Writer’s Potential: 6
In 1999, Nebraska sheriff’s deputy unravels a conspiracy involving illegal immigrants and the meatpacking industry.
A montage shows “the chain”—cattle going from pastures to dinner plates. The montage focuses on the Cattle King Beef Company and shows mostly Mexican workers in the slaughterhouses. At a diner in Cullom, a small meatpacking town north of Omaha, Deputy RANDALL PALOMO (early 30s, half-Mexican) eats steak and eggs for breakfast. Another deputy, COOPER ANDERSON, shoots the breeze with Randall before leaving to work on his sheriff election campaign. Randall drives through town, where support banners for Cooper are prominent. He meets with KATRINA WELLS, an uptight reporter with a silent attraction to Randall. Randall feeds Katrina files for an investigative report she’s working on. Randall asks about the subject she’s investigating, ENRIQUE ROSALES, but Katrina keeps her mouth shut. Coincidentally, that afternoon Randall pulls over a speeding truck driven by Enrique, a scarred rougneck who speaks no English. He rides with his wife, LOURDES, and their baby, JEZEBEL.
Randall doesn’t speak Spanish, so he can’t communicate with Enrique. Noticing Randall’s nametag, Lourdes speaks to Enrique in English, cooperating fully and providing her own license. Randall asks for Enrique’s papers, but she says he doesn’t have any. She tells him they’re on the way to Mexico, but Randall brings them in, anyway. The sheriff, ENLOW (60s, on the verge of retirement), is not happy to hear that INS won’t spend the time or resources to deport a single illegal. Enlow and Cooper complain about the release of TROY PHILLIPS, a once-wealthy meatpacking kingpin who was imprisoned after a scandal. Randall takes Lourdes and Jezebel to a mansion owned by DARLENE SANTOVILLA (30s, attractive). Haggard, disheveled Troy greets them, to Randall’s surprise and annoyance. Darlene flirts with Randall as she explains Troy is around to finally settle their divorce. She thanks Randall for helping Lourdes and Jezebel. Randall is captivated.
When he returns to the station, Randall is surprised to hear that Enlow is transporting Enrique to the county line. Later, Katrina shows up at Randall’s home, angry that he arrested her contact. The next morning, Randall is called to a murder scene at Troy’s abandoned meatpacking plant. Enrique and Lourdes were both killed and dumped there. Trying to figure out what happened to Jezebel, Randall drives back to Darlene’s mansion. She’s just found out about the murder and had no idea they even left. Randall wonders if there’s any family she could have been left with. Darlene begins crying, so Randall vows to find Jezebel. Pissed off, Katrina returns Randall’s file on Enrique. Randall drives to the nearby INS detention center and asks around about Enrique. He’s given the Rosales’s home address and a “Spanish for Law Enforcement” tape. He drives to the Rosales’s house. Eventually, he finds a recent photograph of Lourdes and ANGELINA, another young Mexican woman. He drives through the Mexican part of town, trying to track this woman down. The citizens are uncooperative. Eventually, he comes upon a daycare center. He asks if anyone knows any of the people in the photo. One child, GUILLERMO (7), announces that Angelina is his mother.
After Angelina picks Guillermo up from daycare, Randall tails her back home (which has been painted with threats and racial slurs), where he finds Jezebel. He uses Guillermo as a translator to explain she’s not in trouble and he’s happy Jezebel is safe. He ask Guillermo if it was Enrique or Lourdes who left the baby. Guillermo says it was vandals. Randall calls Darlene to tell her he found Jezebel. Darlene asks him to pick her up because Troy won’t leave her alone. They go to an upscale bar in Omaha, where Darlene fits in but Randall doesn’t. Randall and Darlene agree not to tell anyone about Angelina having Jezebel—all they’d do is take her away. Randall grills Darlene about Troy. She tells him Troy was turned in by his business partner, WARREN SINCLAIR, who took over after Troy went to prison—but Troy deserved what he got. Meanwhile, Sinclair’s business connections helped Darlene start over running various local charities. On the way back to town, Randall notices they’re being followed. Darlene assumes it’s Troy. Randall decides he wants to have a talk with him. Darlene tells him Troy hangs out at the meatpackers’ bar. Randall goes to the newspaper office and digs through the archives for information about Troy. Later, he goes to the meatpackers’ tavern. It’s filled with sinister illegal immigrants. Randall isn’t intimidated—not even when one of them, on orders from Troy, knocks Randall down and carves a line in his cheek. Randall announces he’s convinced Troy killed Enrique and Lourdes. He also orders Troy to leave Darlene alone.
Randall leaves the bar. He notices he’s being followed again, so he stops and prepares to attack the tail—but it’s Katrina. She’s following him because he’s become part of the story. Randall demands to know what she knew from Enrique. Katrina doesn’t know much, because he was killed before she could talk to him, but she knows Enrique feared Troy and was on Sinclair’s side. Enrique found out Troy was planning to unionize the meatpackers—a violation of his parole—so he killed the Rosales’s to prevent anyone from finding out. Randall returns to Darlene’s mansion. He sees a few immigrants sprint in front of his car as he approaches. Randall chases them, but they run into the guesthouse and locks the door. Randall demands to know who is inside. Darlene’s maid, LUISA, refuses to say. Randall tells Luisa that Darlene is in danger. She tells him Darlene is at Sinclair’s mansion. Randall drops in on a posh party at Sinclair’s. He warns Darlene to be careful. He’s convinced Troy killed Enrique and Lourdes. Sinclair overhears them and involves himself in the conversation. Randall tells them he can’t prove anything yet.
Darlene shows up at Randall’s house unexpectedly. They have a significant conversation about how it feels to have Mexican roots but be raised in the American way—feeling torn between two worlds. They kiss. The next day, Randall has a meeting with Sinclair. Sinclair gives a tour of the factory, showing that things aren’t as grim as they seem on the news. Randall doesn’t quite believe him. Later that day, Randall joins Cooper outside of Troy’s old, junked-out farmhouse. Randall explains his theory that Troy killed the Rosaleses. Although he has no evidence, he thinks he can get Troy to confess. As they approach the farmhouse, someone starts shooting at them. They duck behind the old husk of a burned-out school bus. Cooper starts shooting when he hears rustling in the weeds. He ends up killing Sheriff Enlow. Cooper is devastated, but Randall just wants to figure out why Enlow was there, and why he was shooting at them.
The mayor makes Randall the interim sheriff until the election. Outside, the press is crazy. Katrina manages to pull Randall away from the fray. Randall explains to her what happen, and they try to piece together why it happened. Randall’s best guess is that Enlow was an assassin working for Troy. Katrina warns Randall that Darlene is using him. Randall is annoyed by her jealousy. Darlene invites Randall out to dinner in Omaha, to celebrate his new interim title. Under the circumstances, Randall has a hard time celebrating. Randall tries to talk through the case with Darlene. He speculates that Troy’s vendetta with Sinclair might have to do with her. This incenses her. She finally admits that Troy might be mad because he put everything in her name and ordered her not to spend anything until he got out. Instead, she donated every penny to Sinclair’s charity, and Sinclair hired her to run the foundation. Troy doesn’t believe the money’s gone. She apologizes for her deception, then excuses herself.
Randall tails Troy from the bar to a sleazy motel. Along the way, Troy picks up a woman who looks suspiciously like Darlene. A few hours later, the woman emerges from the motel room, alone. Randall confronts her—but it’s a prostitute, paid to dress like Darlene for Troy’s pleasure. Troy hears the commotion and comes outside. Randall gets Troy to calm down and asks about Enlow and Enrique. Troy gives a heartfelt speech about changing his ways in prison, with the help of a terrifying cellmate obsessed with rehabilitating fellow inmates. Troy promises he’s on the straight and narrow, and he really wanted to unionize the meatpackers to help them. He never knew what Enrique knew, and he doesn’t know how Enlow’s involved. Troy takes Randall to Sinclair’s plant. He bribes one of his illegal friends to let them onto the night shift kill floor—literally a night-and-day difference between it and the day shift. All the USDA inspectors and white employees are gone. It’s a grueling, Jungle-type scenario.
The next day, Randall goes to see Cooper. He tells Cooper that Enlow killed the Rosaleses and Sinclair is involved somehow. If Randall can prove it, Cooper may have a shot at the election. Cooper isn’t too concerned—he has a private security job lined up. Nevertheless, Cooper thinks about it and remembers that Enlow was holding Lourdes’s pager for some reason. Randall speeds away. He looks through the murder evidence and finds the only thing missing is the pager. Randall asks Katrina what would be needed to find a call log for a pager. Katrina says they’d need the pager number, the company that manufactured it, and a warrant. Randall thinks Enlow got rid of Lourdes’s pager because he called them for a “meeting” from a number that would trace back to him but didn’t realize it until it was too late. If he can get the number, it will prove Enlow killed them.
Randall goes to Darlene’s mansion. He demands to see Luisa’s pager. When Luisa goes to get it, Randall sneaks a look at her Rolodex. He finds Lourdes’s pager number and writes it down. Luisa returns with the pager, and Randall makes note of the brand. He also notices the guesthouse suspiciously empty. He goes out to it and bangs on the door, drawing his weapon. Darlene shows up and announces that the well-dressed Mexicans inside are merely friends visiting for a little while. Embarrassed, Randall leaves. He gives the pager information to Katrina, who agrees to track it down when Randall tells her he’ll give her a story that will help her take down Sinclair. Randall tails Darlene to a railyard next to Sinclair’s factory. (Sinclair owns the yard and the many boxcars in it.) Randall watches as Darlene arrives at a boxcar surrounded by goony security guards. They open the doors to one boxcar and begin dragging out dead bodies.
Randall is shocked by what he’s seen, but before he can react, his scell phone begins running. Randall fumbles to turn it off and then runs from the security guards. He hides in some overgrowth, and he discovers Cooper is one of the guards. Cooper holds a gun to Randall’s head, but thinks better of it. Instead, he walks away, leading the guards away from Randall. Later, as Randall tries to find Cooper on more neutral ground, Katrina calls him. She has the number—it matches Enlow’s cell phone. Randall searches Cooper’s patrol car. In it, he finds white paint and a brush. He goes back to Angelina’s house—now abandoned—and matches both to the slurs painted on her house. He eventually tracks Guillermo to a local Mexican restaurateur. Randall shows Guillermo a photo of Cooper and asks if he was the one who dropped of Jezebel. Guillermo says yes. Randall looks for Cooper and finds he’s shot himself. His note says that he didn’t kill anybody.
Randall goes to Darlene’s mansion and handcuffs her. He takes her to Troy’s abandoned plant and threatens to kill her just as the Rosaleses were unless she gives him some answers. Finally, Darlene admits Sinclair hired Enlow. She’s broke and had no option but to do what Sinclair ordered. She refuses to tell him where the bodies are buried. Troy arrives—he’s in on this with Randall. He agrees to hide her in Mexico City. Randall returns to Katrina with a tape recorder of Darlene’s confession. Randall begs a local judge for a warrant to search Sinclair’s railyards. Under old, abandoned boxcars, they find body after body. The FBI raids the killing floor and arrests all the immigrants, who are given amnesty in exchange for testimony in a case against Sinclair. They mayor is enraged that Randall would decimate the town’s economy in one fell swoop, but Randall feels confident he did the right thing.
The Chain makes a valiant effort to expose the corruption in the meatpacking industry and illegal immigration. Unfortunately, the combination of outdated information and a somewhat bland central mystery undermine the script’s lofty ambitions. As written, it merits a pass.
The story uses a traditional film noir structure: a lone antihero tugs at a string nobody else has any interest in unraveling, leading from a murder to a massive corporate conspiracy. However, the script puts more emphasis on political grandstanding than on engaging the audience with its various mysteries. The first act does a pretty good job of introducing a wide array of characters, but the plot itself moves from one interrogation scene to the next with surprisingly little energy or suspense.
The second act attempts to intensify a romantic triangle between Randall, Darlene, and Katrina, but it never jells. Randall and Katrina have no chemistry on the page, and the fumbling relationship between Randall and Darlene is, quite simply, nothing new. Similarly, the main plot’s emphasis on small-town corruption, worker exploitation in the meatpacking industry, and the dangers of illegal immigration don’t contribute anything unique or even interesting to the national conversation about these topics. If they expect to lure an audience knowledgeable in these subjects, they’ll come away restless and annoyed. The script is filled with outdated, widely documented information, but the writers don’t even have a point of view about it. Then, rather than upping the stakes for an intense third act, the story pretty much peters out. Everything wraps up in predictable yet unsatisfying ways.
Maybe that’s because the script lacks a compelling lead character. Aside from making Randall half-Mexican, he remains a dull enigma. The writers try to give him some offbeat traits: for no apparent reason, he spends his off-hours sorting through his deceased mother’s possessions, but this adds nothing to either the story or the character. His total ignorance of the Spanish language also rings false—even if he never learned Spanish, living (and especially working in law enforcement) in a town with a sizable Spanish-speaking community makes it seem far-fetched and, frankly, stupid that Randall wouldn’t know basic phrases like “¿Habla inglés?” As mentioned, the writers try to spice things up by involving Randall in a love triangle that falls flat. The fact that Darlene is so obviously deceitful but Randall falls for it hook, line, and sinker only serves to make him seem like an idiot.
The supporting characters don’t fare much better. The script never makes any of these characters more interesting than what they appear to be on the surface. Even when the writers try this, it falls flat. For instance, in Randall’s first meeting with Troy, Troy’s friends hold Randall down to let him beat on him, and Troy willingly allows one of his cronies to carve up Randall’s face. Later on, the audience is expected to believe he made a total reformation in prison and is only trying to help them? By encouraging them to assault and threaten the life of a sheriff’s deputy? More often, though, the writers simply don’t attempt to imbue the characters with anything more than one-dimensional stereotypes, mouthpieces for the writers’ politics rather than seeming to have lives of their owns. This overall lack of personality contributes to the script’s leaden feel.
This script will have a hard time succeeding without significant rewrites.