trying to call to warn somebody. I understand that he can’t go as “Father Novena” and tell Crewcut a mobster’s after Knox — but why couldn’t he take care of Frankie himself? This might have led to a more interesting, natural conclusion, with Vincent killing one of his own — in fact, a distorted mirror version of himself, as he’s also a Mafia hitman — and that betrayal leading to the problems with Angie, rather than recovering Knox’s stolen money.
This script has a lot of nice individual moments, and I liked quite a bit of it, but it just doesn’t tell a consistently good (or coherent) story.
It’s certainly targeted at fans of crime capers and gangster movies — whether or not they like it is another story. It’s bleakness and deliberate pace will likely drive away fans of more violent, action-driven crime movies, while the action-heavy third act will likely annoy fans of depressing, character-driven film noir.