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The Fields

Author: Donald F. Ferrarone
Genre: Thriller/Mystery
Storyline: 5
Dialogue: 5
Characterization: 4
Writer’s Potential: 5

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Recommendation?

Pass

Logline:

In Texas, police detectives track a serial killer who preys on young prostitutes.

Synopsis:

As a storm builds on Galveston Bay, Texas City detectives JAKE SOUDER (30s, hard-nosed native Texan) and BRIAN HAY (30s, soft-spoken New Yorker) are called to a murder scene. It’s a young prostitute whose hands are missing, and the body is fresh. They wait for the crime scene investigators to show up. Pimps LEVON (black, ex-con) and RULE (white, fierce) prowl the streets, making sure their hookers don’t get out of line. Meanwhile, LITTLE ANN (12) waits for her brother, EUGENE, and his friend, RHINO, to pick her up. Rhino quietly starts touching Little Ann, who tries to pull away. She panics and jumps out of the car. Eugene lets her go. Little Ann walks through a marshy bayou area known as “the killing fields.” She passes through an eerie area blocked off by old crime scene tape, and a Mitsubishi that’s been recently abandoned in a hurry — engine still idling, door hanging out. Later, Brian and Jake spot her walking the streets. They know her, and that she’s on juvenile probation, so they drive her home. LUCIE, Little Ann’s mother, doesn’t seem to care that her daughter’s out in the middle of the night. Angered, Jake bursts into their trailer and pulls out Eugene and Rhino. He threatens to send Rhino back to prison if he doesn’t leave the family alone. Rhino’s not afraid. Brian gives Little Ann his card, and they leave. Brian warns Jake that he may have made things worse for Little Ann. Jake just says he has a bad feeling about Rhino.

Jake’s ex-wife, PAM, calls from the county sheriff’s office. They found the Mitsubishi and have learned a girl is missing. Brian and Jake tell her about the dead body they found, but it’s not the same girl. Brian tells her to call if she finds the body. Volunteers search the killing fields for the bodies. Little Ann tries to sleep as Lucie has sex with someone. Jake gets drunk and plays with his dog. Brian comes home to his wife, GWEN, and immediately goes to sleep. The next day, Brian and Jake interview madame FRANCINE and her neighbors about the body they found. They learn the girl was a 15-year-old crack whore from Dallas. Nobody knows why she’s dead. Little Ann walks home from school when Rule pulls up, leering and offering her a ride. Little Ann turns him down. Francine leads Brian and Jake to Levon, who’s sullen and doesn’t want to talk. All he’ll say is that the dead girl came to him claiming someone was stalking her. They instruct Levon to come by the station the following morning for a proper interview. Pam interviews men on the sex-offender registry while waiting for a city homicide detective to arrive. She asked for Brian, but the chief sends Jake to ensure he won’t become too involved in county matters. Pam is not happy.

LILA, a young Hispanic single mother, is attacked in her home by a naked ASSAILANT. She manages to get away from him long enough to dial 911. Police are dispatched. Brian and Jake hear the call and show up. They find men’s pants on the front lawn. Brian spots the assailant in the backyard and gives chase, calling for backup. He chases the assailant into an old woman’s house. The assailant shoves a refrigerator onto Brian, pinning him to the floor. He gets away. Jake follows quickly, pulling the fridge off of him. Jake chides Brian for not waiting for him. They interview Lila, who can’t help them identify the suspect but gives some helpful tidbits — the assailant chose her because she hangs her underwear on a clothesline and doesn’t live with a man. While they interview her, a call comes in. It’s unintelligible, so Jake clicks it off. Another call, and they listen — and hear the assailant struggling with another woman. They hear her die over the phone. Lila is stunned. Brian is deeply upset. At home, Gwen consoles Brian about the case.

Lucie’s boyfriend starts beating on Little Ann, so she runs outside. Eugene and Rhino are out there, acting a little menacing. She goes to the 7-Eleven to wait it out, but Rule is there. Before he can do anything, Brian shows up at the same stripmall, looking for Little Ann. He offers her a ride, which she accepts. He takes her home to have dinner with his wife, his mother, and his many kids. Little Ann is stunned to see how a well-adjusted family operates. It makes her uneasy, but she lightens up quickly. In a ditch in the killing fields, Pam finally finds the body of the girl who owned the Mitsubishi. She calls Brian for help. As a storm begins, Brian spots a perfect thumbprint in the mud. As the water mounts, they have a choice: preserve the thumbprint or move the body to preserve whatever physical evidence may be present. They choose the body, to Brian’s annoyance. Jake shows up moments later, and Brian blames him for them losing the thumbprint. Brian believes this is the girl who was killed over the phone, which means the killer kept her alive for a few days. He also thinks this makes it personal, against them, but he doesn’t know why. Jake insists the killers are Levon and Rule, but Brian doesn’t think this murder fits their possible M.O.

Alone, Jake follows Rule to a small pink house, where a black woman, LADY WORM, stashes his car. Jake gets a call that Levon has arrived for questioning. Brian and Jake interview him. Jake gets belligerent almost immediately, so Brian takes over the questioning, taking the “good cop” approach. Levon accidentally admits he knew the prostitute was underage, why the killer would cut off her hands (as a warning to others not to steal money), and Rule’s last name. They go to a nearby shelter to ask about the dead prostitute. Brian’s surprised to see Little Ann there. The woman running the shelter says Little Ann comes by all the time. Some girls at the shelter ID the prostitute, finger Levon and Rule as her pimp, and say that Rule always used to beat her up. Jake and Brian argue about how to proceed on the case. Jake leaves in a huff. Brian drives Little Ann home, watches her approach the trailer, then walk away.

Jake and Brian show up at Lady Worm’s looking for Rule. They don’t find him or his car, but Jake finds another car that’s filled with blood. Brian warns him that this is an illegal search, but Jake isn’t concerned. Brian meets with Pam. They’re led to a bunch of redneck poachers who hide out in the killing fields. Brian spots one of them wearing a ring that belonged to the Mitsubishi owner. When he asks for it, a fistfight breaks out. Jake shows up and fires a warning shot to stop the scuffle. Pam is amazed. Jake is angry that Brian went behind his back. He starts needling Brian about the New York case Brian botched that landed him here. Pam has to separate them. Back at the station, Brian is told that a phone company technician left an urgent message — and Little Ann was arrested for trying to sell a driver’s license. Brian is fed up with her. He starts yelling at her for constantly getting in trouble, upsetting Little Ann. He drives her home, stopping at the phone company along the way. He talks to the tech, JIM, who has traced the murder call to the killing fields. Jim thinks this is lucky because those fields are notorious for poor reception. Nobody will build towers there because they’re scared. Brian, still an outsider, wants to know why. Jim explains that these lands once belonged to an Indian tribe who used to kill and eat white settlers, notably children and young women. This is how the killing fields got their name. Jim has traced the cell phone to the Mitsubishi owner. Despite the legalities, Brian convinces Jim to monitor the phone so they can catch the killer.

When Brian returns to his car, he finds Little Ann gone and signs of a struggle. CSIs show that it looks like she was pulled out of the car. Brian immediately bolts out of there, heading for the killing fields. Jake searches for Levon and Rule unsuccessfully. Dispatch calls with a sighting on Rule’s car. Meanwhile, Jake sneaks into Lady Worm’s garage and watches her attempt to set the bloody car on fire. Jake tackles her, which Rule sees. His car speeds away. Levon is with him, and so is Lady Worm’s daughter, SHEILA — tied up. Squad cars pursue Rule and Levon. Levon wants to stop, but with one hand Rule trains a gun on Levon, and with the other he starts firing at the police. Jake gets into the chase. Mid-chase, Rule stops and carjacks another driver. He and Levon abandon Sheila and manage to get away while the police are distracted with his abandoned car. Meanwhile, Brian moves through the killing fields, leading to an island in the bayou where he finds signs that they took Little Ann. He calls Jake with his location. Jake tells him about Levon and Rule. He drives out to the bayou with his bloodhound. Brian has stolen the pants from Lila’s crime scene. He has Jake’s dog sniff them, and the dog immediately catches the scent. They follow and are led quickly to Little Ann — who’s not dead. They take her and run back toward civilization.

Meanwhile, Rule and Levon are out in the middle of nowhere. Levon wants to give up, so Rule shoots him and keeps moving. Brian orders Jake to take Little Ann to the hospital. Brian wants to go back in — he knows the killer will be back to finish off Little Ann. As he waits, Jake speeds toward the hospital but ends up at a crime scene instead. Medics load Little Ann into an ambulance. Jake sends Pam to go to Brian. Brian, meanwhile, hears someone in the brush. The man picks up a wood saw and comes after Brian. Jake receives an anonymous phone call saying, “He’s dead.” Jim calls Jake to say the phone he’s monitoring just dialed out, localized near Lucie’s trailer. Pam leads police into the bayou, where they find Brian. Jake surveils the trailer as he calls the cell phone number. Inside the trailer, Rhino answers. Jake orders him to put Lucie on the phone and explains that Rhino and Eugene killed her daughter. Lucie pulls out a knife and stabs Rhino, who shoots Eugene as Rhino shoots Lucie. Jake lets Rhino bleed out.

Several months later, Little Ann has recuperated. Jake takes her to Brian’s house — he survived, although he’s lost weight and must walk with a cane. She’ll be living with his family now.

Comments:

The Fields aspires to make thought-provoking statements about crime and the human condition under the guise of a twisty thriller. However, its lack of compelling characters and suspense prevent it from accomplishing any of its lofty ambitions. As written, it merits a pass.

The story is grim and violent from beginning to end, but it’s never terribly interesting. Part of this is because the writer never really lays out any sort of stakes for Brian and Jake. In the first act, it’s just another case — a particularly violent one, but nothing special. Even as things intensify in the second act, and Brian decides the murders are personal, there’s still nothing real at stake: the killers never come after them directly, their jobs aren’t on the line as the body count rises, and nobody ever seems to be in any real danger until the third act.

The third act does move quickly (especially compared to the slow-as-molasses first two acts), but the revelations are incredibly unsatisfying. Little Ann always feels out of place in this script, and never more than when she falls victim to the killers. After shoehorning her into a plot where she doesn’t belong, the writer finally turns her into a bland plot point to help lead Brian and Jake to the killers, her brother Eugene and his thug pal Rhino. Worse than that, although the writer does give a weak explanation for why they went after Little Ann — she kept bringing the cops around — he fails to make it clear why these two paired up to kill prostitutes.

At the end of the day, the only characters who matter to this story are Jake and Brian. The writer overloads this story with characters — both good and bad — as the narrative equivalent of three-card monte. The script is never as complex as the writer wants the audience to think, so he stuffs it so full of people that it seems extremely complicated. That’d be fine if any of these characters felt authentic or had any interesting traits or personality quirks. None of them do. Even Little Ann exists to trigger treacly sentiment instead of feeling like an actual person.

Because the supporting characters are a blank rabble who explain the plot to Jake and Brian, it’s disappointing that the two detectives aren’t much more interesting than the rest. Although the writer gives them some interesting traits — like Brian’s obsession with religion — their personalities are inconsistent. In each scene, they switch from supporting each other to arguing and splitting up, without much purpose except that the plot sometimes needs them split up, and sometimes it needs them together. As with the lack of personal stakes, everything they do is artificially dictated by the plot. Even the attempt to generate conflict and develop Jake’s character by bringing his detective ex-wife into the story doesn’t make either character more interesting. It’s just another meaningless layer to make the plot seem denser than it is.

It’s hard to imagine great filmmaker redeeming a script this mediocre. The best anyone can hope to accomplish is making the action sequences a little suspenseful. Overall, it feels like a subpar Law & Order episode. Audiences won’t want to pay for that.

Posted by D. B. Bates on February 6, 2010 2:53 PM  |   | Print-Friendly  | Professional Script Coverage

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