Author: Pindar Morel
Writer’s Potential: 2
Logline:In the 17th century, an Ottoman general brings together Turks and Serbians to build a bridge.
Synopsis:1384. In the midst of a huge battle in Turkish countryside, a fearless Serbian warrior, MILOS, kills the Turkish sultan, prompting the battle to intensify, resulting in thousands of casualties on both sides. A Turkish warrior, PASHA (30s), arrives with his companions EVET, DAVID PASSI, and THE CAPTAIN just in time to see the Turks drag away Milos and kill him. In 1699, Pasha wakes with a start — he’s in the same battlefield, but he was just dreaming of the distant past. Pasha leaves his camp to survey the area. It looks oddly familiar, but Pasha can’t figure out why. The Captain leads Pasha to some Muslim refugees from a nearby village. They say the Serbs have taken over the village and intend to ambush Pasha’s troops when he passes through. In a private meeting, David and the Captain act as the angel and devil on Pasha’s shoulders. The Captain wants to kill all the Serbian men and make slaves of the children, while David favors a more diplomatic approach. After a brief sexual encounter with his harem, Pasha makes his decision. They ride out to the village, where a few spies inform Pasha about the leader of the Serbian rebels: JOVAN NIKOLICH and his young right-hand man, STEFAN.
Pasha and his soldiers attack, but Jovan is a skilled fighter. Pasha pursues Jovan and Stefan into a nearby forest, where they’re able to get away with him. Pasha enters a clearing, where an elderly SHEPHERD seems to recognize him. Pasha and his cavalry return to the village, where the Captain and his men have rounded up the Serbian boys. Pasha moves through their ranks, selecting the most physically fit ones first, then moving on to the more mentally agile. The selected boys are loaded into a cart. Simultaneously, Pasha is haunted by flashbacks of his own childhood — growing up in the same village, being kidnapped by the same Ottoman soldiers, forced to convert to Islam and forget his early life as a Serb. Pasha returns to the Shepherd’s home. The Shepherd confirms Pasha’s Serbian heritage. Pasha is baffled. Two of Pasha’s men see him in a disoriented state. He kills them both, then returns to the village. He notices one of the boys he has chosen is a mute. He returns the child to his mother, which is seen as an act of sympathy. After a moment, Pasha decides to let all the other boys out, as well. The Captain pulls aside the VILLAGE LEADER and forces him to help them locate Jovan and participate in a plan to kill him.
The Village Leader seeks out Stefan, insisting that the Turks have gone. Stefan’s surprised. He brings the Village Leader back to the cave where Jovan and his men are hiding. When he finally gets Jovan alone, the Village Leader poisons him to knock him unconscious. With the help of Pasha’s soldiers, they flee the cave. Stefan follows, but he’s grabbed by soldiers and hauled back with Jovan and the Village Leader. Meanwhile, Pasha formulates a new plan. When he shows it to his men, they’re baffled and assume he’s gone crazy. Pasha gathers all the Serbs and Turks in the area to bear witness to Jovan’s capture. He has Evet read his decree: everyone there must gather together to build a bridge over a deep ditch — a literal bridge to represent the symbolic bridge between Muslims and Christians. Nobody seems happy about this arrangement, but Pasha is very pleased with himself. He surveys the men at work, beaming proudly.
Later, the Captain tries to plan Jovan and Stefan’s executions, but Pasha has lost interest. He visits the prisoners and asks the Captain to summon a doctor to tend to their wounds. Meanwhile, soldiers speculate on the mental health of Pasha behind his back. Nobody knows if he’s insane or a cunning strategist. When Jovan and Stefan are feeling better, Pasha summons his harem to the prisoners’ tent, where they do a striptease to please Jovan and Stefan. Jovan is swept away with the display, but Stefan is enraged — he believes Pasha is playing mind games with them. Insulted, Pasha unchains the men and tosses them weapons. Not surprisingly, they try to come after Pasha, but Pasha proves quicker. Once he’s proved his skills, Jovan and Stefan relent and settle in to enjoy the striptease.
After working peaceably for awhile, a fight breaks out between a Muslim and a Serb, resulting in the Muslim’s death. This causes a full-scale riot. The soldiers try to control the bridge-builders, but things are so out of control that nobody notices the impending storm. The ditch is quickly filled with water, drowning many men, stopping the fight, and destroying the incomplete bridge. Jovan and Stefan use the distraction to escape. Pasha notices this and follows them, shooting Jovan, which slows them down. When Pasha and his soldiers catch up, they recapture Jovan and Stefan, but Pasha still refuses to kill him. Stefan hurls insults, getting Pasha riled up enough to start punching Stefan, who’s defenseless. Evet gets the doctor to tend to Jovan’s gunshot wound. After the storm, Pasha surveys the dead bodies and the crumbled bridge. He flies into such a wild rage, he attempts to rape one of his concubines. When she resists, he kills his entire harem.
A group of Ottoman soldiers arrive at the camp, carrying a decree for the Captain. The decree states that, by order of the Sultan, Pasha is to be relieved of command and executed for, among other things, submitting to the falsehoods of Christianity. The Captain throws a rope around Pasha’s neck and hang him from a tree Pasha remembers from his childhood. When the Captain gets close enough, Pasha head-butts him and wiggles free of the rope, decapitating the Captain and fighting off the few soldiers who dare to challenge him. After a short time, the entire army — with the exception of Evet and the prisoners — abandons the camp. When Jovan feels better, Stefan tries to convince him to flee again, feeling they have a better chance now that the rest of the army has gone. Jovan feels they should stay, out of respect for Pasha not killing them. Angry, Stefan decides to leave for himself, so he can spread the story of what a coward the great soldier Jovan really is.
Pasha catches Stefan leaving. He menacingly throws Stefan to the ground, then surprises a fearful Stefan by cutting the ropes binding his hands and letting him leave. Pasha goes to Jovan and helps him exit the prisoners’ tent. On the horizon, Pasha sees a group of assassins who have been dispatched to kill him. Together, Pasha and Jovan kill them all, but Pasha is shot in the abdomen during the struggle. Jovan tries to help Pasha return to the camp. In the village, Stefan leads the Serbian villagers to realize the Village Leader betrayed him. The Leader pleads that he has no choice, but Stefan kills him and announces that they must go after the Muslim army while they’re on the move. Against Pasha’s protests, Jovan goes to the Muslim village to get a doctor. There, he runs into Stefan and his small army. Stefan kills Jovan and moves on.
Pasha sends Evet away and moves, with great difficulty, to a hill, where the Shepherd tends to his flock. The Shepherd speaks philosophically about Pasha’s woes, saying that Pasha spoke the truth, which made them hate him. Evet rushes to find Pasha, because more dangerous assassins are on their way. Evet feels they need to leave immediately, but Pasha won’t move. Struggling to survive, Pasha tries to fight them. He’s nearly killed when Stefan and his army arrive to save the day. However, Pasha is bleeding to death. Stefan decapitates Pasha. Evet emerges from hiding and attempts to get into Stefan’s good graces. Stefan ignores him as he leads his army to the bridge. He announces that he’s going to build it.
Comments:Janissary attempts to put Christian-Muslim relationships into perspective by exploring the same conflict 300 years ago. However, the script is crippled by leaden pacing, unclear character motivations, and an extraordinarily thin storyline. As written, it merits a pass.
The glacial story opens with a long, tedious battle sequence that focuses on characters who existed 300 years before the actual story takes place and, other than too-obvious symbolic content, has nothing to do with the story at hand. Once Pasha enters the story, he’s introduced very slowly as a ruthless, bloodthirsty warrior. The writer does a poor job of making his apparent epiphany — that he was, in fact, born in the Serbian village before the Turks kidnapped and brainwashed him — clear or believable, which hinders the dramatic effect of most of his future actions.
After the epiphany, Pasha spends the early part of the second act focused on forcing the Muslims and Christians to work together to build a bridge. The writer spends far too little time showing how his sudden change in focus impacts the other people involved in the story. This makes moments like the bridge-builders’ riot and the Captain’s attempt to execute Pasha feel as if the writer is artificially force forward motion in the story because Pasha isn’t terribly interesting. Concentrating more on some of the lower-rung characters — for instance, examining what, exactly, caused the fight that led to the riot — might have made some of these sequences more natural. All of this leads to a third act that features little more than fight sequences, melodramatic deaths, and a muddled resolution.
The script suffers as a result of hinging its story on Pasha. Because Pasha esentially stops speaking after the epiphany, it’s hard to gain any real insight into what he’s thinking or feeling. While a few of his actions — like his arbitrary killing sprees — clearly reveal his poorly contained emotions, the majority of what Pasha does throughout the second and third acts makes very little sense, and his motives are never made clear. If he has such a strong desire to make nice with the Christian “enemy,” why enslave them at all? Why hold Jovan and Stefan in captivity, even after they’ve healed? Why flagrantly defy orders and then seem surprised when the order is handed down to execute him? Nearly everything Pasha does leads to unanswered questions.
The few remaining characters never rise above dull stereotypes. The Captain is ruthless and evil, Stefan is hostile and vengeful, and Jovan thoughtful spirit serves as a cheap parallel to Pasha. David dies too early to fulfill his inevitable blandness, and Evet is marginalized to the point that he does little beyond fetching doctors and delivering warnings. If the writer had focused on any characters other than Pasha for any length of time, they could have flourished and helped Janissary grow into an intriguing and suspenseful story. Unfortunately, the writer gets too hung up on Pasha, who’s too poorly written to hold moviegoers’ interest for any length of time.
The long, drawn-out action sequences are surprisingly redundant: horse chases, decapitations, and occasional gunfights. The formula simply repeats, only varying in the number of warm bodies available to get killed.
Because so much rests on Pasha, it’s within the realm of possibility that a truly outstanding actor can fill the role with a sense of empathy and purpose that simply doesn’t exist on the page. Without that, Janissary will have a hard time finding an audience who isn’t bored to tears.