Be warned that this podcast contains a rainbow of obscenities, so consider this not safe for work.
Be warned that this podcast contains a rainbow of obscenities, so consider this not safe for work.
Be warned that this podcast contains a rainbow of obscenities, so consider this not safe for work.
Because my wrist injury has made typing difficult, I’ve decided to venture into bold new territory: podcasting. This might be a complete disaster, but I’ll never know without your feedback. Expect another podcast later today, then (probably) none for the next month.
Be warned that this podcast contains a rainbow of obscenities, so consider this not safe for work.
So here’s the thing: first I was M.I.A. because I was busy with work; now I’m M.I.A. because I’m incapacitated.
A little over a year ago, I made the mistake of lifting a dense (i.e., small ‘n’ heavy) 50-pound box with one hand. Feeling immediate pain, I thought, “Wow, that’s too heavy.” Too lazy to lift my other hand to assist, I carried the box across the room and felt flares of pain for a few days. In less than a week, I realized I needed medical attention. Unfortunately, I had just quit my job in an angry, obscenity-laced huff, which meant I had no insurance (or money to pay for insurance if I did), and it took six months before I found another one, and another few months before I started working consistently. I used my own medical expertise to self-diagnose Carpal Tunnel Syndrome—because the pain was exacerbated in the extreme by typing—and wrapped an Ace bandage around my wrist for about a month, by which time the pain had alleviated enough for me to blog on an almost-daily basis and continue my other writing bullshit unabated…
Until September, when my job required me to write so rapidly and regularly that, by the end November, I was in constant pain. By that time, I’d gotten an overpriced (but not as much as uninsured treatment) health plan, so I saw my doctor, who tapped my wrist a couple of times and parroted my own self-diagnosis. Muttering something about wasting a copay on that bullshit, I thanked him for the naproxen prescription and spent the next month down anti-inflammatory pills and icing my wrist on a regular basis. It was all great…
…until we hit driveway-shoveling season, at which point it all went to hell. The snowiest December on record undid all the good that had been done prior to this. The Internet is a septic tank of awful, contradictory information on the condition, so I had no clue which demented leg exercises or stretches would actually benefit me. None seemed to work, but when I tried to talk to my doctor again about ways to manage the pain so it’d go away and stay away, a nurse called me back to announce that he’d graciously renewed the naproxen prescription.
A week ago, after another marathon of reading that ended in constant throbbing, I finally decided I needed to see a specialist. I went to an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in wrist injuries. After a few X-rays and some bizarre hand exercises, he announced that I had two conditions working together to ruin my life: torn wrist cartilage from the aforementioned box trauma, and a li’l dab of tennis elbow from a previous trauma that mostly involved me divebombing a guy and wrapping my arms around his neck (not passionately) as we both fell to the ground. I landed right on my elbow and proceeded to not do a thing about it, because who cares? Apparently my wrist injury aggravated that trauma.
I got a delightful cortisone shot, a giant forearm splint, and a protective elbow pad. I’m still in fairly intense pain, and it took me basically the entire week to write this one entry. I hope it won’t shock or dismay anyone to know that I won’t be blogging for awhile, probably not until after Cannes.
It sucks, too, because I have some good stories. Don’t worry, I’m writing them all down. I’ll get to them eventually, and by the time I do, I’ll have forgotten all the details, so the posts will be of a manageable, readable size for the first time in Stan Has Issues™ history.
Author: Jonathan Hensleigh
Writer’s Potential: 5
The true story of Cleveland mobster Danny Greene’s rise to power.
Cleveland, 1975. DANNY GREENE (40s, hard-edged and muscular) exits a nightclub with JOHN NARDI. A valet pulls up with Danny’s car. Danny says his goodbyes to Nardi and drives away. He gets a few blocks away when the car explodes, the car lifting 20 feet off the ground and splitting in half as it’s engulfed in flames. Danny walks away from the wreck, injured but alive, shouting, “That all ya got?”
Back in 1934, Danny’s mother dies giving birth to him. Doctors persuade his father to give him up to the foster-care system until he can take care of him. Twelve years later, the already-hardened Danny leaves the orphanage with his birth father and stepmother. As they fight, Danny escapes by reading books. He and friend BILL McDUFFY cheat some Italian kids at craps. The kids chase them through the rough, industrial neighborhood until they get backed into a dead end. A raucous fight ensues, culminating in one kid ramming a pencil clean through the palm of Danny’s hand. Danny doesn’t flinch, doesn’t react. This terrifies the kids more than anything. They scatter.
1960. Now in their 20s, Danny and Bill are longshoremen at the Cleveland docks. Along with friends JACKIE McMULLEN and ART SNEPERGER, they unload grain ships. Danny is frustrated to find the ships are always overloaded with grain. He tries to argue with the foreman, who just ridicules the workers. They spot their union leader, wealthy WALTER WEAVER, glad-handing as he runs for reelection. They night, the guys go out drinking at a local bar/casino, where they gripe about how useless and corrupt Weaver is. The next day, they unload yet another overfilled grain ship. This time, a man gets pulled into the grain and sinks like quicksand. As the others try to pull him out, the foreman turns a blind eye. Frustrated, Danny pulls an emergency alert, which evacuates all the longshoremen from all the grain ships. Weaver is furious, even moreso when Danny gets in his face. That night, Danny has sex with NANCY in the back of a car when Art rushes up to him, claiming he’s in trouble. He takes Danny to a casino run by mafioso John Nardi, where Danny makes a proposition to pay off Art’s massive gambling debt. That night, Danny leads some mafiosi to a container ship, where they load it up with stolen merchandise. This impresses Nardi.
Danny attempts to run for union president, but Weaver gets the word out that anyone who shows support for him will not get a job on the docks. Jackie McMullen turns up with a bullet in his head, which is followed by a warning from Weaver to withdraw from the election. Danny refuses, so Weaver sends JOE BUKA to kill Danny. Instead, Danny beats the hell out of Joe and shoots him in the head. Without his muscle, Weaver has no choice but to let Danny continue with his campaign. Danny wins by a landslide and immediately starts doing things differently—only with slightly more corruption, threatening shipping company executives, stealing from containers, etc. Art shows them a container filled with Czech C-4. He shows Danny how to detonate it, and they’re massively impressed with its yield. The FBI begins to investigate the union. In 1964, a story breaks about union corruption. Danny is arrested, but FBI Special Agent McCANN makes Danny a deal: he doesn’t have to testify, they’ll drop some of the charges, as long as he pleads guilty, accepts a lifetime ban from the union, and reports organized crime happenings to the FBI. The local police are livid that the FBI is releasing Danny.
Things get sticky, financially, for Danny and Nancy (to whom he’s now married, with kids), until Danny reaches out to Nardi, who hooks him up with SHONDOR BIRNS, a ruthless killer. Shondor puts Danny on the payroll as muscle for “debt collection.” Danny brings Bill and Art along with him as they chase deadbeats. Nancy’s not happy about the occupational change, but now that Danny’s a convicted felon, he doesn’t see much else he can do. Nardi introduces Danny to fellow mob bosses JACK LICAVOLI and “BIG ANGE” LONARDO. They want Danny’s help “convincing” garbage companies—of which there are over 200—to form a corrupt union run by the Mob. Danny, Bill, Art, and their garbage insider KEITH RITSON go around town beating up garbagemen until they agree to join up. The only holdout is MIKE FRATO, an old acquaintance of Danny’s who has 10 kids. Despite this, Licavoli and Big Ange insist Mike has to die. They set up a C-4 charge under Mike’s car, but it ends up detonating unexpectedly, killing Art long before Mike comes anywhere near his car. Mike’s angry, comes after Danny with a gun. They get into a gunfight at a city park, which results in Danny killing him. He’s arrested by the locals, but McCann shows up to ensure his freedom. When Danny gets home, Nancy takes the kids and leaves him.
1975. Danny, Bill, and Keith have added two younger men (KEVIN McTAGGART and BRIAN O’DONNELL) to their crew. At a boxing match, Danny spots a gorgeous woman—VICKY, 19—and asks her out. Shondor decides to allow Danny to open a restaurant, borrowing money from the Gambino family in New York. BILLY COX, Shondor’s courier, picks up the restaurant money in New York but spends a small amount of it on cocaine, which intends to sell but ends up using instead. He’s busted, and the remaining money goes into an evidence locker in New York instead of Danny’s pocket. Instead of helping him, Shondor reaffirms that Danny owes $70,000 to the Gambinos and needs to pay it back. Since he can’t open the restaurant and earn the money, he’ll have to find another way. Meanwhile, Shondor puts out a hit on Danny—$25,000 to anyone in Cleveland who kills “the Irishman.” Nardi alerts Danny to this, and what follows is a replay of the opening scene, from Nardi’s perspective. Nardi witnesses the explosion and immediately comes to Danny’s aid, dragging him into his own car and driving him away.
Keith calls Danny to alert him about Shondor going into a nightclub. Danny heads over there and—with the help of Keith, Brian, and Kevin—plants a bomb under Shondor’s car. He’s killed. Meanwhile, mobster TONY SINITO makes Bill an offer to take out Danny. Instead, Bill kills Tony and hides the body. Some time later, Danny calls a meeting with his guys, where he announces it’s time to take Cleveland from the Italians. They shower the citizens in slums with kindness and gifts—including buying Thanksgiving turkeys for every employee of the Cleveland Police Department—while using Nardi to help massage things with Licavoli and Big Ange. Danny’s relationship with Vicky heats up. After sleeping together, Danny either dreams of hallucinates that he’s killed and ascending to heaven, where Vicky is an angel. The reality is that someone planted a bomb in the house, which came very close to killing him. Licavoli and Big Ange are enraged that Danny survived. As they attempt more hits—including snipers—rumors begin to circulate that Danny is invincible. Interviewed on the TV news, Danny announces that he has God on his side, and if anyone wants to kill him, he’s not hiding from it. Nardi admires Danny’s balls, so he makes him an offer: the two of them, together, take down Licavoli and Big Ange. To prove he’s serious, Nardi produces the valet who wired the bomb under Danny’s car and stabs him to death right in front of Danny.
Danny and Nardi declare “war” on the Mafia. It reaches a point where he draws the attention of the New York Mob, specifically TONY SALERNO. Licavoli begs Salerno to send his top men to take out Danny. Salerno agrees. Meanwhile, Danny shows Vicky and Nardi some land he wants to buy down in Texas (which includes farms, factories, and cattle). Vicky’s impressed; Nardi isn’t, but Danny has a sound business proposal. They take it to Salerno, who hears them out. For a $2 million investment, Danny guarantees a $3 million return for them in the first year—almost all of it legitimate. Salerno agrees to think about it. Meanwhile, Salerno sends Big Ange to Los Angeles to meet with “the Ray Ferrito,” supposedly the most fearsome—and fearless—assassin in the Mob. Ray comes to Cleveland, sights set on Danny.
Salerno turns down Danny and Nardi’s proposal, so they put their attention back on taking over Cleveland. That night, Nardi is killed in a car bomb, while Danny watches. Danny is horrified and enraged. Next, Ray kills Bill McDuffy with a shotgun. Ray follows Danny, who notices and pulls a gun on him, demanding to know who he is and what he’s doing. Ray denies everything. Danny reluctantly lets him go. Keith Ritson turns up dead next. Pretending to be an electrician, Ray convinces Vicky to let him into their apartment, where he sets up recording devices to find out the best time/place to go after Danny. He picks up information about a dental appointment, follows Danny to the dentist’s office, places a bomb under the car next to Danny’s (because Danny checks his own), and that’s it for Danny Greene.
When Ray finds out Licavoli is screwing him over, he confesses everything he knows about everything to the District Attorney, fearlessly. A Cleveland police officer, in voiceover, explains that this single act—the death of Danny Greene—led to the destruction of the Mafia empire across the country, starting with Cleveland but going to Las Vegas, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, and New York’s infamous Five Families.
The Irishman has ambition to spare, clearly angling to be the next Godfather or Goodfellas. Unfortunately, the unfocused narrative and limited character depth both create insurmountable problems. As such, the script merits a pass.
The story follows the standard “biopic” formula of chronicling moments in a life. Instead of telling a dramatic story, it just assembles abbreviated scenes that minimize emotional impact in favor of documenting everything that went on in Danny Greene’s life. Although he led an interesting, eventful life, the first act concentrates on his time as a corrupt union boss—which has very little bearing on the story of him taking down the Cleveland Mob, which is where the meat of this story should be. The Mob has nothing to do with the exposure of his corruption. Even McCann bringing Greene in as an informant has almost nothing with what happens in the second and third act. They’re interesting tidbits, but the writer devotes significant time to what amounts to trivia that could be delivered in a line of dialogue or a quick visual to enhance the character.
The writer does a good job of conveying Danny’s ruthless, violent personality combined with a keener-than-expected intellect. Other than this, Danny’s kept at arm’s length. His relationships with women don’t reveal much insight into his personality, so while his story is interesting, the character comes across like a somewhat bland action hero rather than a living, breathing person. The writer takes the story from his birth to his death, but that doesn’t form much of a character arc. Danny is shown, as a child, acting essentially the same way he does as an adult. He doesn’t learn or change; he just pushes things one step too far and gets killed for it. Danny’s various friends and mobster pals (and enemies) have even less depth—people enter and exit (mostly via car bomb) so quickly, there’s little time to get to know anything interesting about them. Shondor is probably the most interesting supporting character, but the motives for his odd behavior are never explained.
Despite the fact that it’s presented like a combination of a biography and an action movie, The Irishman doesn’t deliver much on action. Aside from a couple of gunfights and fistfights, most of the action involves car bombs exploding, possibly the most impersonal and least dramatically compelling method of killing people. It fits the facts, and explosions are cool, but after the fourth or fifth scene depicting a guy getting into his car only to have it blow up, it gets repetitive.
Author: Spencer Susser & David Michôd
Writer’s Potential: 3
An abrasive, drug-dealing drifter turns the life of a depressed 13-year-old upside down.
TJ FORNEY (13, small for his age, broken arm) rides his bike down a suburban street, chasing a tow truck hauling a wrecked car. TJ follows the truck to a local car dealership, where he argues with the tow truck driver, a mechanic, the dealership owner (LARRY), and a 17-year-old punk, DUSTIN. Larry tells TJ that even if he had the money required to buy back the car—at least $1800—Larry couldn’t legally sell it to him without a valid driver’s license and proof of insurance. TJ locks himself inside the car and, when Larry sends Dustin after him, TJ rolls the window up on Dustin’s arm, injuring and enraging him. That night, TJ eats dinner with GRANDMA (85) and DAD (45, disheveled, healing from injuries). TJ and Dad argue about Dad allowing the car to get towed, which results in TJ angrily storming off to his room.
The next morning, TJ takes a shortcut through an unfinished housing development. He loses control of his bike and ends up falling in the driveway of a house. HESHER (late 20s, wiry and greasy-haired) emerges from the house, drags TJ inside, and threatens to cut off his nose with gardening shears. He doesn’t quite get to it because he hears police sirens. After throwing a clump of homemade dynamite in the direction of the sirens, Hesher flees in his van. Confused, TJ watches the police cars chases Hesher. At school, TJ is greeted by friends who, from the sound of it, haven’t seen him in awhile. He’s missed a lot of school. His teacher welcomes him back warmly. Despite this, TJ is awkward around them and unwilling to engage in conversation. Later in the day, TJ is assaulted by upperclassman Dustin. When TJ doesn’t back down, Dustin just gets angrier. They get into a fight, landing TJ in the counselor’s office. As she rambles about the readjustment period, TJ spots Hesher in the parking lot, watching him.
TJ goes home, where Dad sleeps and Grandma is sweet. During dinner, the telephone rings. TJ asks if Dad’s going to answer it. Dad says he’s not ready. TJ says he isn’t, either. They eat in silence. Grandma tries to keep things light, but it doesn’t work. A strange doctor removes TJ’s cast. At school, the English teacher drones on while TJ gets distracted by Hesher out in the parking lot. He huffs a magic marker, then throws it inside the classroom at TJ’s head. It hits the floor, getting the attention of the teacher and getting TJ in trouble. After school, Dustin tries to pick another fight with TJ, but NICOLE (mid-20s) appears and pulls Dustin off of TJ. She drives TJ home. They have an awkward conversation. Nicole eventually apologizes for “selfishness,” because she only helped TJ for fear that she’d walk past the fight and then hear on the news that TJ was beaten to death. Nicole pulls into a gas station and buys TJ some sour licorice, which he doesn’t enjoy. She apologizes again, because she selfishly bought it assuming he wouldn’t like it, so she could eat more. TJ’s silently confused by her. Nicole drops TJ at home and helps him with his bike.
Inside, TJ is surprised to find Hesher now living in the Forney house, with Grandma’s permission. Dad comes home from work and is confused by the sight of Hesher, who gets so annoyed by their lack of TV options that he climbs up a telephone pole and rigs it so they can pirate cable. Nicole goes to the supermarket, where Nicole works, to buy her an ice cream cone. She’s taken aback, unsure what to think. TJ arrives home late in the afternoon to find Grandma telling Hesher old stories, which make him laugh uproariously. Grandma invites TJ to go for a walk with her in the morning, but he says he can’t because of school. Hesher demands to know what school has to do with anything. There are rapists and murderers, and Grandma wants to take a walk without getting raped and murdered. She needs TJ’s protection.
At school the next day, TJ sees Hesher again. TJ asks what he’s doing there, but Hesher’s answer is cryptic. Dustin is assaulted by TJ, his head forced into a urinal, while Hesher watches and doesn’t come to his aid. Later that day, Dad picks TJ up and takes him to a group grief-counseling session. Dad admits they lost Mom two months ago and are both having trouble dealing with it. The therapist asks TJ to add to that, but TJ has nothing to say. Afterward, TJ yells at Hesher for not helping him. Hesher takes TJ for a ride in his van. Hesher takes TJ to a gas station, where he fills plastic bags with gasoline. They drive to Dustin’s house, where Hesher uses the bags to blow up Dustin’s Mustang. He leaves TJ stranded at the scene. TJ starts running, and after getting several blocks away, he sees Hesher’s van. Hesher attempts to hit TJ with the van, claiming it’s an accident. Later, back at home, cops arrive and take TJ down to the station, where they accuse him of blowing up Dustin’s car. Dad comes to bail TJ out; as they drive home, Dad asks if TJ did it. TJ says, “Not really,” and when Dad grills him on the ambiguous phrasing, TJ refuses to implicate Hesher, instead taking the full blame. At home, TJ dumps on Hesher, who seems apathetic about cops.
Another day, TJ hides in one of the supermarket aisles as he peers at Nicole, working a checkout counter. Hesher, meanwhile, peers at TJ through another aisle. He accuses TJ of stalking Nicole and decides to teach TJ to do it right. After her shift, they follow Nicole home. She rear-ends somebody during the drive and crumbles, emotionally. Hesher leaps out of the car and insists that the driver was in reverse and hit Nicole. He’s so convincing, even the driver starts to believe it and agrees to pay for the damages. Hesher offers to give Nicole a ride home. When Nicole gripes about her day getting worse and worse no matter what she does, Hesher tells Nicole a disgusting story about sleeping trying to manage an orgy with four drunk women. Nicole assumes he’s using the story of the increasingly worse sexual experience as a metaphor for Nicole’s day, but this perplexes Hesher.
Hesher stops in front of somebody’s house, goes and talks with the owner, then returns to the car. Nicole asks who that was. Hesher doesn’t answer, continues up the street. He knocks on another door. When nobody answers, he tells TJ and Nicole to get out, claiming it’s his uncle’s house. They hang out at the backyard pool until Hesher lights the diving board on fire and runs through it. Immediately after, he insists he has a doctor’s appointment and disappears. TJ and Nicole walk home. Nicole grills TJ about who Hesher is and what’s wrong with him. Nicole gripes about her job, lack of hours, and lack of pay. When TJ gets home, Dad yells at him for not showing up to their counseling group. Hesher watches them argue, fascinated. Not feeling well, Grandma excuses herself. Later, Hesher stops by her room and discovers she’s been prescribed medicinal marijuana. Hesher shows her how to make a bong, then tells Grandma a story about having a pet snake he used to feed mice, until one day he dropped in a mouse that smacked around the snake every time it tried to eat the mouse. Eventually, the snake died of starvation. Grandma thinks the mouse is a metaphor for TJ, but Hesher doesn’t know.
TJ steals Dad’s ATM card. He withdraws $1800 and brings it to the car dealership, where Larry reminds him that, even with the $1800, TJ can’t buy back the car—and even if he could, the car’s gone. TJ asks him where the car went, but Larry throws him out. TJ asks Dustin the same question; Dustin refuses to tell him. As a depressed TJ rides home in the rain, Hesher and Dad find that Grandma has died. TJ comes home and hears the bad news. Frightened and upset, Hesher leaves. TJ calls Nicole but gets her answering machine. He puts the $1800 in an envelope and brings it to Nicole’s apartment. The door is slightly ajar, so when she doesn’t answer, he lets himself in…and finds her in bed with Hesher. Enraged, TJ verbally abuses both Nicole and Hesher, then smashes Hesher’s van’s tail lights and rides away on his bike.
The next day, Hesher arrives to talk to TJ, who hurls a brick through the passenger window of the van. This gets Hesher fuming. They start fighting. Dad tries to break it up, but it ends up a three-man brawl. Eventually TJ gets out of it and runs away—to Dustin’s house. TJ breaks in and, using Hesher’s gardening shears, threatens Dustin’s toes if he doesn’t tell TJ where the car is. Dustin repeats several times that they hauled it to a junkyard, but TJ doesn’t believe him. Eventually, Hesher bursts in to “help” TJ. He grabs the gardening shears and snips off the tip of Dustin’s nose. TJ freaks out, wets a washcloth and insists Dustin apply pressure to it. Terrified, TJ ditches Hesher.
TJ goes to the junkyard, where he finds the car. As he sees it, TJ remembers (shown in flashbacks) the last few moments spent with her mother, who died in a car accident when all three of them were in the car. The wrecking crew are baffled when they find a kid in the car. They manage to talk him out of the car. TJ comes home and is yelled at by Dad. Later, Nicole arrives to apologize to TJ for what happened with Hesher. TJ eventually apologizes for calling her names. At Grandma’s funeral, the FUNERAL DIRECTOR is obsessed with keeping the proceedings short because they’ve overbooked. An old friend of Grandma’s gives a brief eulogy. TJ is asked to do the same, but he can’t come up with anything. Instead, a drunk and disheveled Hesher gives a long, long speech on TJ’s behalf, about losing one testicle because he was careless and thought he was invincible. Hesher and TJ car the coffin—on a wheeled stand—away to “go for a walk” with Grandma. Later, Dad realizes that Hesher has left for good, but he shows TJ something he left something behind: their old car, now cubed, on the front lawn. Dad and TJ make up.
Despite the occasional funny one-liner, Hesher is a complete mess. It blends a weak, cliché-ridden coming-of-age storyline with thin characters who do bizarre things for no discernible reason. As written, the script merits a pass.
Perhaps its biggest problem is the writers’ apparent desire to catapult the title character into the patheon of classic movie characters. This aspiration is admirable, but the script falls massively short of the goal. We never get know Hesher as anything more than a series of bizarre, unmotivated actions and long, aimless, mostly unfunny monologues that other characters confuse for profoundly metaphoric. He disappears at odd times for ambiguous reasons, making it seem as if he leads a secret life that we never learn anything about. He’s more confusing than interesting.
The other characters are a bit more convincing, despite their lack of depth. With the exception of TJ, nobody rises above a vague stereotype. Dad manifests his depression as anger toward TJ; Grandma is a sweet old lady who’s nice to anyone no matter how bizarre; all we know about Nicole is that she’s a mess, but we never really get to know (or care) why; and Dustin’s a sneering bully. TJ, at least, has some nuance in the way he handles his grief. However, every character suffers from having to interact with Hesher. We’re supposed to leave the story with the impression that Hesher had a major, life-altering impact on the Forneys. The question is: when did this impact occur? TJ fears and hates Hesher from the moment he meets him. They never develop any sort of bond or mutual respect, and all Hesher does is drag him down, worsening TJ’s already-precarious relationship with Dad, Grandma, Dustin, and even Nicole. Everything works out (aside from Grandma dying) because of the beats of the familiar dysfunctional family/coming-of-age story, not because of anything Hesher did to alter TJ’s perceptions about life.
Aside from throwing Hesher into the fray, the writers don’t offer a fresh perspective on the story. The first act shows some promise, but the writers fail to deliver. They pull a number of moments almost directly from better movies like Stand by Me and My Girl, without adding any sort of new spin or perspective. Hesher, for all his odd behavior and misguided stunts, doesn’t impact the storyline in any meaningful way; he’s just a temporary distraction from scenes we’ve already witnessed in better movies.
It would take an extraordinary amount of work to turn this script into a film worth watching. Stars like Natalie Portman and John C. Reilly might imbue the story with a bit of charm, but it has problems that not even an A-list cast can fix without a fundamental retooling of the screenplay. It’s a pass.
Author: Enda Walsh
Writer’s Potential: 5
A group of disturbed teens engage in online chat, unaware that a sociopath wants to steer their lives into chaos and despair.
An English teen, WILLIAM (17), walks along an eerie, door-lined corridor. Most of the doors have different labels stencilled onto them. William stops at an unlabeled door, smiles, and stencils “CHELSEA TEENS!” on it. William waits in the nondescript, ethereal room until he draws in new Chelseaites: first JIM (15, innocent), who uneasily asks what this room is. William tells Jim he doesn’t know yet. Next, EVA (16, stunning but sullen) arrives, sarcastically mocking the room’s name as she introduces herself to William and Jim. EMILY (teens, bookish) arrives next, repeating Jim’s question about the purpose of the chatroom. William explains that he just wanted to make some new friends. MO (16, scruffy) shows up as Emily asks what they should talk about, how they can get to know each other. Eva suggests they each share someone or something they hate with the group, and they can complain about it.
Mo starts off by announcing that he hates people who hate television. He believes it allows people to study life. William takes the reins by announcing his disdain for children’s-book authors. The others are a little confused by the specificity of this choice, so William takes them on a “field trip” to the “Elliot Time Traveller Fan Club” chatroom, where huge throngs of teens chatter. William starts griping about the Elliot Time Traveller book series, then plays an elaborate video—featuring stop-motion Lego figures—to tell the “true” story of Elliot Goes to Auschwitz. The scathing, hostile satire finds Elliot helping kids dig their way out of the Auschwitz camp—and right into a tent where Hitler and several Nazis have sex with Polish prostitutes. Afraid, Elliot returns to the present, leaving the children to die. The group from Chelsea Teens! find the video amusing and impressive, but they cause extreme rage in the Fan Club chatroom.
The group returns to Chelsea Teens! William concludes his point: that children’s-book authors use lies and manipulations to “suppress” teens. Emily wonders if parents are afraid of their teens. The group agrees that they must be, because each new generation is better educated and more connected to the world. William uses this to identify the purpose of the chatroom: to identify the people they want to be—no matter what their parents want—set goals for themselves, and achieve the goals by the end of summer vacation. The others are pleased and impressed with this concept and agree to meet again.
In the real world, William goes inside his house and finds a bunch of cellophane-wrapped books on the kitchen table. The title: Elliot Goes to Ancient Greece. William’s mother, GRACE (48, beautiful), enters and lovingly signs a copy of the book for William, who thanks her disingenuously. Grace leads William into the sitting room, where PAUL (53, William’s father) and a FEMALE PSYCHIATRIST (40s) wait. At the Camden Market, Jim eats lunch when he’s approached by a friendly goth teen, CANDY. She flirts with him quite obviously, then excuses herself, asking Jim if he’ll be there when she returns. He says he will but leaves the instant she disappears from view. Back at William’s house, the psychiatrist has finished up, hoping the family has benefited from the therapy session. They all agree she’s helped a lot and they don’t feel they’ll need regular sessions. Immediately, William locks himself in his room and flips open his laptop.
In the chat realm, the eerie corridor is now flooded with people. William spots Emily, who carries a cello case, and follows her to a room labeled “Chelsea Musical Appreciation Society.” Inside is a concert hall, where Emily plays with an unremarkable string quartet. In reality, Eva accompanies three friends— CHARLOTTE, BETSY and USHI (all wealthy, all vain)—to the mall. They talk nonstop about their potential modeling careers and Eva’s relatively disappointing looks. Eva’s irritated but says nothing. At home, William plays with a plastic “family” playset—mother, father, and two sons. He uses a pen knife to carve a smile onto the young boy figure’s face. Mo plays a medieval war video game with his best friend SI. Si jokingly speculates that Mo might be gay.
William enters the computer world to spy on Eva’s MySpace, overcrowded with friends and glamorous photos of Eva. Emily, meanwhile, arrives inside Eva’s MySpace, which is virtually deserted and contains little decoration other than photos of inspirational women. Unimpressed, Eva drags Emily to her own MySpace, where a party’s happening. They discover William there. Eva’s uneasy, but Emily pressures her to let William stay. In reality, Jim buys a dead fish at the market, wanders to a nearby canal and tosses the fish in. He watches it sink into the filthy water. Inside Eva’s MySpace, William chats up Emily. Eva, slightly jealous, snipes at both of them. William gets Emily to open up about her family life. Emily admits she’s dull because her family’s dull. They don’t have a family unit so much as they cohabitate in the same house. Emily wants to change that. William suggests instigating a series of anonymous acts of violence that appear to come from an external force—nothing will bring them together like a family under attack. Emily thinks the idea is brilliant, and to William’s surprise, so does Eva. The three brainstorm ideas.
William goes back to Chelsea Teens!, which is empty. There, he has stored all the information he’s compiled on Emily, Eva, and Mo—he’s found out plenty about them, including their real names and where they live. The missing piece of the puzzle is Jim. William’s online activity is disrupted by the real-life arrival of a mysterious, obnoxious stranger downstairs. At the sound of his voice, William takes the pen knife and begins to make small cuts on his arms. Later, William is forced to come downstairs. His brother, ELLIOT (23), is the new arrival. This does not please William at all. He goes back online and neglects Chelsea Teen!—where Jim waits, alone, for somebody to talk to—in favor of a chatroom where a group of aggressive Brazilian teens browbeat a younger boy. This amuses and excites William.
The next morning, Mo sits with Si, watching Si’s younger sister (KEISHA, 11, super-genius) perform a gymnastics routine. Mo is smitten by the much younger girl. Later, in Chelsea Teens!, William gives Mo a pep talk about finding his goals, figuring out what to do with himself. They’re interrupted by the arrival of a very obvious wannabe-pedophile. After William gets rid of him, Mo brings up Keisha and asks how wrong it would be if they got together. Uneasy, William suggests Mo would be better off “practicing” on an older woman. Later, the others arrive in the chatroom to find Eva and Emily have redecorated the room. It’s exceptionally girly, displeasing the guys. Meanwhile, William sets up a password to enter the chat (which manifests itself in the virtual world as a big lock on the door and an intercom).
As William attempts to chat, reality barges in: Elliot beats on the door and demands that William socialize with the family. Elliot’s only going to be around for a month, so it’s the least he can do. William starts cutting himself again. Within the chat, Emily discusses the plan to launch her “attack” on the family. Eva reminds Jim that he never mentioned what he hates. Jim utters that he hates himself, because he’s been on antidepressants that just make him feel worse. William leads the others in urging Jim to stop taking the pills. After the others have left the chat, William confides to Eva that since they’re both “fucking around with Emily,” they might as well fuck around with Jim, too. Eva’s unsettled, but she considers going along.
Jim empties his pills into the toilet. William returns to the Brazilian chat for his own amusement. Mo enters a “MILF” chatroom and tries to discuss his Keisha problem with an older woman, who invites Mo over for depraved sex. Mo tells William all about it, and William suggests going to Si and confessing the truth. Mo is unsure, but William insists Si’s his best friend—he’ll understand. William finds Eva at her MySpace and gets her to confide who she hates: Ushi. Then he goes to Emily’s MySpace to make sure she’s still willing to go through with the “attack.” Using dog shit, Emily smears the words “FUCK YOU” on her parents’ car. William finds Jim in Chelsea Teens! and gives him a pep talk about coping with his depression. He also recommends a book on the subject. Jim is heartened. In reality, William goes downstairs to spend time with the family, but he can’t resist using his phone to chat. Elliot spies this but says nothing.
Jim tries to stay optimistic, but his depression starts to cripple him. He enters the chatroom, but when he finds it empty, the room morphs from the girly, pink-themed room into a bleak, drab jail cell. Hidden in a shadowy corner, William watches the transformation with amusement. Emily’s ruse causes her parents to actually communicate with her and with each other, pleasing her. William shows Eva what he’s managed to do—using Photoshop and video-editing programs, he’s managed to make it look both like Ushi has been involved in pornography and makes her modeling portfolio look subtly less appealing. Eva is awed. In chat, Jim tells William he’s started vomiting. He wants to tell his mother what he’s going through, but William urges him not to, claiming it’s just temporary withdrawal symptoms. Jim’s terrified, but William calms him down through his words. In reality, Elliot breaks into William’s room and finds a variety of disturbing images and videos of teens committing wanton violence and/or killing themselves. This throws the family into disarray. William throws Elliot out of the room and locks himself in. He returns to the Brazilian chatroom and waits for his parents to beat the door down. They take away his computer.
When he’s alone, William sneaks back on the computer. All five of them are in Chelsea Teen! Jim, looking worse than ever, tells them all the story that led him to the antidepressants—at age 7, he and his father shared a perfect day at the zoo, until his father abandoned him, leaving Jim to find his own way home. After the others leave, William tells Jim he’ll introduce him to a private chatroom that helped William when he went through something similar. Later, Eva asks if William’s been flirting with him, then asks if they’re girlfriend and boyfriend. William decides they need to meet in the flesh. Eva’s a little nervous.
Emily spraypaints the front door, which brings the family even further together. Mo finally confesses his feelings to Si, who beats the hell out of him. In her MySpace, Eva tells off Charlotte for being so vapid. She’s hurt but forgets it as soon as she sees the lewd photos of Ushi. Eva navigates through the corridor to a chatroom called “DORFLI PLACE,” where William waits. He shows her what’s inside: LAURA (17) driving a 13-year-old boy to suicide by filling him with the courage to carry out the act. Eva’s appalled. Back in Chelsea Teens!, things start to break down. Everyone’s on edge and unhappy. Eva insults Emily, who overreacts and sets fire to her parents’ newly installed pagoda. William introduces Jim to Laura, who is intoxicated by her apparent sympathy. William and Eva work to bring the fractured group of friends back together, for Jim’s sake.
William makes a video that will supposedly help Jim and guide him through his problems. It’s actually a scathing, brutal mockery of Jim’s tough life. The others are shocked, but William plays it off as a tough-love tactic. When the chat tide starts to turn against him, William declares that he knows what will get Jim through this situation because his own mother killed herself. Eva knows this is a lie, but the others are swept back under his spell… Temporarily, at least. In private, Emily and Mo realize William’s plans to help them have actually destroyed their lives. They also both recall William mentioning a living mother at least once. Jim gets closer and closer to suicide. When Mo tries to talk some sense into him, Jim accuses Mo of pedophilia and refuses to listen to him. William continues to torment Jim. Mo chases William through a wide variety of bizarre chatrooms, but William gets away from him. Mo goes to Emily’s MySpace to tell her they have to meet in real life and find Jim.
In reality, Grace forces William to come out of his room and help celebrate the release of the latest Elliot Time Traveller book. Although he comes out and makes quiet amends with his family, the social awkwardness overwhelms him. William bursts out of his house just as Jim leaves his own. Mo begs Si and Keisha for help. Si can’t stay mad at Mo, so the three of them go to a train station to meet Emily. It occurs to Mo that he doesn’t know what she looks like, so he holds up a big blackboard with his name on it so she can find him. Si, a computer geek, helps them track down Jim’s most recent online activity. He and William scheduled a time to meet up at the zoo. They take the train to the zoo. William leaves a padded envelope for Jim, who finds it. Still at the zoo, Jim logs on to the Dorfli Place chatroom to find out what, exactly, is going on. Eva, William, and Laura are there. Eva tries to convince Jim not to listen to William, but Jim’s made up his mind. He opens the envelope and finds a handgun inside.
The others see Jim on his computer and try to get into Dorfli Place. They find it’s protected with a password, which Keisha quickly identifies. “Dorfli” is a reference to Heidi, so the password must be Heidi’s famous call, “Grandfather, Grandfather!” Before they get to the chatroom, Jim freaks out, leaves the chatroom, and starts to run away in reality. William, spying Jim from afar, follows him out of the zoo and to the nearby train station. Eva goes back to Dorfli Place to tell the others that Jim’s on his way home and William’s following. Eva also rushes to her local train station to get to Jim before William can. Mo, Emily, and the others go to the train station. William follows Jim onto a crowded train. They get off in Chelsea, where William accosts Jim for not just killing himself and getting it over with. He takes the gun from Jim and turns it on him. Eva arrives and punches William in the face before he can do anything. She’s brought four policemen, who demand that William drop the gun. From the other direction, Mo and the others have just arrived. Left without options, William throws himself in front of a passing train. His phone reveals a hologram of William setting fire to Chelsea Teens!, which spreads and destroys all the other chatrooms. Weeks pass; summer turns to autumn. Jim, looking a bit haggard, runs into Candy at the market again. He apologizes for leaving, and they awkwardly walk and talk together.
This script tries hard to turn teens chatting online into compelling cinema. Although it uses some interesting techniques to visualize such static behavior, the story deteriorates rapidly as it turns into a laughable, dated mess. As written, it merits a pass.
The story starts out with a lot of promise. The first act introduces a group of disparate characters, each crippled by some sort of mental or emotional problem, and shows the difference in their behavior on and off the Internet. The second act makes a rocky, somewhat jarring shift from character study to melodramatic thriller. As William’s evil behavior grows more cartoonish, the script grows increasingly ridiculous. This results in a third act that provides more unintentional laughs than suspense. It ultimately reaches a conclusion that relies heavily on plot contrivance and clichés (telegraphing William throwing himself in front of the train they second they arrive in the station) instead of unique, innovative storytelling.
Like the story, the characters start out with attempts at nuance and depth but slowly reveal themselves to be clichés: the sinister Svengali who manipulates his “friends” into doing bad things for his own amusement, the super-genius little kid who saves the day, the nerdy girl who wishes she was cool, the popular girl who feels isolated by the shallowness of her real-life friends… The only character who breaks free of stereotype is Mo, whose inappropriate crush on his best friend’s sister would be a cliché were it not for the “pedophile” part, which doesn’t exactly make his plight sympathetic.
Overall, Chatroom reads like the ravings of a paranoid middle-aged person who blames Internet chatrooms for all of teens’ problems. It already feels dated by focusing on chatrooms and marginalizing the vastly more popular (for the moment) social-networking websites and the widespread use of instant-messaging (it’s not just for sheltered nerds anymore!), and it’s bound to feel more and more dated and ridiculous as years pass. A more grounded examination of the effects of these teens’ home lives might have made for a more compelling, nuanced thriller about the effects of creating an “online persona” to hide from reality. The writer opted to get silly instead of serious, resulting in a story that will please neither teens nor adults.
It seems geared toward teens, but the teenage characters and storyline will feel inauthentic to anyone under 30. A story focusing on teens using chatrooms isn’t likely to appeal to any older demographics.
Author: Lem Dobbs
Writer’s Potential: 7
In order to protect his daughter, a former ’60s radical is forced to go underground and seek out an old partner in crime.
It’s a typical morning for middle-aged SHARON SOLARZ. She goes to the gas station, buys a cup of coffee and a muffin, fills her tank… And is shocked when FBI agents surround her and place her under arrest. A montage of TV reporters explain than Sharon Solarz was arrested in upstate New York for her role in a Weather Underground bank robbery in Michigan that resulted in the murder of an off-duty police officer, which put the entire group on the FBI’s Most Wanted list for nearly 30 years. The next morning, attorney JIM GRANT (60s), wakes his daughter, IZZY (11), and takes her to school. At the Albany Times, editor RAY FULLER sends one of his annoyed reporters, BEN SHEPARD, to talk about Sharon’s arrest with a contact he has at the FBI. Ben assumes nobody will care about the story, but Fuller won’t take “no” for an answer.
At the school, Jim runs into BILLY CUSIMANO (late 50s), a burned-out hippie who tells Jim all about Sharon’s arrest. Billy tries to convince Jim to take her case, but Jim insists that it’s out of his league. When Billy tries to press him, Jim becomes hostile and recommends another attorney. Ben talks to FBI agent DIANA about Sharon. Diana denies Ben’s request for an interview with Sharon, leaving Ben without much. Reluctantly, Diana tells Ben that Sharon came to town to visit Billy Cusimano, an old friend who runs an organic grocery store. That afternoon, Jim picks up Izzy, who has spent the afternoon with neighbor MOLLY SACKLER (40s, attractive). Izzy asks Jim if Molly can go camping with them over the weekend. Jim is apprehensive. Ben interviews Billy, who accidentally suggests that Sharon was arrested because she wanted to turn herself in. When Ben tries to press him on this, Billy refers him to his attorney, Jim Grant. Almost immediately, he lets slip that he tried to get Jim to take Sharon’s case, but he refused. The story suddenly intrigues Ben.
The next morning, Jim packs a bag for Izzy. He carries it down to the car, where Izzy waits. She asks why they’ve packed so much, but Jim denies it’s any more gear than usual. They drive off into the mountains. Ben tries to contact Jim’s office. When he receives no answer, Ben goes to Jim’s home. Again, nobody answers, but Molly spots him. Ben introduces himself, and Molly denies any knowledge of where Jim is or when he’ll be home. Jim and Izzy hike along a trail, then pitch a tent and set up a campsite around it. Izzy digs through a bag Jim has packed for her—but it’s not the same bag we saw him pack earlier. The next day, while heading home, Jim calls Molly. She gives him a heads-up about Ben poking around, then tells him that the morning’s paper mentioned Jim’s connection to Billy and Billy’s connection to Sharon.
Irritated, Jim meets with Ben, who tries to grill Jim on a deeper connection to Sharon. Frustrated with Ben’s questions, Jim makes it his goal to offend Ben into leaving. When it doesn’t work, Jim walks away. Fuller tells Ben to drop the story because there is no story. Despite this, Ben continues to accumulate information on the Weather Underground and contact people related to Sharon Solarz. When he can’t dig up any relevant information, Ben ambushes Jim outside a courtroom to ask more questions, Jim tells Ben to fuck off. Jim, Molly, and Izzy have dinner with friends out in the country. Jim gets a sleeping Izzy in the car and starts driving. Eventually, she wakes up and asks where they’re going. Jim tells them it’s a little adventure, an early vacation.
Billy sees Ben at the courthouse and accuses him of running his lawyer off. Billy says he’s in trouble for aiding and abetting, and Jim hasn’t shown up. Ben’s baffled. He asks Billy why Jim wouldn’t represent Sharon. Billy doesn’t know, but Ben is obsessed with this question—it’s exactly the kind of case Jim would take, but he hands it over to someone else. Why? Way upstate, right across the river from Canada, Jim takes Izzy to the bus station. He buys an adult and child ticket to Toronto, then puts Izzy in the ladies’ room while he goes in the men’s room. He changes into a ridiculous “tourist” outfit—tropical shirt, white pants, sunglasses—and buys two adult tickets to Boston. He retrieves Izzy, who’s baffled by the new apparel. Meanwhile, Ben has found out that Molly called the police to report Jim and Izzy missing. He takes that to the FBI, along with information about a middle-aged man matching Jim’s description buying bus tickets to Toronto. Ben points out that Mimi Lurie, an accomplice in the bank robbery, was last seen in Canada. He knows there’s some kind of connection but doesn’t know what. Later, Ben meets with a private investigator who has dug up some interesting infromation on Jim Grant—he had no Social Security number or record of existence between 1942 (the date of his birth certificate) and 1978 (the year he filed for Social Security), except for a death certificate in 1944 for two-year-old James Marshall Grant, who died in a car crash. Ben returns to the FBI and tells them to check Jim Grant’s fingerprints against Nicholas Sloan, another fugitive from the robbery. When they ask why, Ben proudly announces that Jim Grant is Nick Sloan.
Jim and Izzy arrive at a New York City bus station. They have a fun day together, going to Central Park, FAO Schwartz, etc., before checking into a large, fancy hotel. Jim takes Izzy up to their room without realizing that TVs around the hotel are tuned to CNN, which is reporting Jim Grant’s true identity. He tucks Izzy into bed and reluctantly announces that her aunt and uncle will be by shortly to pick her up, and she’s going to have to stay with them for awhile. He leaves her with the bag he packed much earlier, then goes downstairs to the hotel lobby. Without ever stopping or making eye contact, Jim passes off the hotel key to his brother DANIEL, muttering the room and floor as Daniel mutters instructions on which exit to take. Jim waits in the hotel bar, catches sight of an FBI agent, CORNELIUS, who spots Jim and gives chase. Jim rushes down to the subway as the FBI agents pursue, allowing Daniel to make a clean break with Izzy. Jim disappears into the rush-hour crowd. Later, after Daniel has gotten Izzy back to his house, Jim gives Izzy a call and promises he’ll be back as soon as he takes care of some mysterious business. Izzy’s not happy.
Jim hands the cell phone he’s using back to its rightful owner, a chubby businessman in a fast-food restaurant. He rushes off and disappears. Although they didn’t apprehend him, Ben’s information was good, so Cornelius allows him to interview Sharon. She talks about their old philosophy. Ben steers the conversation in the direction of Nick Sloan. Sharon isn’t sure she wants to speculate on what he’s up to or why, but she tells him that, in an era of free love and revellion, Nick and Mimi Lurie were deeply in love and were willingly coupled up. Ben is certain Sharon is hinting at something deeper, but he doesn’t know what. Cornelius insists that Jim is on the run and will never be seen again. Ben isn’t so sure, because he left his daughter behind.
Outside Big Sur, California, MIMI LURIE runs bales of marijuana into the U.S. using a fancy yacht as cover. Jim, meanwhile, has dyed his hair and is on a train headed to an unknown destination. It reaches a larger train station, which has a police presence, and cops board the train. Struck with sudden paranoia, he rushes from compartment to compartment, looking for an available bathroom to hide in. He calms down when he realizes the cops boarded to arrest a random hoodlum, not Jim. Later, Jim gets off in an isolated, country stop, where he disappears into a thicket of trees. Jim wanders the streets of Milwaukee as Ben tries to piece together what, exactly Jim is doing—none of his actions make any sense if he’s guilty. MAC McLEOD, Mimi’s partner in crime, mentions Sharon surfacing willingly and subtly hints that maybe Mimi’s ready to do the same. Mimi adamantly refuses.
As Ben flies to Michigan to retrace the steps of the original crime, Jim heads to a Milwaukee lunch spot and startles DONAL, his old best friend. Jim believes Donal came to her after the robbery for help disappearing. He wants to know what information Donal gave her—anything that would lead Jim to Mimi. Ben, meanwhile, meets with ex-cop HENRY OSBORNE, who was the first one to catch up with one of the fugitives after the robbery. Osborne is evasive, doubly so when wife MARIANNE and daughter REBECCA (late 20s) arrive. Donal gives Jim a car and a name: Jed Lewis. Jim remembers him from the old days and is surprised Jed never told him about helping Mimi. At the end of his rope, Ben searches local archives, interviews bank employees and customers, surveys the bank itself… All roads lead back to Osborne. Ben flirts with daughter Rebecca and tries to grill Osborne about his connection to Mimi’s father. Osborne tells him the connection is well known—they were good friends who served together in Vietnam.
Mac tells Mimi it’s time to give up. Mimi disagrees—she feels it’s time to run again. Jim abandons Donal’s car in the middle of nowhere, then hops in a rental car. The cops find Donal’s car and it makes all the papers. Ben sees it as a message—but maybe not to reporters or cops. Ben slowly convinces Rebecca to open up to him, and he starts to fall for her. Jim drives to Chicago and meets with JED LEWIS, now a college professor. Jed doesn’t want to help him with anything until Jim mentions Mimi’s his only hope of getting his daughter back. Jed uses a pay phone to get in touch with a bunch of old radical friends, eventually leading him to Mac. Mac calls Mimi, who’s renting a boat in Michigan. After awhile, Mimi calls the pay phone and tells Jed she’ll meet Jim—and that Jim already knows where. Jed tells Jim never to contact him again. Mimi tells the boat renter that she plans to take the boat across the lake to Canada, but she won’t need it for a few days. She makes a deposit.
Jim drives to Michigan. Ben looks at some Osborne family photos when he discovers something interesting—a photo of Osborne and Mimi’s father fishing at a place called Linder Pond. Ben recognizes the name and seeks out the land owned by Linder Logging. The owner of a camping store in their woods tells him the company used to be Linder-Lurie. Jim and Mimi meet in a secluded cabin. Meanwhile, Ben returns to Osborne with a sudden realization: “Nick Sloan” and Mimi had nothing to do with the murder itself. They were the drivers; Sharon and Vince Dallesandro (the only one who was caught) were actually the ones in the bank. If Mimi comes forward, they can be each others’ alibis and get off scot-free. Jim and Mimi sleep together, and Jim attempts to persuade Mimi to turn herself in. She refuses on the basis of her political convictions. Jim subtly tells her to grow up—things have changed, they have different responsibilities, he doesn’t want to leave Izzy behind and repeat an old mistake. Mimi admits she saw “her” in Ann Arbor and that she’s beautiful.
Rebecca calls Ben, telling her that Osborne told her to come home immediately because he has some important news to give her, something that has to do with Ben coming to town and the fact that Rebecca was adopted. This is the first Ben has heard of the adoption, but he puts it together immediately. The Osbornes falsified Rebecca’s identity to allow for a legal adoption after Mimi and “Nick” dropped their baby off with them and disappeared. Back at the cabin, Mimi tells Jim she can’t do what he’s asking her. The next day, she leaves, headed off for Canada. Ben searches the woods for the cabin. He finds Jim, who’s preparing to leave and isn’t exactly thrilled to see Ben. Ben’s proud of himself for figuring everything out, but Jim’s unimpressed. His life is ruined—again—and much of the blame in Jim’s mind lies with Ben. He tells Ben to tell the Feds that Mimi is with him, then starts running.
The FBI arrives shortly thereafter and gives chase. Jim is caught by Cornelius, with Osborne assisting. Mimi’s on her boat, headed for Canada, when she suddenly changes course to head south. A news anchorwoman announces in voiceover that Mimi Lurie has given herself up to authorities. Jim is released from jail, a free man, and is finally able to reunite with Izzy.
The Company You Keep is populated with vivid, interesting characters and crisp dialogue. However, the story grinds to a halt midway through and never regains the momentum of its suspenseful and surprising first act. It’s possible that the right cast and director can keep the energy and vitality up throughout, and it’s also possible that the dull patches will hit the cutting-room floor. Top-notch talent could change everything, but as written, the script merits a pass.
The story does a great job, in its first act, of establishing the characters and building suspense. The twist that Jim was actually one of the bank robbers is surprising, and his flight from justice is effectively suspenseful. It’s only when he arrives in Milwaukee that the story starts to take a nosedive. Jim’s search for Mimi lasts for much longer than it needs to , and Ben’s subplot gets too bogged down in restating the plot twists. It’s probably more realistic that Jim has to travel all over the Midwest running down old contacts, but it’s unengaging and devoid of suspense. This leads to a third act that tries to recapture the energy of the first but can’t quite get it back, even with additional surprising twists (e.g., Rebecca turning out to be the daughter of Jim and Mimi).
The characters, on the other hand, are well-written and nuanced. Even extraneous characters like Jed, Donal, and Mac are imbued with specific details that allow them to rise above ’60s radical clichés. Jim’s main conflict—trying to both protect his daughter from his past crimes and ensure his ability to raise her by proving his “innocence”—is a great way to make the character sympathetic and relatable, although the story loses focus on this during the tedious second act. Nonetheless, their reunion in the final scene is effective. Ben’s transformation from disinterest to obsession happens a little quickly, but it’s still refreshing to see him start out as apathetic instead of the stereotypical dogged reporter who wants to get at all costs. Mimi is the only weak link. She’s not poorly developed so much as shrill and self-absorbed. These would be fine character traits if anyone else took the time to point out her selfishness and hypocrisy. In a story with themes about aging and changing views about life and political convictions, it might have been more interesting if Jim had reunited with his long-lost love and found he really didn’t like her much.
This is a thriller with a great deal of promise that’s wasted on a bloated narrative. It requires either major story tightening or extremely skillful filmmaking and acting in order to elevate it to anything above a pass.
Author: Peter A. Dowling
Writer’s Potential: 8
When the daughter of an American diplomat witnesses a murder in Berlin, the diplomat must unravel an elaborate conspiracy and fight for his life to save his family.
Angola. U.S. Ambassador JANE MARSHALL (37, no-nonsense) negotiates with businessman/terrorist FENIBO SAVIMBI. In order to apply pressure, she lays out an elaborate scheme that uses Fenibo’s operation to smuggle guns and launder money. Fenibo relents and is willing to deal. Marshall gets into a car, protected by (among others) Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) Agent MIKE SHEPARD. As they drive along a dusty road, Shepard notices a dead body up ahead. He stops and examines it—it’s Fenibo. Panicked, Shepard prepares to run back to the car to protect Marshall, but he’s too late. Two men with a rocket launcher fire at the car, destroying it.
Berlin, 18 months later. BRENT FORBES (36, good-looking, alert and intelligent) races recklessly through the streets as he talks on the phone with his secretary, GRACE. His driving catches the attention of motorcycle cops, who chase him along the roads until Brent hits the embassy. They cops are ready to arrest him when Brent points out the “Diplomat” sticker on his car. Brent’s boss, Ambassador JACK COLEMAN (63, weathered face but bright eyes), rides from the airport with JOSEPH NUNN (early 50s, slim) and a scarred but very much alive Mark Shepard. Meanwhile, CIA agent COLIN MAXWELL (48, tough as nails) leads his men to a diamond-theft ring, but the place is cleared out. Someone tipped them off. Maxwell suspects a mole at the embassy. Coleman tries to negotiate with a German politician, RITTER, who won’t budge on his terms until Coleman produces an ATM security photo that shows Ritter in the background, entering a building that houses a known brothel. Pleased with this victory, Coleman takes Brent to a fancy gentlemen’s club, where he imparts his political philosophy while Brent soaks up the free whiskey. Brent catches the attention of a cute waitress; that night, they have sex at a nice hotel.
Brent stumbles into his home, says hello to his wife, APRIL, who pretends to be asleep. Brent goes into the bedroom of his sleeping daughter, DARCY (6), and kisses her goodnight. The kiss wakes Darcy, who announces April is mad at him. Brent tells her not to worry. As he showers, April grills Brent on his whereabouts. Brent is all apologies and reassurances, then pulls her into the shower, where they make love. The next morning, Brent asks Grace what Darcy might want for her birthday. Grace tells him she’ll take care of it. She informs Brent that April called to tell him to pick up Darcy. Brent heads out there and is stopped by a CIA agent, BAKER, who tells Brent he needs to have an emergency meeting with Coleman and Maxwell. They go into a lot of background about bank accounts and suspicious activities, but the bottom line is, they suspect a mole, they know the mole has a safety deposit box at the Bank of Dubai, and Brent has to reconnect with an ex-contact there to get the account information they require. Brent knows this means starting up a love affair and is apprehensive until Coleman provides him two first-class tickets back to Washington, with a message: send April and Darcy home for awhile.
Brent attends Darcy’s birthday party and is just as surprised as she is at Darcy’s gift, a fancy boombox. April knows Grace picked it out and bought it, but she’s more amused than irritated. Later, Brent produces the tickets, suggesting they surprise April’s dad on his 60th birthday. April doesn’t want to go. Brent talks it over with Coleman, who tells Brent to go to the bank and see “Katja,” that Coleman will ensure they get on the plane. Brent reluctantly goes to the Bank of Dubai and reintroduces himself to KATJA BECKER, a dark-haired beauty. They go into the safety deposit box vault and make love. Brent gets the account information and sends it to Coleman. At the airport, April clutches a manila envelope while Darcy cries. April makes a decision, and they leave the airport. Shepard and another DSS agent, GARDNER, arrange security on a black-tie event at the embassy. Brent makes small talk with Shepard when he gets a call from Coleman, who insists he knows who the traitor is. Brent heads up to Coleman’s office—but he’s accosted by April, Darcy trailing her. She throws the manila envelope at him. Inside are photos of Brent and Katja kissing. Brent tries to explain it’s part of the job, but she won’t hear of it. As they argue, Darcy wanders over to “Uncle Jack”‘s office just in time to watch him get shot. Darcy’s frozen with horror as Gardner swoops in to help Coleman. Shepard and DSS Agent BRATTSON manage the other agents to ensure they catch the gunman before he leaves the embassy. Maxwell bursts in, insisting this is now a CIA operation. He takes the not-quite-dead Coleman away in a CIA ambulance. Shepard reviews security tapes.
At home, Brent tries to talk to Darcy about what happened. It quickly dawns on him that he saw the shooter. The same thing dawns on Shepard, Brattson, and Gardner. Darcy is a target. Brent makes her look at a facebook containing everyone at the embassy. She fingers Nunn as the shooter. The house is a sudden whirl of activity as Brent makes April get their bags and get to the car. Before they can do anything, two mysterious men—one SCARRED, one BALD—burst into the house. The Scarred Man goes for Brent, while the Bald Man gets April. A fight ensues, but Shepard and the other DSS agents burst into the apartment. The other men disappear. The DSS bring Brent, April, and Darcy to an old, abandoned-looking houseboat on the outskirts of Berlin to use as a safehouse for the night. Brent tells Shepard and Gardner about Coleman looking for a traitor and Darcy identifying Nunn.
As things settle, April has time to bring up Katja again. Brent tries to placate her, but after what’s happened tonight, she’s not so easy to convince. The DSS agents return to the embassy, where Shepard finds Nunn in Coleman’s office and arrests him. Nunn accuses Shepard of being complicit in the murder of Jane Marshall, says they’re on the same side—the wrong side. The next morning, Brent gives Darcy a chocolate cookie as Shepard explains his plan to wait until nightfall, then fly the family to London on a private plane. Suddenly, a frightened April calls Brent. Darcy has an allergic reaction to the nuts in the cookie. Brent grabs Darcy’s MedicAlert, but Shepard warns them not to take her to the hospital. The DSS can’t assure their safety on German soil. Reluctantly, Brent rigs a breathing tube using a length of rubber hose, but he warns that Darcy needs medical attention. Shepard agrees to bring in a trustworthy doctor.
By nightfall, Brent’s paranoia increases. He takes April’s cell phone, dials her number using his own cell phone, and leaves the call open. He surreptitiously drops April’s phone into Shepard’s coat pocket, then brings his own phone back to the berth where April and Darcy wait. He listens to the conversation and overhears Shepard talking to Nunn about arranging payment in exchange for killing Brent and his family. Suddenly, there’s a loud beeping—April’s phone’s “low battery” warning. Shepard finds the phone, knows the origin, and goes after Brent. Brent prepares to dive into the river, but Shepard fires a silenced shot first. Brent, wounded, collapses into the river. When it’s clear that Brent isn’t dead, Shepard sends Brattson to retrieve Brent. Brattson chases Shepard through several side streets, eventually reaching the autobahn. Brent tries to get someone to stop and help, but when nobody was, he simply runs into traffic. An old car slams on its brakes but doesn’t quite stop in time. It hits Brent, injuring him further but not killing him. Brent begs the driver for help as Brattson begins shooting. Left with no choice, Brent simply steals the car.
Two DSS SUVs chase Brent deeper into Berlin. He manages to cause the two SUVs to crash into one another, then he flees into a subway station. Brent takes the subway to a station near the embassy. As he walks through the station, Brent notices the two men from earlier—Scarred and Bald—tracking his movements. Brent limps away as quickly as possible, barely making it to the embassy. When he turns, the two men are gone. Brent gives his ID to security and is immediately arrested for the chaos he caused to the DSS agents. He’s taken to the marine guards, who rough him up, cuff him, and lock him in a containment room. Brent can’t get out of this. He considers his options: he still has Darcy’s MedicAlert, and there’s a vending machine. With some effort, Brent manages to get some snacks out of the vending machine. The head marine guard, SERGEANT HOPE, is alerted to a problem. It appears Brent has had an allergic reaction to the snacks. Hope calls an ambulance, sticks Brent on it with two marine guards. Feigning unconsciousness, Brent waits for them to uncuff him, then gets the drop on the marines. It’s the paramedics who are the problem, however: both train guns on Brent. One of the marines notices a scalpel, picks it up. Later, one of the marines calls Hope, announcing that they were forced to kill Brent.
Brattson and Gardner arrive at the ambulance to find shaken marines and two dead paramedics getting zipped into body bags. Brent is also zipped into a body bag…but he’s still breathing. Brent tears out of the bag, in the back of the coroner’s wagon. Before he can do anything, two shadowy figures grab Brent and pull him out of the wagon and drag him into an old apartment. Brent realizes it’s the Scarred and Bald Men. Nunn reveals himself, too. He takes the baffled Brent into another room… Where Coleman waits, alive and well, working on surveillance with Maxwell. They inform Brent that this is all an operation to nab Shepard, but they blew it because Darcy was the one who saw the “shooting,” not Brent—that was the real reason he wanted the family out of the country. Gardner arrives. He’s working with them and against Shepard, whom they’ve given adrenaline to bring to Darcy. Brent is livid at Coleman’s lack of compassion for Darcy. Nunn explains to Brent that they want to get Shepard because of what happened to Jane Marshall. He reveals that Marshall was Coleman’s daughter. Gardner returns to the ship, where Shepard’s paranoia is showing. He offhandedly asks which hospital Gardner got the adrenaline from; Gardner answers matter-of-factly.
After they inject Darcy with the adrenaline, April goes to thank Shepard personally. She attempts to seduce him, but Shepard doesn’t fall for it. He talks about how empty he feels and suggests that April probably feels the same way, considering her husband. Brent hears all of this via their surveillance recordings. Later, Nunn’s agents organize the money for the payoff when Shepard calls, announcing a change of venue. They’re going to meet at the airport. The team heads over there. Maxwell wires Nunn with a radio, affixes a GPS tracker to the briefcase full of money. As Shepard leads Nunn through the metal-detector line, Nunn frantically tries to get rid of his radio’s battery. As a result, they lose their surveillance, but they can still follow the money. It dawns on Brent that the adrenaline they got for Darcy did not come from the same hospital Gardner ad-libbed. He pieces together that everything—the change of venue, the metal detectors, etc.—came about because Shepard knew he was walking into a trap. Maxwell orders his team to move in. They enter the diplomatic lounge and find it empty—except for Nunn, who’s dead, and April, who’s gagged and bound. April announces that Shepard took Darcy.
The team tracks a man they think is Shepard to a plane, but it’s a decoy. When Coleman informs them that they have every inch of the airport monitored, Brent realizes something—they don’t have the subway covered. Brent rushes through the crowds to get down to the subway, just in time to see Shepard leading Darcy onto a train. He doesn’t have enough time to get down to it, so Brent dives off an overhang onto the roof of the train. Shepard hears the thud and tries shooting at him; Brent barely manages to get out of the way, but Shepard thinks he’s dead. Brent works to pull the emergency brake cables from outside, but they’ve been painted over and are too stiff to move. He keeps pulling at them. Meanwhile, Maxwell radios Berlin Transit to give the train green lights all the way to the end of the line. Brent manages to stop the train as it hits the Tempelhof station. Passengers spill out as Brent tries to get on. He thinks they’re alone when Darcy calls for him. Shepard twists in the direction of the sound, but Brent dives to take the bullet.
The CIA descends on the station. Their movement distracts Shepard long enough for Brent to get the drop on him and steal the gun away. Shepard sees Coleman and looks like he’s found a way out. He reaches into his coat, prompting Brent to shoot. Shepard pulls out a safety deposit box key, not a gun. Brent looks baffled, horrified. He goes to Darcy. The CIA moves in and announces Shepard’s dead. Outside the station, Brent and Darcy reunite with April. Brent gives a tearful apology.
An unspecified time later, Brent is still racked with guilt over shooting an unarmed man. April tries to calm him down as they get into a limo that will take them to the airport. On the way to the airport, Brent thinks about Shepard’s cryptic last words. He tells the limo there’s a change of plans. The family goes to the Bank of Dubai, where Katja opens the safety deposit box. Inside is a journal compiled by Jane Marshall, loaded with Swiss bank accounts and nefarious misdeeds. One of the names on her list is Jack Coleman. Brent goes to Coleman’s office at the embassy to confront him. Coleman tells him in this business, you have to make sacrifices, even when it comes to family. Brent will understand it, in time. He attempts to bribe Brent, who refuses. So Coleman pulls out a gun. Brent swings the door open, where Maxwell and CIA agents wait to take him into custody. Brent returns to April and Darcy in the limo. He hugs them, and the limo drives away.
This efficient, well-crafted action thriller has familiar elements reminiscent of movies like the Bourne and Mission: Impossible movies. However, the writer packs The Diplomat with enough clever twists and unique action set-pieces for the script to merit a recommend.
The story is complex without getting too convoluted. Everything the writer sets up in the first act pays off in the second and third. None of the twists feel like cheats. The writer builds relentless suspense throughout the second and third acts before arriving at a surprising yet satisfying conclusion. Some moments in the script echo other films (Coleman sacrificing his daughter to protect himself is right out of The Good Shepherd), but there’s enough originality here to keep the overall story fresh.
The characters are about as well developed as one can expect from an action movie—maybe even a little better than normal. Brent and April’s early marital problems come across as authentic, and we’re given believable motivations for the various double- and triple-crosses that occur throughout the story. By necessity, the characters seem a little thin at first to hide their true agends, but by the third act, all the main characters are well-defined. The biggest problem is that the conflict that drives Brent’s arc—the choice between his family and his job—gets neglected after the first act. The resolution ties it up neatly, but the second and third acts should have some moments where he’s forced to make a decision about whether he’s going to protect his family or align with coworkers who may not be trustworthy.
Despite the solid storyline and characters, the script does contain a few inexplicable typos. April starts out as “Avril,” and Darcy’s age switches from six to 10 and back (and throughout, Darcy acts consistently like a six-year-old). It’s sloppy on the surface, but overall The Diplomat
Author: Pat Rushin
Writer’s Potential: 3
A clinically depressed number-cruncher is assigned to prove mathematically that the universe is meaningless.
QOHEN LETH (40s, gaunt, and completely hairless) lives in a fire-damaged, abandoned chapel cluttered with computers and electronic equipment, which Qohen uses to examine bizarre streams of unrecognizable symbols. When his phone rings, Qohen answers frantically, but there’s nobody on the line. He hangs up, dejected. The next morning, Qohen pops a disc out of his computer and takes it with him to his office. He works in an antiseptic cubicle in a massive office heavily monitored by security cameras. Qohen receives an automated phone call reminding him of an appointment with the company’s health department to review a disability request. Qohen’s boss, MR. JOBY (20s), arrives to tell Qohen not to go to the appointment because of the backlog of work. Qohen hands Joby the disc, which contains all his required work and then some. Joby’s a little frustrated, but he admits this gives Qohen the free time for the appointment. Throughout the conversation, Joby continuously refers to Qohen as “Quinn,” and Qohen refers to himself as “we” and “us” rather than “I” and “me.”
Qohen meets with three doctors, each of whom ask questions about Qohen’s request to work from home. Qohen insists both that he’s more productive from home and that he’s dying, so they should grant the request. The doctors consult various tests that suggest Qohen is extremely healthy, aside from the hair loss. The doctors give him a CD-ROM titled “Dr. Shrink-ROM,” a virtual psychiatrist, and deny Qohen’s request to work from home. Back at his cubicle, Joby invites Qohen to a party. Qohen tries to get out of it, reminding Joby of his general dislike of people and fear of crowded social situations. Joby refuses to take “no” for an answer, so Qohen ends up at the party. True to his gripes, Qohen is an outcast at the party until he runs into BAINSLEY (20s, buxom and wearing a tight dress to accentuate this). Giggling, she attempts to engage Qohen in conversation. Qohen excuses himself and finds Joby. Qohen’s looking for MANAGEMENT, the near-mythical figure who runs their company. Joby says he’ll let Qohen know as soon as Management arrives. Qohen looks for a quiet place to get away from the partygoers and runs into Management, a mysterious man who clings to the shadows despite perennially wearing a taupe suit.
Management asks Qohen what his problem is, which Qohen takes as license to air all his grievances. He tells Management that he demands to stay home and work independently so he can be near the phone and wait for a very important, life-changing call. Management tells Qohen he’s insane, so Qohen politely excuses himself. Joby runs into Qohen and offers him hors d’oeuvres. Qohen refuses them, but Joby stuffs an olive in his mouth anyway. To the apathy of the entire party, Qohen nearly chokes to death. Only Bainsley pays attention, performing the heimlich maneuver until the olive shoots out of Qohen’s mouth. Qohen decides to wait out the rest of the party in the bathroom, but Bainsley follows him inside. They have an awkward conversation about Qohen’s job, why he always refers to himself as “we,” whether or not he’s taking antidepressants… Despite Qohen’s brusque answers, Bainsley is intrigued. She writes her phone number on his hand.
The next day, Joby announces that Management has hand-picked Qohen to work on the “Zero Theorem,” an important project guaranteed to burn out employees. Joby acknowledges his own stupidity/insanity was caused by working on the theorem for awhile. Joby leads Qohen to the company mainframe,where BOB (15, super-genius) types at a console. Joby introduces them, then leads Qohen past him to filing cabinets, where Joby provides Qohen with the software he’ll need to work on the theorem. Qohen is sent back to his chapel to work on the theorem in solitude. After working for awhile, Qohen decides to talk to Dr. Shrink-ROM (50s, female), a virtual therapist who appears on his computer monitor. After getting nowhere with her questions, Qohen gets a phone call—a computer call, telling him he needs to upload data in 60 minutes and to push some buttons if he needs more time. Qohen enters 120 minutes, but the computer won’t give more than 60. The hour passes quickly, and Qohen has not finished. He starts to break down when the computer calls him again. He smashes his computer monitor with a hammer, then smashes the phone.
Almost immediately, a phone repairman arrives—it’s Joby, in a white jumpsuit. Qohen discusses his problems with the theorem with Joby. As Qohen sees it, nothing adds up; Joby tells him, in fact, that “everything adds up to nothing.” Qohen decides he just wants his phone call so he doesn’t have to worry about any of this anymore. Joby ridicules Qohen about the phone call, then leaves. The next day, Bainsley shows up at the chapel. They have another awkward conversation, which steadily grows less awkward as Qohen discuss the theorem with her and gets all his anger off his chest. Eventually, Qohen gets around to discussing the phone call. He explains that he’s always wanted to feel special, and although he’s lived a mundane life that suggests he’s not special, one day he received a phone call—with something akin to the voice of God on the line. It excited Qohen so much that he dropped the receiver, disconnecting the line. Since then, Qohen’s been waiting for another phone call.
Bainsley finds it all a bit ridiculous, which humiliates and angers Qohen. She asks if Qohen really believes what he said; Qohen tells her he does, so Bainsley says she’ll help him if he does something for her. That “something” involves the two of them putting on virtual reality suits and entering a computer world that Bainsley has imagined—the two of them on a romantic beach. The setting makes Qohen uncomfortable, so Bainsley tells him to imagine his own perfect fantasy. Qohen imagines hovering, naked and in the fetal position, in outer space, next to a huge black hole. Bainsley is also there, and also naked. Bainsley is disturbed by the darkness of his “fantasy,” so she returns them to the beach, where they make virtual love. Immediately after, Qohen starts to get clingy, and threatens to quit his job and run away with her. This terrifies Bainsley, who disconnects them from the virtual reality so violently, it breaks the computer. Bainsley disappears, leaving Qohen alone.
Later, two deliverymen (who are clones of each other) bring Bob to the chapel to repair the computer. Bob lets slip that he’s the son of Management, which makes Qohen more uncomfortable than usual. He tells Bob that he’s quitting, but Bob tells Qohen that if he proves the theorem, Bob will get Qohen his phone call. Qohen tells Bob that doesn’t matter, because Bainsley plans to help him. Bob insinuates Bainsley was a prostitute hired by Management. Qohen refuses to believe it. Bob asks Qohen if he knows what the Zero Theorem is all about. Qohen doesn’t believe it matters, but Bob disagrees. He tells Qohen the theorem’s purpose: to prove, through quantum calculations, that everything in the universe is “just a one-time-only glitch.” It means nothing, and once the universe has expanded far enough, the whole thing will get sucked into a black hole. Bob tells Qohen to get back to work, and meanwhile he’ll hang around and try to figure out how to get Qohen his phone call.
When Qohen has to upload his next set of data and is once again unfinished, Bob agrees to help. After typing for awhile, he announces his major breakthrough, sends it back to the company, and says he needs to analyze the details back at the mainframe. Qohen continues to work. Bob doesn’t return until later that night. He brings Qohen a gift that will “solve” his problem. When Qohen gripes that it’s just another virtual reality suit, Bob explains that it’s actually a “prototype soul-searching device,” which will help Qohen search himself for the answer to why he’s so obsessed with the phone call. When Qohen refuses to wear it, Bob gets angry and announces that the phone call is a figure of Qohen’s imagination. All Qohen seeks is validation, some kind of evidence that he’s special—the phone call either never happened or meant nothing, and Qohen needs to use the soul-searching suit to move on with his life.
In the middle of this argument, Bainsley arrives. She admits to being a plant from Management and apologizes. She tries to make Qohen understand her sincerity, but Qohen gives her the cold shoulder. Bainsley announces she’s packed everything in her van and intends to disappear forever, unless Qohen will go with her. He lets her leave. Bob chastises Qohen for treating Bainsley so poorly. To help him getting over his social problems, Bob forces him to go outside. They go to a city park, where Bob makes Qohen eat a hot dog. Bob admires some good-looking teen girls, so Qohen goes over to them and attempts to fix them up with Bob. The girls think he’s a pervert and call over a cop. Bob straightens the situation out by claiming Qohen is his father and that he’s insane.
They return to the chapel, where Bob suddenly falls ill. Qohen gives Bob a cold bath, and Bob falls asleep. Attempting to carry Bob out to bed, Qohen slips and causes a slight crack in the bathroom mirror—behind which he finds a red light. Smashing it, Qohen finds a company camera, which he also smashes. When Bob awakens, Qohen tells him about the camera. In a fit of paranoia, Bob searches the chapel for more cameras. As he does this, Qohen receives a phone call. The phone call—a God-like voice announcing Qohen’s special place in the universe. When Qohen puts it on speaker-phone to prove it to Bob, Bob smashes the phone and announces it’s just Management playing more games. Bob leaves to find out what he’s up to.
That night, Joby arrives with a message: Bob wants Qohen to meet him at the mainframe ASAP. Qohen wants to know why he didn’t come himself, and when Joby doesn’t answer, Qohen accuses him of being a Management tool. Joby tells Qohen he’s also a tool, and if he had any self-awareness he’d know that. Qohen goes to the office, enters the mainframe… And finds Management instead.
Management tells Qohen that he is indeed special—he’s the key to proving the Zero Theorem. All Management needs Qohen to do is put on the soul-searching suit, which will find the information they’re missing—proof that humans don’t have souls, which will prove that the universe has no grander purpose. Qohen asks what happened to Bob; Management says Bob quit as soon as he found out Management had misappropriated his soul-searching technology. When Qohen says he won’t participate, Management threatens to have Qohen charged with assaulting the two teenage girls in the park and provide videotaped evidence of Qohen bathing Bob, whom he’ll force to testify against Qohen.
They return to the chapel, where Qohen gets into the soul-searching suit and Management plugs him into the computer. Dr. Shrink-ROM argues with Qohen about the meaning of life. Qohen agrees with Management that it’s pointless, but Shrink-ROM insists Qohen’s “phone call” is out there—he just needs to search for it. Qohen asks where to search as Management loads the program. Qohen awakens in his black hole “fantasy.” He sees before him not stars but thousands upon thousands of clones of himself, all naked at weightless. Qohen gains control over his movement and propels himself through the various clones, into the black hole—and on the other side is the tropical island, but no Bainsley. Qohen makes the decision to search every tropical island in the world to find her, but Management disables the program.
When Qohen wakes up in the chapel, he realizes his hair has begun to grow again. He announces that the Zero Theorem is unprovable. Management suggests that, perhaps, they’ve proved something more important. Management says that Qohen has found truth, and the truth has freed him of Management’s services. Qohen sets fire to the chapel and the computer, just as Bob arrives to “save” Qohen. They drive off together to search every tropical island in the world for Bainsley.
Zero Theorem combines elements of Waiting for Godot, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and the philosophical undertones of The Matrix. The script contains some vivid visuals, but the writer focuses less on the eye candy and more on absurd dialogue and aimless plotting. Despite lofty ambitions, the result is ultimately unsatisfying, so the script merits a pass.
The characters are quirky to a fault. Rather than finding natural ways to integrate some of the strange behavior into the story, the writer adds weirdness for the sake of weirdness. It offered no compelling or believable reasons for things like Qohen constantly referring to himself as “we” instead of “I,” Bob calling everyone “Bob,” or the two deliverymen responsible for Bob being clones. This would be only a minor annoyance if Qohen weren’t such a passive character. He never takes action; the story just happens around him. Characters show up at his chapel at convenient times to either tell him what to do or explain the plot that’s happening elsewhere while Qohen just sits around, waiting for his phone call. Admittedly, it’s a challenge to have a protagonist whose main goal is “waiting,” but this script does not make the task dramatically interesting. His “love” of Bainsley, which drives the third act, is also unconvincing. Bainsley makes a few brief appearances in the story and never rises above the level of “trampy stereotype.” It’s never clear why Qohen falls in love with her (having virtual sex isn’t good enough), and it’s even less clear why Bainsley would fall for him. It comes across more like she just pities him.
The dialogue aspires to Waiting for Godot‘s attempts to derive deep meaning from seemingly meaningless, absurd conversations. It misses the mark, instead coming across like patches of overly wacky, fast-paced banter interspersed with huge chunks of on-the-nose exposition. Rather than allowing the characters to come alive in interesting, unexpected ways, the technical babbling and pompous philosophical raving overshadows the sporadic moments of wit and cleverness. This remains a problem throughout because the writer opts to use the dialogue to drive the story instead of dramatic action and dazzling visuals that he excels at creating.
Although the story does a good job of setting things up in the first act, it loses momentum rapidly in the second act. Quick, active scenes give way to long, repetitive, dialogue-driven scenes. The third act rebounds slightly, but by then it’s pretty much a lost cause. The resolution is also a major disappointment. For a cynical satire, its ending is extremely pat—Management turns from menace to kindly old man on a dime, and Qohen works through all his problems and goes off with his new best friend to search for his true love. It’s hard to balk at a happy ending, but this one comes out of nowhere and doesn’t fit this story.
The script makes a valiant effort to tackle weighty ideas about faith vs. skepticism and religion vs. science. Because it relies on preachy monologues and repetitive arguments to convey these themes, instead of engaging characters and unique imagery, Zero Theorem sputters to a disappointing end. Without major changes, it will remain a pass.
The script’s cynical tone and emphasis on rambling about math, philosophy, and psychology will automatically limit its audience. It might play well in arthouse theatres, especially with a college campus nearby, but that type of audience is likely to reject the artificial happy ending, resulting in poor word of mouth.