Author: Emilio Mauro and Michael Yebba
Writer’s Potential: 4
A Marine-turned-firefighter grapples with drug addiction and criminal friends.
Marine MIKE KELLY (23) drunkenly picks a fight in a biker bar, to the chagrin of his wife, LISA. One of his opponents pulls a knife and nearly severs Mike’s thumb. Two years later, Mike arrives for his first day at a South Boston firehouse. His lieutenant, O’BRIEN, introduces Mike to the rest of the crew: McNULTY, NEE, RODRIGUEZ, WASHINGTON. As the new probationary officer, they sentence Mike to cleaning the kitchen and bathrooms. Later, Mike picks up daughter AMY (8) from Lisa’s place. Things are tense between Mike and Lisa. That night, Mike is awakened by some old friends (including DANNY), who insist he must go with them to see JOE, recently released from prison. Mike gets a neighbor to babysit Amy while he goes to a pub to meet Joe. After talking about women and Mike’s new job, Joe asks Mike to join him on a drug-dealing plan. Mike refuses, saying he’s clean now.
Some time later, Mike catches his first fire. The other guys good-naturedly mock his inexperience. They take Mike out to a bar to celebrate. When he comes home, Joe, Danny, and DINK (Joe’s little brother) are waiting. They drive him around and explain their plan: they’ll steal Oxycontin from all the local pharmacies and sell it. They’ve already made $10,000 after stealing a mere 500 pills. Mike adamantly refuses. Joe invites Mike to a party. Mike demures until he finds out JILL RYAN will be there. Mike takes Amy to the zoo. She confesses that some of the boys at school called her ugly. After reassuring her, Mike takes his crew to school to threaten the boys, who are all terrified. At the firehouse, McNulty hints that he knows about Mike’s shady past and hopes Mike still has enough connections to score him some drugs. Mike won’t.
Mike goes to Joe’s party, where he’s well-known by everyone. Jill (high as a kite) is there with her unpleasant boyfriend, KEVIN. Joe tells Mike that Kevin’s working with him, selling in Hartford and Providence. Mike warns Joe not to get too close to “Five Families” territory, but it falls on deaf ears. Mike decides to go with Joe, Dink, and Jill to buy cigarettes. He’s shocked when Joe comes back with a bunch of candy and Oxycontin. At a particularly brutal fire, Mike is separated from the crew by a backdraft and a fallen beam. He tries to axe his way through the drywall in one of the rooms when he sees a little girl trapped in the room. He gets her out through the window, and just as he’s about to go back in after O’Brien and Nee, an explosion rocks Mike.
He wakes up in the hospital burn ward, covered in burns, with a massive head injury. He’s prescribed opiate painkillers, and before long he’s addicted again. The crew comes to visit him once he’s released from the hospital. O’Brien thanks him for saving his life, but Mike downplays it. He returns to work, possibly a little too soon. They’re called in on a strange call—an elderly couple, attempting to have sex, resulted in the husband having a heart attack. He tells them he needs his medication, but his wife is too senile to give it to him. Mike goes into the bathroom to get the medication, but he finds a bottle of Percocet, as well, and pockets it. Nee witnesses this theft. Before long, Mike is a full-time addict again. He comes after Joe to buy drugs, but instead he finds Jill (who is now living with Kevin, Joe, and Dink). Jill invites her in, and although he’s attracted to her, he treats her horribly because she’s on heroin. They have sex, but they’re caught in the act when Kevin, Dink, and Joe come home. Kevin comes after Mike, who simply allows himself to be beaten. Dink pulls a gun on Kevin, and Joe fires him. Kevin gripes that they owe him $12,000. Mike warns Joe about Kevin, making him and Dink promise not to retaliate in any way.
Some time later, Lisa comes after Mike for the child support he owes her. He pays her entirely in cash, and she’s instantly suspicious. Mike falls asleep when it’s his turn to watch the firehouse. He’s suspended without pay. Danny shows up at Mike’s apartment to tell him Kevin stole Dink’s supply of Oxycontin, and Dink and Joe have gone after him. Mike and Danny speed to the confrontation. Mike manages to defuse the tension and get everyone out unscathed—until Kevin starts saying derogatory things about Jill. Mike beats the shit out of him. Mike helps Joe and Jill plan and execute the robbery of a CVS pharmacy, using a series of stolen cars. Mike takes Jill to a high-end jewelry store, where he pays for extremely expensive items using fresh $100 bills.
Mike, Joe, and Dink count their money. Mike realizes that he’s probably never going back to the firehouse. Dink tells them Kevin got out of the hospital and has been spreading a rumor that his friends from New Jersey might be coming to take Joe and his crew down a notch. Mike tells them they don’t have the firepower to take on any big New York crews. Mike comes home to find Jill has overdosed on heroin. He rushes her to the hospital. When he confronts Joe and Dink about where she could have gotten it, he realizes it probably traces back to Kevin. Mike and Jill try to detox together. Jill sneaks out and scores, to Mike’s disappointment. When Mike finds out she scored from Kevin, he gets his gun and storms out to find Kevin. He doesn’t find Kevin, but he does find a bunch of his buddies, all high as kites.
On his way back home, Mike sees a cop. Paranoid, he runs into a cathedral and hides in the confessional. He admits his drug dealing, and the priest asks if he wants to be forgiven. Mike doesn’t. Mike returns to his apartment to find Jill’s mother taking her to a clinic. When Mike tries to stop her, she pulls a gun on him. High as a kite, Mike meets Lisa to give her the child support money. She refuses to take it, and refuses to let Mike see Amy. Mike goes to her van and tries to pull Amy out. Amy’s willing to go, but Lisa starts threatening Mike. Eventually, he gives up. Lisa tells Mike she’s going to move to Pennsylvania with the man she’s seeing, and hopefully Mike will never see her again.
Completely despondent, Mike upgrades to heroin, using one of his firefighting medals to tie himself off. O’Brien comes by Mike’s apartment for a man-to-man talk. Like Mike, O’Brien came up in “Southie” and understands the life. He knows Mike has it in him to be a good man, but Mike doesn’t think he’ll ever change. O’Brien gives Mike the number of a detox center. Mike checks himself in, but he has second thoughts and leaves. Instead, he hooks up with Joe and Dink for a final big score—on a van from an Oxycontin distribution facility. Mike is calculated and precise despite his intoxication, but he doesn’t count on Dink’s ineptitude. Dink gets nervous and shoots one of the van drivers. Mike tries to keep the driver alive, as the police close in on them. They barely manage to escape, but Dink is fatally shot by the police. Joe decides they need to unload their product immediately, so Dink’s death won’t be in vain. They drive to the shipyard to meet their connection, but Mike is angered when he learns it’s Kevin.
Kevin and his cronies show up, ready to double cross Mike and Joe—but first, Kevin’s JERSEY GUY kills Kevin and his men, and he wants to kill Mike and Joe, as well, deciding that Boston dealers need to be out of the business. Joe manages to get to the car. Mike is able to kill Jersey Guy. Joe won’t let Mike into the car. He speeds away, leaving Mike to take the fall. Mike throws the money into the bay and starts running. He reaches the cathedral, which is on fire, and is being put out by his old crew. Mike sees the cause of the fire: Joe’s car smashed into the church and went up in flames. Mike helps his fellow firefighters put out the blaze.
Five years later, Mike works as a housepainter. He’s just been released from prison. Jill stops by to see him for the first time since he’s been released. They have a tentative conversation. Jill announces she’s going to go to Detroit and attempt to make something of herself. She writes her number on Mike’s hand. Mike goes back to his painting.
The Fallen is a drab, leaden attempt at an action script. It can’t seem to figure out if it wants to be a bombastic action flick about macho drug dealers, or a depressing character study of a pathetic drug addict. As a result of trying to awkwardly cram these two stories together, it ends up telling neither story particularly well. As written, it merits a pass.
Right out of the gate, the story hits a number of familiar beats: Mike is a brooding antihero with a dark past, struggling to make something of his life even though his friends keep pulling him back to his criminal life. The first act isn’t strictly bad—it’s just a dull, paint-by-numbers effort that hits the same notes as many other attempts at “thoughtful” action movies. The second act does up the ante a little bit, by saddling Mike with an opiate addiction (followed by a full-blown heroin addiction). However, when the “drug-addicted criminal” scenes in the second act aren’t stealing from Goodfellas, the portrayal of Mike is extremely inconsistent. He goes from a man who can, while strung out, plan masterful robberies, to a man who has to resort to snatching $10 bills from a convenience store cash register to pay his child support—and this is not an attempt to show a downward slide, because he bounces back to “master criminal” mode a few scenes later, despite his worsening dependence on heroin.
The third act inserts high melodrama, bordering on campy, between raucous but startlingly derivative action sequences. It reaches its nadir when Mike confesses all his sins in a cathedral (in the world’s laziest attempt to reveal to the audience what this normally taciturn character is thinking), which later Joe drives into, causing it to catch fire. Why does Joe drive into it? Doesn’t matter—it’s symbolism! The third act also tries to make far too much out of characters who are either repugnant (Joe and Dink) or poorly developed (Kevin). If this is a script about a man who loses everything to criminal behavior and heroin addiction, it should focus a little more on the loss of his ex-wife and child than the loss of his jackass criminal buddies.
As mentioned, Mike’s character ultimately becomes very inconsistent in the midst of the drug haze. Part of the problem is that he’s the “strong and silent” type—at first, this is remedied by having the other characters talk nonstop (in mostly on-the-nose fashion) about who he is and what drives him. However, it reaches a point where he’s alone the majority of the time, and he starts doing strange things that could maybe be chalked up to the poor decision-making skills of an addict, but that’s meeting the writers more than halfway. Because of the way the behavior is portrayed, it feels more like sloppy writing than a conscious decision—especially when Mike finally spills the beans in a church confessional, in a shockingly hackneyed scene.
The supporting characters are a vast sea of unpleasant people. Some (like Joe and Dink) have a reasonable amount of depth, but most simply exist to either anger or betray Mike. Across the board, they’re portrayed as grotesque and monstrous, with the lone exception of Mike’s daughter, Amy. However, like the priest in the awful church confessional scene, Amy exists as little more than a cheap window into Mike’s soul. She’s not a character so much as a cheap device to make Mike feel conflicted for a few scenes, before binging on Oxycontin and forgetting he even has a daughter.
At its core, this is an action-movie story written by people who wanted to write more than a simple action movie. It doesn’t quite work out for them. The writers would have been better off dropping the heroin addiction and having a little fun with the ridiculous, over-the-top nature of its Mafia conspiracies and “Southie” histrionics. Significant rewriting is required to make this script commercially viable.