Author: Angus MacLachlan and Edward Norton and John Curran
Writer’s Potential: 2
Logline:While reviewing the eligibility of an inmate who had a religious awakening in prison, a parole officer becomes involved with the inmate’s wife.
Synopsis:1970. JACK and MADYLYN (both 20s) bring their daughter, CANDACE (6), to a fancy hotel in a working-class beach town. The family has fun at the beach and the boardwalk. As they walk along the games and rides, a HUCKSTER barks about winning prizes. He knows Jack — Jack was his parole officer. Jack plays the game, trying to win a plush bear for Candace. One day, while Candace takes a nap, an unnoticed bee gets caught between the screen door and the sliding door of the hotel room balcony. It buzzes in the background as Madylyn gets drunk and intense and starts a fight with Jack. She threatens to leave him. He picks up Candace — still sleeping — and lifts her out over the balcony, threatening to drop her if Madylyn dares to leave him. Madylyn calms down. Jack lays Candace back on the bed.
Forty years later. Madylyn and Jack, both in their 60s, sing along with the church congregaton. At home, Madylyn calls Candace. It’s clear from what she says and Jack’s demeanor that he and his daughter are estranged. Meanwhile, STONE (30s) is in the prison yard. He picks a fight with an inmate. That night, Jack receives a call from his sister-in-law. His brother passed away. Some time later, Jack stands at the church pulpit, giving a eulogy for his brother. His bottom line is that his brother lived right, and what more could you ask for from a person? In prison, Stone waits impatiently for lights-out. Jack works in the prison, interviewing inmates and filing reports about whether or not they’re fit for parole. The WARDEN introduces Jack to JANICE, who will be replacing Jack when he retires in a month.
Stone sits before Jack. He’s evasive and obnoxious, while Jack is unpleasant and no-nonsense. Jack wants Stone to tell him, in his own words, why he was in prison. Stone tries to flummox Jack, but Jack’s seen too much. Stone doesn’t scare him a bit, but he still won’t talk about why he’s in prison. Jack turns the conversation toward Stone’s wife. Stone says he misses having sex with her, then turns the conversation toward Jack and Madylyn’s sex life, speculating on the difficulties of sex at an older age. Jack gets angry. That night, Jack comes home while Madylyn is vacuuming. He sneaks up behind her, and they both start laughing. The next day, Jack and Stone meet again. This time, Stone explains what happened: his cousin wanted money so they could get high, so they went to steal from their grandparents, who heard them break in, so the cousin killed them. Stone set the fire to obscure the murder. Jack needles Stone with questions, leading Stone to conclude Jack’s not going to recommend him for parole.
That night, Madylyn tells a story about their granddaughter, but Jack’s zoned out. Madylyn notes his change in behavior. Stone’s wife, LUCETTA (27, sexy) teaches preschool. Stone calls her from prison, instructing her to set up a meeting with Jack, preferably one at the prison with the three of them. If she has trouble setting it up, he tells her to give Jack a blowjob. During their third interview, Stone starts begging, insisting he’s been reborn in prison. While Lucetta visits Stone, Stone notices another inmate reading Bible passages with his family. Later, Stone goes to the prison library and looks at the religion section. He reads a pamphlet that inspires him. Lucetta leaves a long-winded message on Jack’s answering machine. He ignores it. The next morning, Jack patiently listens as Madylyn recites the “daily devotions.” Lucetta goes to the prison and waits for Jack in the parking lot. She tries to turn the charm on, but it doesn’t work. Jack tells her to call his office and make an appointment. Jack yells at Stone, wondering what he and Lucetta have cooked up. Stone shows Jack his religious pamphlet, which has spoken to him on a personal level.
In his cell, Stone begins spiritual chanting. Meanwhile, Lucetta cheats on him with various random men. Jack goes to his PASTOR to discuss his own spirituality about how hard it is to be a good person. The Pastor gives him nothing but generic platitudes. Lucetta calls Jack at home. Jack gets gruff, telling her once again to call his office. She says she wants to get to know Jack and can’t do that in an office. Jack says his business is with Stone, not her. Lucetta says that’s why she wants to meet. She insists on a lunch meeting. Jack says he’ll call her back but doesn’t. Lucetta visits Stone, telling him she thinks Jack’s on the hook, she just needs him to call. Stone complains that he’s been having disturbing dreams. Lucetta tries to hold his hand, but the guards forbid it. Later that night, the other inmates have gotten annoyed with Stone’s loud chanting. Jack finally decides to meet with Lucetta. He talks mainly about Candace and his granddaughter. Lucetta notices his back is acting up. She tells him about magnet therapy for back pain and offers for him to come over to her apartment, so she can show him how it works. Jack goes. She sets everything up and asks if Jack feels anything. Jack doesn’t. Soon he does, a tiny bit, but it doesn’t matter much because Lucetta is using this as an excuse to seduce Jack. It works. Meanwhile, Stone has decided to fast and chant nonstop. The guards force him into the infirmary. Stone is forced to watch two white-power inmates stab a black man to death.
The next morning, Jack is feeling energized. He goes golfing before work. Lucetta visits Stone and tells him that Jack says Stone’s chances for parole look good. Stone no longer cares much about parole. Lucetta and Jack continue to have sex. Jack meets with Stone again. He viewed a tape of the white-power attack and is surprised that nothing happened to Stone. Stone has no explanation, except that it was God’s will. Stone says he knows Jack and Lucetta got together and that Jack intends to write his file quickly, but Stone says parole doesn’t matter to him. Inside or out, he’ll struggle with the same things. Jack is suddenly unsure about Stone’s spiritual awakening. He goes to Lucetta and demands to know if this is all some kind of elaborate con. Lucetta says Stone’s just trying to impress him. Jack asks Lucetta if she’s just sleeping with him to get a favorable review. Lucetta insists she thinks Jack is sexy. They sleep together, and the next day Jack sends his report to the Review Board. He tells Stone that he sent his report, and now they’re done. Stone decides to go into more detail about the incident that landed him in prison, that the entire plan to set the house on fire was Stone’s idea, and that neither he nor his cousin were high on that night. Jack asks if Stone plans to go straight. Stone starts talking about God and his awakening. Then he tells Jack not to listen to anything Lucetta says — she’s just screwing with him to get what he wants. Jack gets angry and has Stone removed from his sight. He goes to Lucetta’s apartment and tells her it’s over. Lucetta doesn’t believe him.
Jack goes to his office, and his secretary presents him with messages from Lucetta. Jack says he doesn’t want them. At home, Jack’s paranoid every time the phone rings, picking it up before the machine can get it. One night, Lucetta shows up at Jack’s house. Jack’s livid. He catches her in front of the house. She’s concerned that he never called her again. Jack berates and threatens her until she leaves. The next day, Jack tries to get his report back so he can rewrite it. The warden tells him that’s impossible. Jack skips Stone’s hearing, but he’s forced to give Stone an exit interview before his release. Together, they wait in his office for Lucetta, who’s late. Stone continues with the religious platitudes until Lucetta gets there. Just before leaving, Stone whispers to Jack that Lucetta told Stone she fucked Jack. Stone smiles darkly as he says, “God bless,” and he and Lucetta leave. Jack’s disturbed.
Some time later, Jack thinks he sees Stone and Lucetta in the congregation at church. It’s a false alarm. Jack flips out on Madylyn and her “daily devotions,” quietly admitting he doesn’t believe in any of this. Tension between the two builds. Madylyn falls into a drunken depression. That night, Jack gets up to urinate and discovers their house is on fire. He grabs Madylyn and pulls her out of the house. The fire rages quickly, destroying the entire house. All they have left is one photo album…and Jack’s service weapon. Jack reports to the police that he believes Stone did it. Madylyn, on the other hand, makes up a story about a frayed wire. She wanders up the street, away from him. Jack goes to his retirement party. His coworkers celebrate, but Madylyn is noticeably absent. Jack gets a little too drunk and gets in a cab. He ends up taking the cab to Lucetta’s apartment, where he pulls his gun on Stone, accusing him of the fire. Like the bee in the opening sequence, a street light’s overhead buzzing dominates the soundtrack as Jack yells and threatens while Stone acts confused and innocent. The buzzing gets louder and louder until Jack raises the gun to his own head, and the scene cuts to black.
Madylyn is now living with a much-older Candace and granddaughter, KATIE (4). Candace says she can’t believe Madylyn didn’t leave sooner. Madylyn says she almost did, once. Another inmate gives a speech to Janice (Jack’s replacement), over a montage, as the buzzing returns and grows louder: Lucetta gone, Stone packs a duffel bag to leave her apartment; Lucetta gets hammered at a bar; Jack leaves the prison with a cardboard box containing his possessions; Madylyn smokes and thinks, staring off into space; Jack sits in his office, stripped bare, the cardboard box on the empty desk in front of him. He’s lost in thought.
Comments:Stone aims to be a weighty drama about criminality, religion, and abuse. It falls massively short of its lofty ambitions, populating a generic story with paper-thin stereotypes. As written, it merits a pass.
The script pretends to be a character study, so there’s very little in the story department. Even so, the narrative is clumsily handled. It lacks intrigue because so much is telegraphed in advance. For instance, there’s no mystique to Lucetta when she starts sleeping with Jack in the second act, because in the first act, she and Stone have already arranged for her to use Jack to get Stone out of prison. The first act makes every element of the story so clear that nothing surprising or even interesting happens in the second and third acts. The writers don’t seem overly concerned with imbuing the narrative with any tension; it’s more about individual scenes of conflict, but these individual scenes don’t build into anything truly dramatic.
For a script that barely has a story, its characters are surprisingly shallow. Jack has two traits: a mean streak and religious doubt. He’s the stereotypical cop who isn’t far removed from the criminals he sees on a daily basis. The character of Stone would have a little bit of complexity if the audience were left wondering, as Jack does, whether or not Stone’s religious awakening is real. Unfortunately, we’re privy to every moment of that awakening, so there’s no mystery, just another prison-movie cliché. Lucetta is a conniving, manipulative sex machine. Madylyn is a depressed drunk trapped in an unhappy marriage. It’s not so much that the writers reveal little about the characters — it’s that nothing they reveal adds anything new or interesting to these stock characters. It’s all been done before, and much, much better.
At its core, Stone is driven by lengthy, action-free scenes of dialogue. Jack and Stone, Lucetta and Stone, Jack and Lucetta, Jack and Madylyn… It’s almost amazing how much dialogue can be written for characters without containing any fresh insight or revelations about the human condition. This is what Stone wants to do, but it doesn’t come close. They could cast the world’s best actors in these roles, and it’d still be dull and lifeless.