Son of No One
Author: Dito Montiel
Writer’s Potential: 5
Logline:A New York City cop is forced to confront his past when an anonymous letter writer threatens to expose the murders he committed as a child.
Synopsis:Queensbridge Projects, New York City, 1986. HANKY, a crackhead, wanders through one of the project towers, terrorizing the people living there. He breaks into the apartment shared by 13-year-old MILK and his elderly grandmother. Milk is hanging out with his buddies, CHINESE JAMES, FAT VINNY, YOUNG VICKY, and Milk’s faithful dog, Charlie. They smoke pot and chow down on junk food when Hanky bursts in, demanding money. Fed up, Milk shoots Hanky with a handgun. A montage of 9/11 footage, combined with a news report about Deputy Commissioner CHARLES STANFORD (60s) stepping down and anointing Sergeant MATHERS as his successor, takes us into 2002. Rookie Office JONATHAN WHITE (30) has recently started in Queens’ 114 precinct, partnered with gregarious Officer PRUDENTI. At the precinct house, Mathers angrily shows them a copy of the Queens Gazette in which intrepid reporter “Roger Daltry” threatens to expose unsolved 1986 murders by reprinting incoherent handwritten letters signed “MDC.” MDC has been writing letters to Daltry for three months, ever since the precinct started cracking down on the projects to make the streets safe for some new, high-end waterfront property. Mathers tasks Jonathan and Prudenti with finding out the identity of MDC.
In 1986, Milk has just shot Hanky. His friends panic, blaming the pot, but Milk announces he was just fed up with Hanky constantly stealing money from Milk’s grandmother. They drag him into the bathtub as another junkie, GERONIMO (20s), bangs on the apartment door, begging to use the bathroom. He’s too pushy for the kids to deal with, so Milk closes the shower curtain and turns the shower on. Geronimo does his business and leaves. Milk confesses his guilt and confusion to Fat Vinny, Chinese James, and Young Vicky. They all try to convince him that he did the right thing, and they just need to relax. They try to figure out what to do with the body, ultimately deciding to dump it in the park, because nobody will care about a drug addict. In 2002, Jonathan arrives in his Staten Island home to the excitement of daughter CHAROLETTE (5). Wife KERRY is less excited, because he keeps coming home late without calling.
After putting Charolette to bed, Jonathan does some research on the Internet. He plugs in the words from MDC’s crazy letters and finds a website devoted to the hardcore punk band Millions of Dead Cops: MDC. The letters are comprised of lyrics from the band’s songs. Jonathan realizes Vinny must be the author of the letters. Later, Jonathan lies in bed, thinking. Remembering 1986, being interrogated by much younger Stanford, then a detective, asking Milk questions about Hanky’s murder. Milk denies knowing anything, and Stanford kindly tells Milk to see him if he hears anything. In 2002, Jonathan is driving with Kerry and Charolette. He stops at the precinct house to get his cell phone. Feeling unsafe outside, they come in to the precinct with him. It’s almost more dangerous inside, with thugs and criminals being led to and fro. Jonathan introduces them to Prudenti, whose obnoxiousness rubs Kerry the wrong way. Jonathan realizes that his locker is hanging open. He wonders why.
The next day, Mathers takes Jonathan and Prudenti for a walk to discuss Daltry’s latest article. He tells them to go down to the Gazette office to tell him to put a cork in it. The latest article reprints a letter implying police corruption in covering up the 1986 projects murders. They talk to ROGER DALTRY, who says there’s good evidence to suggest police corruption and he will not stop printing the letters. He’s pleased that the stories make Stanford, the former detective at the projects, look bad. In 1986, Milk sees Vinny with his mom’s boyfriend, being forced to perform oral sex on him. Vinny sees Milk, who runs away. Later, Geronimo finds Milk. He’s got the gun Milk used to kill Hanky, and he wants a payoff in order to keep it quiet. Terrified, Milk calls Vinny. Vinny says he’s going to steal $1000 from his mom’s boyfriend, which they can use to get out of the projects. He instructs Milk to meet him on the roof in an hour.
In 2002, Kerry demands to know why Jonathan takes the newspaper articles so seriously. She knows he’s hiding something, but he denies it. Mathers tells Jonathan he wants Daltry silenced. Jonathan and Prudenti go to Daltry’s office, which has been trashed. They deny having anything to do with it, but Daltry’s pissed. He throws them out. The Gazette reports about the office trashing, noting Jonathan and Prudenti as Mathers’ “henchmen.” On the police computer, Jonathan types Vinny’s name into the record search. He finds that Prudenti arrested both Vinny and Young Vicky on drug-related charges on Christmas 2001. Defensively, Prudenti says they were asshole low-lives. Jonathan writes down the address of Vinny’s current employee in Manhattan. He goes to the building and spots Vinny, who recognizes him as a cop and runs into the subway. Jonathan gives chase, trying to explain himself, but Vinny doesn’t hear it. He hops on a train and disappears.
In 1986, Milk brings Charlie to meet Vinny on the roof. They tie him up and climb down the fire escape in order to steal the $1000. Charlie comes untied and starts barking. From the fire escape, Milk yells for Charlie to get away from the edge of the building. Geronimo looks over the side of the building. Milk runs back up to the roof. Geronimo kicks Charlie into a wall, killing him, and grabs Milk. Enraged, Milk shoves Geronimo off the roof. Vinny sees it all. In 2002, Kerry gets a phone call from a sinister anonymous man, telling her to ask Jonathan about unsolved murders in 1986. Freaked out, Kerry calls Jonathan, who’s on duty. Prudenti beats up a perp in front of security cameras. The perp grabs a gun, and Jonathan has to defuse the situation. Mathers gets angry more because he has to intentionally break the cameras to keep Prudenti clean than anything else. Jonathan drives to Vinny’s place of employment and learns he’s been fired. The only address they have for him is in the projects.
In 1986, Stanford stands over Geronimo’s dead body. He sees Milk and Vinny drift by with a shopping cart, in which they have Charlie stuffed in a bag. Vinny feels overwhelmed by guilt. He decides he needs to get out of the projects ASAP. In 2002, Jonathan drops by Vinny’s mom’s apartment. After jogging her memory, she realizes she knows Jonathan. She says she doesn’t know where Vinny is. Jonathan tries the roof. At first, Vinny only recognizes him as a cop. Jonathan says he’s Milk. Vinny tells Jonathan what a good friend he once was. Jonathan asks if Vinny has been calling his house or sending the letters, but Vinny’s a little nuts. He doesn’t answer directly. Jonathan warns him not to continue writing the letters, but Vinny walks back into the building. Later, Jonathan’s driving home when a car rams him off the road. When Jonathan regains consciousness, he finds a new copy of the Gazette in his lap. The latest letter says MDC will give the names of the cops who covered up Hanky and Geronimo’s murders.
At home, Kerry demands to know what happens in 1986. Jonathan reluctantly admits he was involved in the murders. In 1986, Milk visits Vinny in an asylum. He’s drugged and incoherent. Later, Stanford visits Milk. He has the gun that killed Hanky, and he knows Milk killed both Hanky and Geronimo. He explains that real men learn to live with their crimes. He strongly hints that he and his partner will cover up the murders, leaving Milk free to live with the guilt. In 2002, Mathers puts the screws to Jonathan, calling him “Milk” and demanding he do something to stop the next letter, which will cost Mathers his promotion. Jonathan begs Daltry to postpone the next article for a week. Daltry refuses, so Jonathan follows him into an alley and shoots him. He finds Vinny back on the roof. Vinny remembers his promise not to talk, and although he was tempted, he says he always kept quiet. Jonathan doesn’t believe him and threatens to shoot him — but he can’t. Jonathan gets a call threatening his family. He rushes home, where Kerry and Charolette are safe.
Prudenti picks up Jonathan and drives him under a bridge to meet with Mathers and the much-older Stanford. They explain that they’re all part of a family, and families protect one another, to the bitter end. Stanford brought Jonathan to this precinct to make sure he wasn’t the one writing the letters. They now know it’s Vinny, and they unravel a plan to kill Vinny and warn Jonathan not to stop them. If he does as they say, they’ll transfer him back to the much-safer Staten Island precinct and let him live in peace. Jonathan starts out driving him, but he can’t let them kill Vinny. He drives to the projects to warn him, but he’s too late. Mathers shoots Jonathan in the gut, and he’s forced to watch while Mathers slides the gun over to Vinny, who takes it, giving Prudenti license to open fire on Vinny, who pulls Mathers down as he falls off the building. Jonathan staggers into the building and manages to make it to the ground floor, where Vinny’s bullet-ridden body has fallen. Vinny dies in Jonathan’s arms.
Some time later, a recuperating Jonathan reads in the newspaper about Stanford miraculously solving a cold case from 1986. Meanwhile, in the projects, a drugged-out Young Vicky writes a letter, signing it MDC.
Comments:Son of No One attempts to tell a Sleepers-like story of decent kids who make some bad mistakes and are forced to carry violent secrets into their adulthood. It contains elements of a good story, but it is marred by crime-movie clichés and a muddled police-corruption conspiracy. As written, it merits a pass.
The harrowing opening sequence — portraying angry, pot-smoking, punk-loving “tweens” driven to murder as a result of their dismal upbringing and living conditions — creates expectations the writer doesn’t make much effort to live up to. The first act brings Jonathan into a been-there, done-that story of police corruption. The writer adds nothing new to the table except those harrowing flashbacks to 1986.
By the start of the second act, the narrative path is obvious, and the writer never makes any effort to veer off the beaten path. As a result, the script lacks suspense. Instead of wondering who’s sending the letters to the newspaper and how Jonathan will manage to get out of this, audiences will be left wondering when the predictable conspiracy will unravel so they can go home.
In the third act, Jonathan’s confrontations with his wife, his police colleagues, and Vinny reach over-the-top heights of melodrama that are more eye-rolling than they are tear-jerking. The strength of this story is in its nuanced portrayal of angry young thugs at a crossroads in their lives. It’s a major disappointment that the writer chooses to put more effort into a hackneyed tale of corrupt police officers trying to protect each other.
The writer does a much better job at portraying the characters in the 1986 ghetto than he does in the 2002 police story. The characters populating the projects, from Milk and his friends to the cavalcade of drug addicts and criminals, each have offbeat, individualized personalities that give them a unique spark that’s lacking among the 2002 police force.
Jonathan, at least, remains a fairly interesting character as he attempts to keep his guilty conscience at bay while he tries to stop his past from coming back to haunt him. Although his wife and daughter exist solely to be threatened, Kerry’s “tough broad” attitude and Charolette’s seizure disorder at least give them some interesting dimension. Jonathan’s colleagues on the police force, on the other hand, are little more than obnoxious clichés, as is the simpering, pompous reporter Roger Daltry.
Unfortunately, nothing short of completely eliminating the 2002 police storyline can redeem this script. Audiences may respond to the scenes set in 1986, but the goofy conspiracy in 2002 overpowers those flashbacks and ultimately ruins what could have been an interesting examination of what motivates youthful criminals.