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A Few Best Men

Author: Dean Craig

Genre: Comedy

Storyline: 7

Dialogue: 9

Characterization: 7

Writer’s Potential: 8

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Consider

Logline:

An Englishman takes his three best friends to Australia for his wedding, and they wreak havoc on the bride-to-be’s family.

Synopsis:

DAVID (30, good-looking) squeezes on a tube train in London, toting a huge pack that suggests he’s just returned from a long trip. When the train comes to a stop, the size of the pack prevents David from easily getting off the train. The moment he hits the street, rains starts to pour. Enraged, David strips naked the instant he gets into his apartment, not knowing his friends have thrown a surprise party. Later, David’s trying to get over the embarrassment with the help of his best friends, TOM (30, lanky, a dorky wannabe alpha-male), GRAHAM (30, a hypochondriac), and LUKE (30, crippled with depression after a bad breakup). David tells them his trip to Australia changed his life: he fell in love with a local girl, and he’ll be headed back to Australia to marry her. His friends are stunned, but they’re excited about the wedding—until they find out it’ll be in Australia, at his fiancée’s family farm. None of them want to travel to Australia. Their lack of support angers David. Reluctantly, they all agree to go with him.

Three months later, David prepares for the trip. He packs a special DVD labeled “For Mia” into his suitcase. Tom barges into the apartment with a camcorder, already getting started on the wedding video. Graham enters David’s flat with a Hitler mustache. When the others mock him, Graham insists mustaches are “in,” and it’s not his fault this is the way his mustache naturally grows. They get into the cab, and the driver gives Graham the stinkeye. As they work their way through the airport, Graham panics about what Australia will be like. At a layover in Bangkok, Luke desperately tries to call his ex-girlfriend. Graham gripes about David choosing Luke to give the best man speech. On the next plane, the boys are exhausted. When they finally land, David’s fiancée, MIA, meets them at the airport. David introduces her to his friends—Graham trying to explain away his Hitler mustache—as Mia tries to find a way to squeeze them all into her Jeep. Tom tells her they’ve rented a car, so David and Mia agree to meet the others at the farm.

Graham drives the rental car, but he heads in the wrong direction. He tells the others he wants to pick up some weed for David’s “stag night” from a dealer he found on Craig’s List. RAY, the dealer, lives in an ancient trailer in the middle of nowhere. He has some pretty intense anger issues. Graham brings his black sports bag with him into the trailer. Ray insists that they stick around and smoke a joint before they leave, so they don’t return later complaining about the quality of the merchandise. While Tom uses the bathroom and Luke waits in the car, Ray opens up to Graham, revealing a needy side that disturbs Graham. Graham notices a black sports bag loaded with cocaine-filled condoms and a gun. Ray tries to sell him the cocaine, but Graham turns him down. Tom gets out of the bathroom, and Graham makes quick excuses to leave, accidentally taking the wrong black sports bag. Meanwhile, Mia’s parents—JIM and BARBARA—show him around the farm, which includes their prize goat, PERCY. Jim tells David this will be the biggest wedding their little town has seen, making David even more nervous.

When the boys arrive at the farm, David introduces them to Jim, Barbara, and DAPHNE (Mia’s attractive younger sister). At the sight of David’s happiness, Luke bursts into tears and hides in the bathroom. Over lunch, Tom and Graham try to make awkward small talk, inadvertently insulting the family’s religion and lifestyle. David takes them aside and explains how to behave. He doesn’t want to go overboard on his stag night. Tom reassures David, but they end up at a roughneck bar, getting smashed on heavy Australian beer. They return to the farm, roaring drunk, and David decides to show them Percy. Meanwhile, Tom lets Luke know about a rumor that his ex’s new beau has no penis. This depresses Luke even more. In the morning, while Jim stresses about the wedding arrangements and Daphne helps Mia get into her dress, David wakes up to discover Percy in his bedroom, gnawing on an armchair, the word “GOAT” scrawled on its side in black marker. Meanwhile, Tom wakes up naked next to Graham, who wears a “gimp” mask (a gag gift for David) when Barbara barges into the room, awkwardly assessing the situation. David makes excuses, sends her away, then yells at his friends about Percy, demanding that they wash Percy and return him to the barn while he prepares for the wedding. The boys do nothing with the goat. Graham shaves off his Hitler mustache before going into his bag to get his suit—and finding all the cocaine. Tom orders Graham to call Ray and reason with him. Pointing out how unreasonable Ray is, Graham makes Tom call. Tom has trouble finding cell phone reception, so he wanders outside to find a better signal. He finally gets reception, but he gets Ray’s answering machine. Graham orders him to leave a message. He leaves a polite message.

David, Mia, and the family prepare for the wedding. David tries to calm his nerves. Luke calls his ex to ask about the rumor, but her hostility and refusal to answer the question upsets him. He starts drinking early and is quickly hammered, to David’s consternation. Tom helps Graham find a suit, since his was packed in the bag at Ray’s. The closest suit to fitting him also itches. David asks Tom to be the one to play his “For Mia” DVD when David does his speech later. Tom agrees. David is livid when he finds out they haven’t dealt with the goat yet, but there’s no time now. The wedding ceremony goes off without a hitch, until Luke passes out, dragging Mia and the reverend down with him. Despite the problems, the family and guests are understanding. David puts Luke to bed and orders Tom to give the best man speech.

David apologizes to Mia, who’s very understanding and loving. Ray listens to the message from Tom. The phone keeps breaking up, making Tom’s innocuous message sound very threatening and hostile. Enraged, Ray searches through his bag—and finds Graham’s wedding invitation. He picks up the shotgun and sets out for the wedding. Frustrated and itching, Graham lashes out at a small child. Tom approaches and instructs him to give the best man speech. Graham’s frustration increases—he has ten minutes to prepare a speech. Tom gives Graham some suggestions on possible topics, like the way they all assumed David was gay when they first met him, or a joke about how Australia started as an English penal colony. Tom gives Graham a sheet of paper with the speech notes written down on it. Graham gets so nervous, Tom decides to break into Ray’s coke stash to take the edge off and help Graham relax in front of people. Tom cuts Graham a comically huge line, which instantly affects him. Graham goes out to give the speech, and now he’s both nervous and overly chatty. When Graham consults the notes Tom gave him, he finds nothing but a cartoon drawing of a penis. Graham’s forced to ad lib, starting with the jokes about Australia’s history (which don’t go over well) before easing into the story about thinking David was gay. He makes such a compelling case about David’s homosexuality that Jim and Barbara believe it and start worrying.

After David yells at Graham, and Graham attempts to explain the speech to Jim and Barbara, Daphne comes to console him. She’s the only one who found the speech funny, and she flirts with him. Graham feels optimistic. Jim learns that Percy is missing. David overhears this and yells at his friends for not handling the goat situation. David can’t attend to it because he has to do the first dance. David asks Mia if they’ve found Percy. She says Jim suspects neighbors who have had their eye on him for awhile, and Jim’s so angry he’s considering going after them with his shotgun. David worries, especially when Jim calls for the Chief Inspector, a guest at the wedding. Tom and Graham find the goat has eaten the cocaine-filled condoms. Panicked, they feed the goat laxatives to try to get him to excrete the condoms. He soon does, but not all of them. Graham is forced to stick his hand up the goat’s rectum to retrieve the remaining condoms. David shows up just as he’s starting this. Tom explains about the stolen cocaine, and David agrees this is the only option. Luke stumbles into the room and finds Ray’s gun. He threatens to shoot himself. David talks him out of it, but the gun accidentally goes off, grazing Graham, who panics. Mia’s the only one who hears the gunshot over the music. She investigates and stumbles on the insanity with the goat and the gun and the cocaine. She’s livid and starts to worry that she made a mistake. David lashes out at his friends for their irresponsibility and selfishness. They agree to rally and take care of the Percy situation.

David and Graham go downstairs to bring the goat, which Tom and Luke will lower, back to the barn. On the way, they’re stopped by the Chief Inspector, who asks them a series of questions with increasing suspicion. They panic and give horrible answers to the questions. Through the window, they see the goat being lowered. The Chief Inspector lets them go, not as suspicious as he seemed. They quickly rush the goat back to the barn, and Graham vomits from the stress. On his way back, Ray pulls a gun on Graham and demands his cocaine. Tom witnesses this. Graham manages to talk Ray out of it by playing on their supposed friendship. He agrees to take Ray out to dinner, and Ray agrees to help clean the bullet wound. Tom smashes a lamp over Ray’s head and drags him to a closet. Jim is mystified as to how Percy got out of the barn and magically reappeared, but he’s pleased. He apologizes to David for suspecting him. David gives his speech, and Tom pops in the DVD and hits play—but it’s the wrong DVD. This one is from his camcorder, and it features a drunk David miming sex with the goat. Jim and Barbara are enraged.

David tries to talk his way out of it by explaining that, while they did get a little out of hand, they’re not exactly criminals. Immediately thereafter, Ray bursts into the reception area firing his shotgun in the air, demanding his cocaine. Ray finds Graham and orders him to come back with him. David tells Ray if he’s taking Graham, he’ll have to take him, too. Ray’s okay with that, to David’s surprise and fear. Luke and Tom also stand up for Graham, when the Chief Inspector arrests Ray. The four friends, having stood up for each other, are in a better place—but David’s still in hot water with Jim, Barbara, and even Mia. Tom appears with the proper DVD, which features a montage of photos from David’s trip with Mia. Seeing them fall in love through sequential photos, Mia and her parents are profoundly affected. Feeling better about David, Mia forgives him for ruining the wedding. Jim and Barbara support the new marriage. Impressed that he got shot in a coke deal gone bad, Daphne asks Graham for his number. Luke calls his ex one last time to apologize for his obnoxious behavior. He’s elated to hear, definitively, that the new boyfriend does have a penis.

Comments:

A Few Best Men is a fast-paced, funny comedy that borders on farce. It has a number of amusing gags and extremely funny dialogue, but it does suffer as a result of its off-kilter narrative structure and thin characters. As written, it merits a consider.

The story’s “laughs first, story second” approach yields a narrative with a very loose, rambling structure. Although the comedic tension increases with each scene, the story itself doesn’t build or develop so much as loosely string together all the gags based around the vague structure of a wedding. The first act sets up the characters and the main comic scenarios—the importance of Percy the goat and the drug deal with Ray—while the second act breezes from one funny scene to the next. In the third act, these comedic scenarios do reach their boiling points and explode into chaos, but the story doesn’t resolve so much as it peters out, realizing its goat and cocaine jokes have finally run their course.

This lack of narrative thrust occurs because the characters are rarely in any real jeopardy. Much of the comedy comes from the characters’ fear of getting caught, rather than the actual danger of getting caught. The Australian family has a surprising amount of trust—which, itself, is played for absurd laughs—but the fact that the script is wall-to-wall comedy means the writer has created a universe where their bizarre antics have no real consequences. Maybe this is a moot point because it’s still funny, but the overall narrative and characters might come across stronger if the writer added some legitimate jeopardy into all the wackiness.

The writer introduces the central foursome quickly and without much complexity: David the straight man, Tom the misguided leader, Graham the neurotic, and Luke the depressive. Although they don’t have much depth, the writer understands how easily these comic archetypes play off of each other, and he exploits it about as well as anyone can. None of them go through any major transformations—not even David, the ostensible lead—and their sudden bonding in the last few pages feels tacked-on, but the group is funny together, and the writer’s great dialogue enlivens characters that could have been boring clichés.

It’s the Australian family that’s the real problem here. The writer never puts David and Mia together long enough to give a sense of how much they love each other—in fact, Mia barely figures into the story at all, except to serve as a reminder that David should be annoyed at his friends. Similarly, Jim and Barbara don’t do much beyond reacting to the chaos unfolding during their wedding. It would be nice if all these characters had a bit more screen time, not just to give them more depth, but to give a better understanding of what’s really at stake for David.

Despite the story and character issues, the script is very funny. A capable director might be able to mine more jeopardy and suspense than what appears on the page, and a solid cast might fill these characters with the pathos and dimension they deserve.

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Suspension of Disbelief

Author: Mike Figgis

Genre: Thriller

Storyline: 4

Dialogue: 6

Characterization: 5

Writer’s Potential: 5

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Pass

Logline:

A successful writer is suspected of murdering a beautiful French girl by the police and the girl’s twin sister.

Synopsis:

The opening sequence intercuts two distinct sequences: MARTIN discussing lecturing a class of eager film students about screenwriting, and a man and a woman in two separate locations having phone sex. As the phone sex gets more intense, and Martin digs deep into the schizophrenic nature of writing, it’s finally revealed that the phone sex sequence is actually a scene from the movie. The two separate locations exist on the same soundstage, and the actress playing the woman—SARAH (early 20s)—is angry the moment director GREGORY (with whom Sarah has a secret relationship) yells “Cut!” She feels her performance is horrible and the other actors are judging her. Afterward, Sarah rides up to her father’s Hampstead home, talking on her cell phone to somebody about coming to her birthday party. Her father turns out to be Martin, a well-off novelist and screenwriter. He buys her a fancy camera for her birthday, which she uses to snap photos at the party. The party itself is a bit raucous, filled with obnoxious young actors. Sarah’s best friend, DOMINIC, shows off his new French girlfriend, ANGELIQUE, a sultry woman whose quiet demeanor stands out among the actors. Martin pays attention. Martin’s AGENT browbeats Martin about missing a deadline on his latest screenplay. Martin complains about writer’s block.

Angelique approaches Martin and gives him a puff on her joint. Sarah snaps a photo of it, disappointed. Martin excuses himself to bed. He lives on the third floor of the house, which has been renovated into a loft-like flat. Angelique is in the room, reading the sexually explicit dialogue from his latest script. She starts pantomiming the actions described. The next morning, Martin greets Sarah and some of her friends (who have been up all night) as they scroll through the photos in her new camera. At the college lecture hall, Martin describes the important balance between character and plot. Back at home, INSPECTOR BULLOCK (a jolly fat man who may or may not be feigning his apparent stupidity) arrives, looking for Sarah. Martin invites him in. Bullock explains Angelique turned up missing and was last seen at the party. Martin keeps a poker face as he explains he only spoke to her briefly. Bullock mentions he’s a fan and is sympathetic about Martin’s wife, who went missing 10 years earlier. Bullock asks Martin to read his own screenplay. Martin reluctantly agrees. Meanwhile, two boys find Angelique’s body floating in a canal.

Martin drives Sarah to the morgue so he can console Dominic as he identifies the body. There’s evidence of sexual trauma, so Bullock theorizes she had a fight with Dominic and walked home alone when she was attacked. They’re shocked when Angelique’s twin sister, THERESE, shows up at the morgue after the police contacted her. In contrast to Angelique, Therese is more conservative and withdrawn. Sarah talks Martin into allowing Therese to stay at Martin’s house. Martin lectures the college students about the difficulties of a three-act structure, because life doesn’t happen in three acts. This descends into a rant about his own writer’s block. Sarah, having attended the lecture, is impressed—the outburst allowed students to relate to him. Martin meets with Bullock to give notes about his screenplay. Martin is exceptionally blunt, saying the script was awful and Bullock has no writing talent. Bullock thinks he’s joking at first. Before Martin can give Bullock a “delicate” statement about Angelique that he’d like kept private, Bullock has a heart attack and is rushed to the hospital.

Martin starts writing a scene about the collapse of a marriage. In his mind, the characters look very much like himself and his missing wife. Sarah calls to say her shooting has run late. It’s just Martin and Therese. He inadvertently walks in on Therese masturbating. Later, he awkwardly offers to make her dinner. They start talking about Sarah. Martin tells her that he wrote the script for the movie Sarah’s acting in. She didn’t want to be accused of nepotism, so she gave a fake name and wore a wig during the audition. Martin invites Therese to scout a location with him. She agrees. Before anything can happen between them, Sarah bursts into the house, angry about her performance. Therese digs around her room until she finds pile of VHS tapes featuring Martin’s missing wife—an actress before her disappearance. Martin visits Bullock at the hospital and gives some gentler notes about Bullock’s screenplay. Bullock is basically an invalid, unable to speak or move—but he can cry.

As Martin drives Therese into the country, she describes her childhood. After their parents were killed in a car accident, Therese and Angelique were adopted by separate families. Angelique accused her adoptive father of sexual abuse, causing the man to commit suicide. Therese’s adoptive parents took pity and adopted Angelique, where she made the same accusation—but this time, Therese knew it was a lie. Though she wanted to protect her sister, Therese told the truth, causing a rift between them. Out in the country, Martin and Therese are given access to an old, defunct NATO bunker. Therese breaks down emotionally, which in the darkness Martin misinterprets as a sexually provocative act. They drive home in silence. Later, Therese tells Martin she’s surprised Angelique didn’t try to seduce her, because he’s exactly the type of man she would be attracted to. Martin has a blowout, sending the car into a ditch. They’re forced to spend the night together in a country inn that only has one room left. Martin calls Sarah to let her know. He and Therese share the bed, but nothing happens. Meanwhile, Sarah brings Gregory back to Martin’s house, and they have sex in his loft space.

When he arrives back in Hampstead, new police detectives wait for him. They’ve intensified the investigation a bit and, after examining Sarah’s photos, they suspect Martin, who’s seen in a photograph where Angelique has a somewhat provocative, flirtatious pose next to him. He reluctantly gives a DNA sample. They inform him that Bullock passed away, which relieves Martin. Martin writes a scene in his screenplay that appears to be a confession of killing his wife. He flashes on sex with Angelique and the strangulation of his wife. He considers deleting the passage from the script but ultimately keeps it. Instead, he burns Angelique’s panties. At the inquest, the coroner—having failed to find any physical evidence of rape—rules Angelique’s death an accidental drowning, which deeply upsets Therese. She’s too grief-stricken to handle the funeral arrangements, but Sarah is too ignorant. Martin agrees to take care of it, once he returns from a day trip to France—to the tiny town in which Therese and Angelique were raised.

Sarah, who has the day off, invites Therese out. At first, she’s a little alarmed by Therese’s apparent familiarity and odd sexuality—she’s a bit more like Angelique than she expected. After a day spent shopping and goofing around, they go to a birthday party for one of Sarah’s friends. They get drunk, and Sarah wakes up the next morning in a post-coital embrace with Therese. Uneasy, Sarah goes off to work. Martin’s still in France, so Therese goes up to his loft and reads his screenplay. In a muted montage, Martin talks with school and adoption officials. Dominic brings Angelique’s things to Therese. She invites herself into his life and moves out of Martin’s place. Martin’s surprised and disappointed, but Therese knows where he went and what he was looking for.

Martin has an odd dream, starting with him and Therese in a boat, which capsizes, causing Therese to drown while Martin does nothing to save her. He wakes up and thinks he sees Angelique. It turns out to be Sarah, dressed in Angelique’s clothes, in an almost pornographic posture. This may or may not also be a part of his dream. All of the central characters gather at the crematorium for Angelique’s service. Therese, now wearing Angelique’s things and her style of makeup, makes Dominic a bit uneasy. The wake is like an unsettling parody of Sarah’s birthday party—all of the same characters, mostly doing the same things, but a bit muted. Therese asks Martin to drive her to the airport. He agrees.

Therese is angry at Martin for sneaking behind her back and investigating her life—mainly because it means he suspects her of killing Angelique. She laughs that she suspected Martin, too, initially. Martin points out that everything she told him about her life was a lie. Therese says that they were, indeed, adopted, by a loving couple, but the father quickly turned to raping both Angelique and Therese, so they killed him, making it look like an accident. In reality, it damaged both of them, and Therese has always felt like the two of them are halves of the same whole—she feels the same things that Angelique does, thinks the same things. That’s how she knew Angelique seduced him—and it’s also how, after spending a few days with him, she knows Dominic killed her. Martin’s surprised by her honesty, but she plays it off by observing that Martin killed his own wife. She leaves Therese with the thought that the two of them are much more similar than he’ll consider. The script fades to black, but the credits are interrupted by the college lecture attendees complaining that Martin can’t end a movie this way. Instead, it’s ended with an oddly theatrical epilogue narrated by Sarah, followed by a curtain call from the entire cast.

Comments:

Suspension of Disbelief is clearly trying to be a sexy, surreal meditation on reality versus fiction. Unfortunately, it’s really just a hackneyed, poorly thought out murder mystery that tries to obscure its lack of resolution with a lot of semi-explicit sex and pretentious talk about screenwriting conventions. As written, it merits a pass.

The story starts off well enough: although the opening sequence is a bit long and on the nose, it clearly establishes some of the script’s central themes. From there, the first act focuses on introducing the characters and the murder of Angelique, which drives the rest of the story. Aside from the fact that the writer makes no one other than Martin seem like a potential suspect in the murder, the story works pretty well up until this point.

Problems arise in the second act, as each character’s role in the story grows increasingly unclear. The writer spends most of his time playing with the audience, but that inadvertently drains the story of suspense. If the audience knows nothing is what it seems, how can they get invested in anything that’s happening? The writer tries to rely on cleverness to push the story forward, but nothing about it is as clever as he seems to think it is. For instance, Dominic—ultimately fingered as the murderer, although by an unreliable character—pretty much disappears from the story after his early introduction. There’s no time to suspect him, which is irritating, not clever.

Although the third act tidily explains everything in one long scene full of bland, on-the-nose dialogue, the narrative is still frustratingly scattershot. None of Martin’s actions seem to add up to him suspecting Therese—in fact, whether it’s intentional or not, he frequently seems like he wants Therese to be his next victim—so his trip to France is bizarre and confusing, as is Therese’s sudden decision to spend so much time with Dominic (all of which occurs offscreen). Everything is explained, but the explanations are weak and unsatisfying. At the end of the day, the script lacks a true resolution—two people sitting in a car, filling in the gaps in the plot, doesn’t qualify as resolution. Neither does the coy, jokey epilogue. Watching this unfold onscreen is likely to infuriate audiences.

The characters suffer from the same problems as the story, for the same reasons: the writer is so intent on obfuscating for the sake of alleged cleverness, it’s incredibly difficult to empathize with the characters. Every character is an enigma, almost until the end, because the writer refuses to tip his hand about anything. This isn’t about trying to guess whodunit—it’s about understanding who these people are, how they relate to one another, and why the events in this story occur. If none of this is clear, why does anything in the story matter? The blunt answer is: it doesn’t.

Of course, this all goes back to the theme, but the theme itself begs the question: if this script is an intense exploration of reality versus fiction, why does most of it read like a third-rate Agatha Christie knockoff? It might have been interesting, or at least more entertaining, if the writer had explored how “real” characters might react being thrust into a convoluted Christie-like mystery, but that’s not how the story plays out.

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The Girl

Author: David Riker

Genre: Drama

Storyline: 8

Dialogue: 8

Characterization: 9

Writer’s Potential: 8

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Recommend

Logline:

After unsuccessfully attempting to bring a group of Mexicans across the border into Texas, an American woman finds herself caring for a young Mexican girl.

Synopsis:

ASHLEY COLEMAN (mid-20s but worn out) works at Wal-Mart. She quietly steals a child’s toy and is caught almost immediately. Her manager is stunned that she’d steal something so cheap, but Ashley explains her payday isn’t until Friday and then requests a raise. When the manager refuses, she accuses him of favoring the Mexican workers over her. Ashley drives to a small house in North San Antonio, where she finds GEORGIE (5) playing on the front lawn. Georgie is her son, but he has a foster mother, GLORIA, who urges Ashley to keep her distance, for Georgie’s own good. Angrily, Ashley leaves. As she drives home, she gazes mournfully signs advertising homes for sale. She lives in a dingy trailer park, and when she gets home, she finds her father’s rig parked in front of it. TOMMY COLEMAN is gregarious and a little obnoxious. Ashley immediately assumes he’s in some sort of trouble. They haven’t seen each other in a very long time. He lives in Mexico and hauls goods across the border. Tommy invites Ashley back to his place. She’s uneasy, but she’s so depressed, she goes.

Along the way, Ashley brings up her mom. Tommy thinks she’s still trying to get them back together. They cross the long bridge over the Rio Grande, into Nuevo Laredo. Tommy takes Ashley to a cantina, where she gets smashed on tequila. Tommy is surprised to learn she speaks fluent Spanish. Tommy pulls out a wad of $100 bills and peels off a few for Ashley. She’s confused about how he got the money, but she takes it. Ashley spends the night at Tommy’s house. The next morning, they ride back across the border. Along the way, Ashley’s startled when she hears banging coming from the trailer. She realizes there are people inside. They pull up along the bridge, where trucks are stacked up for miles, and the U.S. border patrol simply ushers them through. Tommy explains it’s a simple, easy ruse, and he’ll never get caught.

Not long after Ashley gets home, she gets a surprise visit from SALLY, her Child Protective Services case worker. Ashley’s uneasy about the condition of her place, despite Sally’s reassurances. Things get awkward when Sally finds a bottle of tequila, a gift from Tommy. She accuses Ashley of falling off the wagon, which she denies. Ashley angrily accuses CPS of trying to keep her from her son, before throwing Sally out. Feeling trapped and unsure of where to turn, Ashley returns to Neuvo Laredo to find her father for help. He’s gone, so she wanders Plaza Juarez alone. A Mexican man offers to pay her $500 a head to take his friends to Austin. She refuses. Ashley crosses the bridge back into Texas, then goes offroad, driving along the river bank. She finds its shallowest point, finds an empty wooden shack on the Texas side of the river, considers it. She returns to Plaza Juarez to pick up as many Mexicans as she can fit in her Cherokee (including FELIX, PANCHO, little ROSA (8), and her MOTHER). Ashley charges the Mother for Rosa.

Ashley takes them to the narrow spot in the river, tells them to cross and wait in the shack until she gets to them on the other side. The Mexicans are uncomfortable with the arrangement. They want inner tubes to help them across. She tells them to strip down and carry their clothes over their heads. Reluctantly, they agree. Ashley drives away. As she heads back toward the road, she sees a helicopter flying overhead. When she gets to the other side, Ashley drives along the riverbank with her headlights off. Eventually, she makes it to the shack. The only people there are Felix, Pancho, and Rosa—and none of them are happy. The chopper came right over head, trying to force them out of the river. They were the only three to make it across. Ashley tries to reassure them and herself that the others problem just went back to the other side. Felix and Pancho force her to drive them to Austin, but they don’t pay her, and they don’t take Rosa. Rosa is convinced her mother is at the river and demands that they go back. Reluctantly, Ashley takes her back, but they find no one. Ashley catches sight of a border patrol van and instructs Rosa to hide behind a tree. She tells the agent that she needed to stop and pee. He warns her that it’s unsafe. When the agent leaves, Ashley gets Rosa, who wants to follow the river. Instead, Ashley drives her back to Plaza Juarez, where she tries to leave Rosa with a stranger until Rosa’s mother shows up. Rosa starts yelling and making a scene, so Ashley stays with her and agrees to help her look for her mother. She asks Rosa to retrace their steps. Rosa remembers them staying with a priest and leads the way to Casa Migrante, a halfway house for immigrants.

Seeing Casa Migrante is a nice place with good people, Ashley tries to leave Rosa there. When she finds Felix and Pancho are there, they finger her as a coyote. The entire group swarms after her and Rosa. Ashley grabs Rosa and gets out of there, quickly. With nowhere left to turn, she goes to Tommy’s. Tommy is shocked and enraged that Ashley has taken it upon herself to become a coyote. What he does is low-risk, but what she is doing can be incredibly dangerous. He also warns her against keeping Rosa around for too long, so she doesn’t get attached. His perspective has echoes of his abandonment of Ashley, upsetting her and strengthening her resolve not abandon this little girl. So Ashley takes Rosa to the cantina, where she gets hammered on tequila while Rosa looks on. Things get ugly with a man in the cantina, so Ashley stumbles out, dragging Rosa with her. Rosa chastises her for drinking, but Ashley’s too drunk to care.

The next morning, a disheveled and hungover Ashley wakes in a hotel. Rosa digs through Ashley’s wallet and finds a photo of Georgie as a baby. Ashley calls Sally from a payphone to apologize. Sally reminds Ashley that her next court date is tomorrow. Ashley is shocked and a little terrified. Rosa insists that they go to a church that Rosa’s mom frequented. They can look for her, and if they don’t find her, there’s a photo of her there that they can use to try to find her. Ashley gets lost trying to find the church. Frustrated, Ashley stops the car beside some train tracks. Rosa brings up Ashley’s baby, which gets her a little emotional. Assuming Ashley’s mad about the money, Rosa insists her mother will pay her once they find her. Rosa starts talking about her grandmother’s house in San Juan, a little town in Oaxaca. Ashley relaxes a bit. When she hears a train coming, she shows Rosa how to put a penny on the tracks so the train flattens it. When the train passes, they realize they’re sitting right across from the church.

Rosa finds the photo of her mother in a mosaic of hundreds of churchgoers. When a church caretaker hears Rosa’s mother was lost at the river, she takes Ashley aside and explains the firemen pulled two women out of the river yesterday. Ashley insists this can’t be Rosa’s mother, but she goes to the police anyway. She tells her story to a missing persons officer, who shows her the photos of the two women pulled out of the river. One is bloated and unrecognizable—but the other is clearly Rosa’s mother. Ashley can hardly bear to look. A social worker pulls Rosa away, to be put into the care of nuns until she can be placed with a family. Ashley tries to stop them, but she can’t. Ashley drives back across the border, but she stops and has an emotional breakdown before turning back. She goes to the Casa de las Ninas and, with considerable effort, snatches Rosa back. Rosa is not happy, about the abandonment or her obviously dead mother. She’s silent in the car. Ashley calls Sally to reschedule the court date. The best she can do is six months. Ashley has a decision to make—and she sticks with Rosa. Ashley gets a map, so she can figure out how to get to San Juan, but Rosa wants to go to the river. Reluctantly, Ashley takes her there. Rosa makes a circle of rocks on the bank. As she asked earlier, Rosa wants to follow the river to its end. Ashley drives Rosa to the beach. Rosa views the gulf, possibly for the first time, and breaks down in tears. Ashley comforts her.

Ashley and Rosa cross Mexico. To get her mind off her mother, Ashley asks Rosa what she’ll do when she gets home. Rosa describes it in detail, seeming to forget and viewing Ashley as her mother—but then she slips and remembers, and it upsets her again. They drive deep into the mountains. Finally, they see a distant church, which marks the entrance of the village. A fiesta is happening when they arrive, and many of the villagers recognize Rosa. They call for her GRANDMOTHER, who knows upon seeing Ashley that her daughter is dead. It saddens her. Ashley apologizes for her mistakes in helping them cross the border. The Grandmother expresses gratitude that Ashley brought Rosa back. They hold a ceremony for Rosa’s mother. Ashley’s surprised by how many children populate the village. The Grandmother explains that all of their parents went north to the U.S., leaving the elders to care for their children. Ashley says a tearful goodbye to Rosa, finally admitting her baby is no longer a baby—he’s five. She has no new photos because he was taken away. She tells Rosa that her mother clearly loved her a great deal to take Rosa with on the journey to America. Rosa is heartened by that. Ashley gets in her car and starts driving. The mountain terrain is difficult, so she has to drive slow. She hears Rosa shouting after her. Rosa gives Ashley the flattened penny, to give to Georgie. The villagers set off fireworks. Ashley tells Rosa to go watch them for her, then continues her journey, a glint of hope in her eyes for the first time.

Comments:

The Girl is a depressing yet optimistic story of a woman who finds redemption after a lifetime of mistakes. Although it is quiet and deliberately paced, the strong characters and deceptively complex narrative make this script a very compelling, rewarding experience. As written, it merits a recommend.

The first act takes its time in establishing Ashley, a woman whose anger and alcoholism prevent her from doing anything worthwhile in her life. She has a miserable job and home, abandoning parents, and a child of whom she’ll possibly never regain custody. For somebody as reckless and ignorant as she’s portrayed, it makes perfect sense that she’d dive into the coyote game without having a clue what she’s doing.

It’s when she’s forced to care for Rosa that the story really comes alive. Although the pairing of a youthful innocent with a hard, cynical adult is nothing new, the writer does a great job of drawing parallels between Ashley and Rosa, Tommy and Ashley, and Ashley and Georgie. The writer also doesn’t make it easy for stubborn Ashley to redeem herself. Even as their bond slowly forms, Ashley is willing to drop Rosa off with whoever will take her. It isn’t until Ashley learns that Rosa’s mother is definitively dead that she realizes this girl’s life will head down the same rotten path that Ashley’s did, unless she takes action. In a nicely unexpected turn, Ashley is smart enough to realize she’s no more fit to take care of Rosa than Georgie is. It’s her mission to get Rosa back to the people who will love and care for her properly.

After taking time to allow Rosa to grieve, the third act focuses mainly on the newly bonded duo’s journey back to Rosa’s isolated village. Despite the bittersweet parting of Ashley and Rosa, the story still manages to end on a positive note, as it becomes clear that Ashley has made some realizations about her priorities, while Rosa is back in a nice, nurturing environment.

Ashley’s character is extremely strong and vividly rendered. The writer wisely doesn’t apologize for her mostly awful behavior in the first two acts. She’s a miserable, angry person who’s portrayed as adrift, overwhelmed, and unable to handle adulthood. The transformation over the course of the story is well-drawn. The writer never makes the mistake of having her do a complete 180. At the end of the story, Ashley’s still angry and still an alcoholic—but she’s learned a fair amount about what’s important in life, and the script ends with the feeling that she’ll slowly make the changes she needs to in order to have a worthwhile existence. Rosa is equally solid, in her own childish way. She never feels cloying or precocious. The writer draws subtle parallels between her and Ashley, depicting them both as stubborn and a little hostile. He never overplays the slow formation of their bond..

The supporting characters exist primarily to reinforce the lives and conflict of the two main characters. As such, few of them appear in the story for more than a scene or two, and they aren’t incredibly nuanced. However, Ashley’s interactions with characters like Tommy and Sally do a terrific job of showing who she is and how she ended up that way. In that sense, these characters are successful.

The characters are strong, but it’s essential that strong performers play these roles. Any missteps in the casting will be detrimental to the success of this script as a film.

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The Double

Author: Michael Brandt & Derek Haas

Genre: Thriller/Action

Storyline: 5

Dialogue: 7

Characterization: 5

Writer’s Potential: 5

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Pass

Logline:

A retired CIA agent and an FBI profiler team up to track a Cold War assassin who has started killing again.

Synopsis:

Paris, 1988. A Soviet assassin known only as CASSIUS stalks his target through the streets, before finding an isolated spot in the park. In a brutal, swift attack, Cassius disarms and kills the man by cutting his throat with a wire coiled in his wristwatch. Cassius calls his Soviet contact, who chuckles about the press giving him the name Cassius and the men he trained “Cassius 7.” The contact gets menacing, noting that Cassius hid something from them, which has made them unhappy. Cassius knows exactly what he means. He races to a chateau in the country and finds his wife and child dead. He takes a photo of them and marches straight to the American embassy, where he meets with Agent TOM HIGHLAND of the CIA—speaking perfect American English and introducing himself as a CIA analyst who has come up with ideas on tracking the Cassius 7 assassins. “Six months ago,” on the Mexico-U.S. border, coyotes usher a group into the U.S. One of them, a Russian named BOZLOVSKI, kills the coyotes as soon as they’re past the border, then gets into a U.S. Border Patrol truck. Inside are two dead Border Patrol agents and a group of comrades.

On Meet the Press, senators discuss the looming threat of a Russian attack, suggesting that they’re using the U.S.’s preoccupation with the Middle East to their advantage. “Today,” PAUL SHEPHERDSON—once known as Cassius—watches a Little League game in suburban Washington, D.C. A fellow spectator is surprised to learn he has no children on the team—he just lives nearby. Meanwhile, two FBI agents monitor a meeting between a Congressman and a Russian. They’re surprised that the Congressman was planning to take a payoff, but it’s a moot point because the Congressman backs out of the deal. Before the agents can sweep in to arrest the Russian, a shadowy figure steps out of the alley and kills the Russian with a thin wire. The two agents are surprised when Highland—now the director of the CIA—shows up and takes over the case. They question his jurisdiction but are quickly convinced of his authority. Paul walks home and enters his modest home. Highland is waiting inside, startling Paul. Highland tells him they have a murder that looks like Cassius’s M.O. Paul isn’t convinced, but Highland takes him to CIA headquarters to look at the investigation. Paul is surprised to see the CIA and FBI working jointly on the case. Highland introduces Paul to AGENT GEARY, and FBI profiler who idolizes Paul. He wrote a master’s thesis on Cassius, which Paul quickly reveals he read, leading quickly to some mutual respect. Despite that, Geary cannot convince Paul that Cassius is the killer. Paul is ready to go home when Highland tells him they have Brutus, one of the Cassius 7, locked up in prison. This surprises Paul, who leaves nevertheless.

When Paul gets home, he’s aware that the CIA is watching him. He picks up his phone and demands to speak with Highland. After a moment, the dialtone clicks off and Highland gets on the line, urging Paul to finish what he started. Paul insists it’s not Cassius, so Highland tells him to prove it. Paul is teamed up with Geary, who rambles on about Cassius and his thesis, irritating Paul. Geary asks why they wouldn’t tell Paul about Brutus. Paul says they knew he would have killed him. They arrive at a federal penitentiary to interrogate Brutus, a vicious Russian assassin. Paul clings to the shadows while Geary takes the lead, offering a radio in exchange for information about Cassius. Brutus doesn’t tell him much other than the story of Cassius training them—putting 10 men in a room and assigning each to kill another. The six who survived became Cassius’s team. Brutus says, after training, he never saw Cassius again. Geary wonders what happens to him, but before he can say, Paul orders Geary to give him the radio, and they leave. On the way out, Geary asks why. Paul calls Brutus a liar and says they’ll get more information tomorrow—when they threaten to take his radio away. Meanwhile, Brutus pops the batteries out of the radio and swallows them. Hours later, he’s rushed to the hospital, from which he quickly escapes. Paul confronts Brutus in the parking lot, accusing him of killing his family. Brutus denies it, but Paul kills him with his watch wire.

Paul drives to a residential street. He tries to sneak into a house when Geary calls—just before stepping into the backyard of the house Paul is breaking into. Keeping to the shadows, Paul lets the call go to VoiceMail and listens as Geary leaves the message. The next morning, Geary pores over Cassius-related files when he’s called in to Brutus’s murder scene. Playing a hunch that Cassius watches the investigators at work to see who he’s up against, Geary demands that the police photograph every gawker looking at the crime scene. Meanwhile, from a secret perch, Paul watches Geary intently. Eventually, he reveals himself and asks Geary to brief him. Geary insists it’s Cassius, but Paul disagrees. They spot a Russian in the crowd and give chase. The Russian gets the drop on Paul and threatens to cut his throat. Paul tells Geary to shoot, but Geary doesn’t. The Russian gets away. Geary brings Paul home to meet his wife, NATALIE, and his children, LUCY (5) and NICHOLAS (infant). As usual, Geary goes on and on about Cassius. When he says he feels a connection with and some respect for Cassius, Paul is disgusted. He calls Cassius a vicious monster. When Geary excuses himself to use the bathroom, Paul warns Natalie that Geary is probably in danger now that he’s investigating Cassius. Natalie begs Paul to protect him. After dinner, Paul and Geary shoot the breeze on the front stoop. Geary subtly accuses Paul of being Cassius. Paul tells him to call the Little League stadium and ask around—that’s where he was when the Congressman was killed.

Paul visits Natalie at the bookstore where she works. He orders her to get Geary off the Cassius case, warning her again that he’ll die. Geary brings his friend, OLIVER, in on the Cassius case, asking him to try to find a meaningful connection that might show Paul is actually Cassius. Paul stalks Geary through Washington, only revealing himself after Geary finally gets a call from the Little League manager saying he knows Paul and he was there the night of the Congressman’s murder. Paul tells Geary to drop the investigation, but Geary explains he just got word of Paul’s innocence and apologizes. Paul won’t let it go, continuing to warn of the danger and to think of his family. Geary refuses to give up. Highland leads Paul and Geary to a situation room, where their border control analyst shows them video of Bozlovski entering the country. Bozlovski conveniently fits the profile of Cassius, and it fits to Geary and the others that bodies would start dropping not long after he entered the U.S.—tying up loose ends. Geary calls Oliver and tells him to drop the Paul angle and look into Bozlovski.

Paul takes Geary to a contact who deals exclusively in Russian goods, and therefore knows all the Russian activities going on in the area. This man leads them to AMBER, a whore living in a nearby trailer park. When they get inside, she starts shooting at them. Paul throws Geary out of the way of the shots, saving his life. Paul dives on Amber and gets the gun away from her. Paul drags her to the nearby river and threatens to kill her and dump the body if she doesn’t tell him where Bozlovski is. Geary urges Paul to cool down. He talks more reasonably with Amber, who softens and leads them to her brother, LEO. Leo agrees to take them to Bozlovski, who works out of a cannery in an industrial park. Paul instructs Geary, who has no field experience, to wait in the car. Geary insists on following, so Geary puts him on the door and tells him to shoot at anyone who tries to leave. Leo leads Paul into an office, where Bozlovski is waiting. The ensuing shootout results in a small fire that quickly grows. Before Paul can kill Bozlovski, Leo holds his gun on Paul—it was a trap all along. Paul accuses Bozlovski of killing the Congressman, which makes him laugh. Paul says it couldn’t have been Cassius, because Paul didn’t do it. Bozlovski is stunned, but before he can even register it, Paul disarms both Bozlovski and Leo and kills Leo with his watch wire. Paul pursues Bozlovski, but he’s too fast. Geary, who heard the gunshots, comes upon Leo’s body, but he’s not blocking the door. Bozlovski gets away. When Paul explains what happened, Geary thinks it can’t be a coincidence that Cassius’s M.O. shows up, once again, when Paul happens to be there. In kind, Paul accuses Geary of involvement in the Congressman killing, because who would know the M.O. better than a Cassius expert?

Geary returns to FBI headquarters. Oliver has set up a “null hypothesis” to assess the most likely Cassius suspect. Using the crime photos, Oliver has found an enormous probability that Paul is Cassius, because he’s in nearly every Cassius-related crime photo, dating back to his original murders. Geary is stunned. Paul tails Geary to a hospital, where he sees Geary conspicuously toss a newspaper into the trash. Paul picks up the newspaper and sees a code on the crossword section. Now Paul is stunned. Geary finds a photo stuck in his windshield—of Paul and his family in France. Geary returns to his office and finds a folder marked as a copycat. In fact, it’s the murder of Paul’s wife and son. In the background of the crime scene photos, he sees Bozlovski. Geary’s figured it out: Paul went after the other Cassius 7 members to get revenge, but it was Bozlovski all along. Geary is contacted by a Russian—Paul’s contact who sells Russian goods—about the photo. The Russian gives Geary a travel itinerary for Bozlovski. Paul brings Geary in on the arrest of Bozlovski, who intends to leave the country.

Knowing Paul is going to try to kill Bozlovski before they can arrest him, Geary chases them across the tarmac in a mobile lounge. After a scuffle with Paul in his own mobile lounge, Bozlovski kicks through the windshield and runs away on foot. Geary is ready to arrest Paul when Paul presents the crossword code and accuses Geary of being a double, tasked with bringing Cassius out in the open so the Russians could finally take him out and allow their other agents to enter the U.S. without fear of revenge killings. Geary admits it’s true and that he’s been assigned to return to Moscow as soon as he gets Cassius. Paul convinces Geary to do what’s right for his family, so they agree to go after Bozlovski together and pin the Cassius killings on him. Bozlovski ends up killing Paul before Geary can kill Bozlovski. Geary lies to Highland, painting Paul as a hero killed in the line of duty. Geary returns home, considers abandoning his family to return to Moscow, but instead decides to go back inside to his wife and children.

Comments:

The Double aims to pay homage to Cold War spy tradecraft. Instead of the loving homage it could have been, the writers use every cliché in the book to craft a story that lacks surprises and suspense. As written, it merits a pass.

The story tips its hand way too early. Nearly everything in the script that’s supposed to surprise the audience (as indicated by frequent use of underlining to indicate shocking reveals late in the script) is telegraphed in the first act. Obviously, there’s no question that Paul is Cassius. The opening sequence shows this very clearly. It doesn’t make much sense that the writers continue to attempt to twist the possibilities around in the second and third act. Similarly, from the moment Geary’s Cassius obsession is introduced, it’s obvious that he’ll be responsible for the murder of the Congressman. Why? Because that happens in every twisty thriller where the expert profiler knows too much about one particular killer.

The second act tries to build a tense cat-and-mouse game around whether or not Geary will catch Paul or Paul will murder Geary. It’s not quite as tense as the writers think it is, however, as a consequence of the predictability. It simply goes in circles: Paul warns Geary not to investigate while secretly spying on him; Geary continues to investigate and is easily but briefly bamboozled into thinking Paul is innocent. Worse than that, the moment that convinces Geary of Paul’s guilt—a bunch of crime scene photos in which a criminal investigator is on the scene—is based on laughably specious reasoning. This leads to an incredibly unsatisfying third act, in which the audience is treated to reveal after reveal of information even the dullest audience member would have guessed in the first ten minutes.

These reveals shouldn’t surprise Paul or Geary, either, which is more than half the problem. Neither character seems as intelligent or as ruthless as they’re ultimately supposed to be. At least the writers give Paul some weak motivation for not immediately killing Geary: Geary has a family, and Paul doesn’t want to take away their father/husband. The writers attempt to draw a parallel between Paul and Geary and their family lives. This would be a much stronger parallel if not for the fact that so little is revealed about Paul’s feelings about what happened to his family. As for his Cassius M.O.—is there a more eye-rollingly familiar Cold War weapon than the wristwatch that secretly has a strand of razor-sharp piano wire coiled inside? This is just one of many clichés the writers fall back on instead of finding something a little more clever or interesting to make the story seem a little bit fresh.

As a result of the “twist” that Geary was actually trained by the Russians to identify and kill Cassius, his character doesn’t hold up very well under scrutiny. His “Russian assassin” persona doesn’t quite jell with how he behaves throughout the script—as a remarkably inept FBI profiler. He relies on huge leaps in logic and very thin evidence to rule out Paul as Cassius, despite intuition and much stronger evidence suggesting that he is. He relies on a similarly huge leap in logic in finally deciding, once and for all, that Paul is Cassius. Aside from his allegedly brilliant profiling and analytical skills, the writers don’t give Geary much depth. This causes the sloppy writing of his investigation to make him seem much stupider than he’s supposed to be, to the detriment of the character.

The writers make no effort to develop the supporting characters. They exist for no other reason than to give the characters information.

The Double‘s relentless mediocrity will make it difficult for any amount of technical or artistic prowess to turn it into something worthwhile. Its reliance on clichés, dull action sequences, and uninspired plot all add up to a big, tedious dud.

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The Fields

Author: Donald F. Ferrarone

Genre: Thriller/Mystery

Storyline: 5

Dialogue: 5

Characterization: 4

Writer’s Potential: 5

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

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.

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The Grey (Rewrite)

Author: Joe Carnahan and Ian Mackenzie Jeffers

Genre: Drama/Disaster

Storyline: 7

Dialogue: 8

Characterization: 6

Writer’s Potential: 8

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Consider

Logline:

After surviving a plane crash, oil workers must struggle across the Arctic tundra—with a pack of bloodthirsty wolves hot on their trail.

Synopsis:

OTTWAY works in an oil camp with thousands of others, but he has a peculiar job. Stationed on the edge of the camp, his job is to watch for predatory animals (such as wolves) approaching the camp and kill them. He writes a letter to an unknown woman, explaining his job and his rather cynical feelings about it, and in flashback we see him about to commit suicide—when a huge bear nearly kills him. Ottway kills the bear before it can kill him. Instead of sending the letter he’s writing, Ottway tears it up. He gets on an oil-company plane to get to the camp, where a kid named FLANNERY sits next to him. He talks nonstop, so Ottway turns his back on him and naps. Flannery’s insulted. The plane flies into a storm, hits turbulence, starts going down.

Ottway wakes in the wreckage, immediately rushes out to help the others. Flannery made it, but he’s injured. So did LUTTINGER, so he and Ottway help carry Flannery away from the flaming wreckage. They pass another man, whose leg and arm have been cut off. He’s dying. HENRICK stands over yet another, whose gut is ripped open, blood flowing fast. PIKE, BURKE, and TALGET argue about the usefulness of a cell phone in the middle of nowhere. Ottway gathers these survivors and tries to organize a plan. He thinks they need to build a fire, then find food, then wait for daylight and start walking. The others argue with him, insisting they’ll be found. Ottway makes a compelling argument against them being found and points out the wives and children they all need to get back to. The only option is to follow his lead. They all help to build a fire. While gathering wood, three wolves attack Ottway. Henrick notices and comes to help him. Together, they get cut and bruised but manage to ward off the wolves.

They all gather warmer clothes from the victims, which Pike takes as permission to loot their wallets. Henrick and Ottway yell at him for this behavior, but Ottway does believe they should gather the wallets for the victims’ families. They also grab the meager food stored in the plane—frozen dinners and peanuts. They discuss the wolves, and Ottway explains their habits. They travel in packs, so the fact that there’s three suggests they’ve abandoned their pack, which is good for the survivors. They can smell that this entire group has been wounded, which is bad for them. Ottway hopes the wolves will leave them alone. The wolves do come back, though—and they are part of a pack of nine, bigger than average from being in the wild and having to adapt genetically to hunt bigger game. They simply stare at the survivors. Ottway decides they need to sleep in shifts, and he’ll keep the first lookout. During his shift, Ottway begins hallucinating that the woman he was writing the letter to is standing nearby. Dazed, he eats a packet of instant coffee to keep himself awake and stabilized. Later, during his watch, Luttinger sneaks off to urinate—and the wolves get him. At daybreak, the others wake and find his remains, horrified. Ottway decides they need to get away from the wreckage, out in the open tundra so the wolves can’t sneak up on them. He points out that they only have two hours of daylight, so they need to make it count.

As they walk, Ottway finds his gun bag. He digs through it and finds all the guns twisted and useless from the crash, but he takes some usable shell boxes. Burke and Pike ask how Ottway got to know so much, and Ottway explains he was once a poacher. Ottway’s big plan of not getting sneaked upon fails—wolves kill Flannery without much effort, then back off. Henrick is baffled, not understanding why these wolves are taking them out one at a time. Ottway fishes out Flannery’s wallet, and they keep moving. They continue through the open tundra to a forest, which Ottway hopes will give them some protection. He’s wrong—the wolves are waiting at the tree line. Ottway tells them to walk—don’t run—to a distant edge of the trees. Burke defies the order and runs, the wolves nearly killing him until Ottway reminds Burke to use his knife. He stabs a wolf, causing the others to run away. The crash survivors run into the thick of the forest.

Deep in the forest, they find a protected area and build a fire. They hear the wolves in the distance, fighting among themselves. Ottway grabs some branches, tapes shotgun shells to the ends of them, creating spears for each of them. Henrick wonders how well wolves see at night; they’re nocturnal, so they’re bred to see at night. This fact makes none of them happy. Henrick digs through his pack and finds some mini-liquor bottles from the plane. He distributes them. Their discussions turn into heated arguments, turning into a fistfight—when a wolf is upon them, attacking Pike. It takes a great deal of effort, but with the knives, shell-spears, and empty liquor bottles, the entire group manages to take down the wolf. Proud of their victory, Ottman insists on roasting the wolf and eating it, because the wolves will sense and smell what they’re doing and think twice about attacking again.

Later, Ottway and Henrick assess Burke’s wolf injuries. They fear he’s hypoxic, an altitude sickness that will kill him if it goes untreated. Later, the group falls into a discussion about faith. The conversation is cut short when Burke begins raving about his daughter. They know he’s at death’s door and try to calm themselves by talking about their own families. A storm rages upon them, wind blowing furiously. Burke ends up dying as a result. They try to make some distance during the day, then struggle to build a fire in the wind. Ottway ends up setting his hand on fire, but eventually they get the campfire lit, blocking the wind with their bodies. After the wind dies down, Ottway hears the distant sounds of a river. They’re thrilled, thinking the river will lead them to civilization. They rush to investigate…and find a high cliff edge.

The only way to get to the river is to scale the cliff—30 feet out, then 20 feet down. They construct a crude tether from a trussing rope and clothing from the wreckage. Terrified, Henrick makes the first dive and successfully gets to the trees, securing the tether. Pike goes next, followed by Ottway, leaving Talget, who has a vertigo attack and ends up falling. The trees blanket his fall, but not by much. Nonetheless, he’s alive when the wolves come upon him. He hallucinates his little girl is with him and doesn’t seem to notice as the wolves eat him alive. Pike freaks out, concerned the wolves are never going to let them go. Ottway tells Pike not to think about dying—just fight. Pike looks uncertain as they march toward the river.

As they trudge along the bank, Pike simply collapses. Ottway and Henrick try to convince him to keep going, but Pike refuses. He’s stopped caring, content with the idea of going out on his own terms. There’s nothing for him back in the real world, so why fight to get back there? The others accept this decision and wait for him to die. Afterward, Henrick asks Ottway where he was headed “that night.” Ottway doesn’t know what this means, but Henrick explains he saw Ottway leaving the bar—the night he attempted suicide, at which point it becomes clear that the flashback bear attack from earlier immediately followed Ottway sticking a shotgun in his mouth and preparing to pull the trigger. Henrick’s only seen the look in Pike’s eyes one other time—that night, in Ottway’s eyes. Ottway has no answer to the question. Henrick asks another: what made Ottway change his mind? Ottway shrugs: “Fear.” They continue trudging along the river ice floe when it caves in, bringing Henrick down with it. Ottway struggles to pull Henrick out, but the current is too strong. Henrick freezes to death before he even has a chance to get pulled under.

Ottway keeps moving, yelling at himself for getting everyone killed. He comes upon an icy bottleneck, followed by a clearing, where animal carcasses are strewn about. As Ottway keeps moving, he sees a cave. Sitting at the mouth of the cave—one of the wolves, watching, waiting. Ottway has walked right into their den without realizing it. Angry and reflecting on all the lives lost on this journey, Ottway takes his own advice to Pike and confronts them head-on—taking on the six remaining wolves with unabashed fury. It’s an unfair fight, and the wolves kick his ass, but they don’t kill him. They’re scared away by something— the noise of an approaching helicopter. It lands and brings Ottway to the hospital, where he lies in bed with the woman glimpsed earlier.

Comments:

The Grey is a modern take on Jack London-style arctic adventures, with elements of grim disaster movies like The Perfect Storm and Alive. The script contains a number of harrowing, adrenaline-pumping set pieces, but its overall lack of character development causes the many deaths to lack emotional impact. As written, it merits a consider.

The first act does a nice job of setting the tone, establishing the stakes, and giving some idea of what this script will be about: man versus wolf in the arctic tundra. However, the writers misfire almost immediately by focusing far too much on Ottway and not enough on the ensemble. Ottway is a fairly compelling character, but this story follows seven of the plane crash survivors, and all of them (including, to some extent, Ottway) lack depth.

Over the course of the second act, there are a lot of dialogue scenes—characters discussing what to do about the wolves, where to go next, etc. This should add some dimension to the other characters, but it really doesn’t. They’re each assigned a single personality quirk (Flannery the chatterbox, Pike the remorseless thief, etc.), but they don’t develop into more compelling characters as the story goes on. When the body count starts going up in the second act, the deaths have minimal impact as a result of this poor development. The narrative simply moves on without dwelling.

In the third act, this flaw becomes especially apparent, in which Ottway ultimately becomes the lone survivor. While it’s satisfyingly ironic to see Ottway accidentally stumble into the wolves’ den, the reflection on his fallen colleagues doesn’t pack the punch it should, on either Ottway himself or the audience. Finally, Ottway awakens in a hospital with his mysterious lost love by his side, and it becomes clear where the writers went wrong: they took a gritty ensemble piece and attempted to turn it into a half-baked story about one man searching to reclaim his lost love.

What might help the characters’ believability is a chance to see them in the real world, working their oil rig or drinking at the bar. All the writers show is Ottway, not introducing any of the other characters until they get on the plane. If the writers give a better understanding of what drives the others, the rest of the story will fall into place and their untimely deaths will have some meaning.

Instead, these deaths just prompt lingering questions like, “Why was Pike’s life so rotten that he decided to simply wait to die instead of muddling through until they found rescue?” The script wants his death to seem like a noble reward for a man who led a tough, impossible life—but they never develop the character fully enough for the audience to understand his tough, impossible life. Ironically, Ottway is the only character who has his mysterious questions answered, but his love story feels ambiguous and tacked-on. It’s never clear if this motivates him to stay alive to get back to the woman he loves, or if the fact that he know he’ll never see her again haunts him and makes him both fearless and reckless.

The overall beats of the post-crash story are pretty solid and loaded with variety. The writers do a very good job of exploiting their setting without feeling too much like similar movies (e.g., Alive). Really, the poorly developed characters are the only thing keeping The Grey from being a great survival story.

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The Promised Land

Author: Michael Winterbottom & Laurence Coriat

Genre: Docudrama/Historical

Storyline: 6

Dialogue: 7

Characterization: 4

Writer’s Potential: 5

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Pass

Logline:

British police attempt to quell Jewish terrorism in World War II-era Palestine.

Synopsis:

Archival newsreel footage is accompanied by CHAMBERS narrating the violent history of the Jewish return to Palestine: after several failed attempts starting in 1897, during World War I a Zionist leader finally convinced the British Empire to establish a “National Home for the Jewish People” in Palestine, controlled by the British. This didn’t make the Arab population happy. Throughout the 1920s, the British allowed more Jews to emigrate into the area, increasing the population significantly. Despite British control, the Jews looked after themselves, with their own self-run union, military force, and schools. With the rise in Arab attacks, the British established a police force modeled after Scotland Yard. Ironically, the Arab terrorist attacks caused the Zionists to create their own terrorist organization, the Irgun, to fight back. The British police spent more time chasing them than the Arabs. Chambers introduces the major players: British detectives WILKIN and MORTON, and Irgun leaders JABOTINSKY and AVRAHAM STERN.

GOLDBLUM, leader of the local Haganah military, brings a group of women (including SHOSHANNA) to a hotel with orders to use their feminine wiles to lure British police into relationships and slowly bring them over to the side of the Jewish cause. The Haganah works with British forces to protect their land, but it’s not good enough for the Irgun—they want all of Palestine to themselves and are prepared to fight for it. Stern and a few others are sent to rob a bank to fund the Irgun’s plans. Wilkin and his boss, CID leader CAIRNS, identify Stern easily but do not catch him with the other robbers. Wilkin and Shoshanna attend a party. They flirt with each other and dance. After, Wilkin walks her home, and she propositions her. Surprised but eager, he brings her back to his apartment. Chambers goes to Jenin, an Arab village, to meet with Morton, the superintendent of their police force. Morton tricks villagers into giving up their cache of illegal weapons by faking the execution of a prisoner. In voiceover, Chambers describes how things with the Irgun really got started: after an Arab killed a Jewish settler, Irgun member SHLOMO BEN YOSEF led a group on an incompetent mission attacking an Arab bus. Shlomo was arrested and executed, and he became a martyr for the Irgun cause. Stern uses the execution to his advantage, writing frequent newsletters calling his countrymen to action—against the British as well as the Arabs. Stern begins manufacturing explosives that are detonated in crowded markets throughout Palestine.

Cairns and Wilkin struggle to track down the bombers, but they’re good at blending in and fleeing before the bomb even goes off. Eventually, they track down a few Irgun members, hoping they will provide better leads. They find out the name of the bomb maker, but nothing else. Several months later, at another party, Goldblum congratulates Shoshanna on her choice of Wilkin. Chambers reintroduces Wilkin and Morton, who trained together. The British High Commissioner imposes a limit on the number of immigrants in an attempt to curb the terrorism. This only fuels the Irguns’ resolve. Stern declares an official war on the British and Arabs. More bombs are set off throughout the nation. Cairns finally finds the bomb maker, when he accidentally blows himself up. He dies without giving them any information.

Shortly thereafter, Cairns is targeted and shot down in the street. Despite the increasing violence and the tension between Britons and Jews, Wilkin takes Shoshanna on a trip to Jerusalem and asks her to marry him. Shoshanna asks for time to think about it. The following day, the heat causes Wilkin to start lashing out at Shoshanna. They both realize marriage might not be right thing. The British police begin following a lead, whom they track right to Stern’s secret headquarters. The police storm the house and arrest everyone there, including Stern. Wilkin interrogates Stern, who won’t give up much information. He does tell them he wants a Jewish homeland and unkindly suggests the Arabs can go to one of the neighboring Arab countries. Stern’s imprisonment is short-lived. When war breaks out with Germany, the Irgun announces they will start working with the British against the Germans. In an act of good faith, the British release all Irgun prisoners. Stern quickly forms a splinter organization, Freedom Fighters of Israel, which has no such goodwill toward the British.

Morton is promoted to replace Cairns. Morton’s tactics and personality quickly rub Wilkin the wrong way. Stern and his men resume robbing banks to finance their work. Wilkin takes Shoshanna to a dinner party hosted by Morton and his wife, ALICE. Morton is somewhat hostile toward Shoshanna, but Alice is polite. At work, Wilkin explains the threat Stern poses. Morton says he wants to use informants to find Stern, but Wilkin doesn’t think that will be as easy with the Jews as it was with the Arabs. Morton ignores him. Shortly thereafter, Morton announces a complaint has been filed against Wilkin, alleging that he knew about a Haganah member working for the police but didn’t nothing. Wilkin tries to argue, but the committee investigating it seems preoccupied with his relationship with Shoshanna. Realizing he’s being railroaded, he storms out of the meeting. Wilkin confronts Shoshanna about her brother, whom the committee insisted has Irgun ties. Shoshanna tells him she hasn’t seen her brother in years. Wilkin demands to know whose side she’s on. Shoshanna leaves, for good.

Morton takes Alice to pick up SHMUEL, his informant. Shmuel tells them about a Haganah arms cache. The next day, Morton prepares for a raid. Wilkin is livid, trying to explain that the Haganah hate Stern as much as the British do, but Morton doesn’t care. To him, an illegal organization must be stopped, whether they’re sympathetic to the British or not. Wilkin tries to get Shoshanna to talk to him, but she won’t. Schmuel turns up dead, executed by the Haganah for his treason. This fuels Morton’s disdain for the Jewish population. Shoshanna goes to Chambers to tell him that she has ended her relationship with Wilkin, so there’s no need to continue investigating him. Stern’s group robs another bank. The police catch two of the robbers and torture one, who refuses to talk. Not long after, the two officers who tortured the robber are killed. They do this to suss out Wilkin, their newest target. Their bomber won’t detonate the bomb because too many women and children are around. An informant comes out of the woodwork to tell Morton and Wilkin the alleged location of Stern. They check it out, fearing an ambush, and they’re not wrong—three men start shooting at them. Morton believes they will find a fourth. They do and arrest him.

The fourth man receives a letter, allegedly from his wife. They track down the address of this “wife” and find Stern. Morton is called in once Wilkin and his detectives have arrested Stern. Morton shoots Stern dead, claiming he tried to escape. Not even Wilkin believes this. Fearing she might be a target, Wilkin seeks out Shoshanna and tells her everything that happened with Stern. They make love and get back together, but not for long—Chambers reassigns Wilkin to Jerusalem, fearing he’s a target. They confirm Morton is a target, so the British assign bodyguards to himself and his family. Wilkin convinces Alice to convince Morton to return to England. She does, which leaves Wilkin as the main target of the Irgun’s ire.

Wilkin is tracked in Jerusalem. Assassins are dispatched. They make the long trip from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. They wait for Wilkin to leave his secure government housing on the way to work. Wilkin sees them and is immediately suspicious, but before he can draw his weapon, he’s gunned down in the street. The assassins speed away. Chambers tells Shoshanna that Wilkin has been killed. She’s horribly upset. Shoshanna, along with the rest of the Haganah, joins forces with the Irgun and the Freedom Fighters of Israel to force the British out. In voiceover, Chambers admits some relief to leaving, but he’s disappointed that they made such a mess of things. In 2008, real interview footage with a blasé DAVID SHOMRON—one of Wilkin’s assassins—finds him describing the difference between murder and execution. Shomron felt nothing about what he did—he executed him because he was ordered to.

Comments:

The Promised Land is never quite sure if it wants to be a sweeping, ensemble-driven epic or an intimate love story set against the backdrop of British-occupied Palestine. The emphasis on the overall story of this time in history marginalizes the love story, making it seem forced and unconvincing. Simultaneously, the focus on this love story undermines the many other people involved in the historical events, making the overall struggle less compelling than it should be. As written, it merits a pass.

The first act is devoted almost completely to historical background information narrated by Chambers, a peripheral character. While this background is necessary for many audience members to understand what will unfold in the second and third acts, the story doesn’t focus at all on Wilkin, the person who eventually emerges as the main character. Without tying the story to Wilkin and/or Shoshanna from the start, it becomes a major structural problem as characters enter and leave the story in rapid succession. There isn’t much, dramatically, for an audience to sink their teeth into.

This presents a problem when the writers do finally start telling Wilkin and Shoshanna’s story. After so many characters enter the story and either die or outlive their usefulness to the historical events, it’s hard to know that these are the people audiences should care about. Neither Wilkin nor Shoshanna are presented as having any clearly defined goals or desires, making it even harder to differentiate them from the numerous supporting players in the story. This is partly because, even after the script brings them into focus, the script spends more time on the historical events than these two characters. It’s only in the third act, when the story closes with Wilkin’s tragic death followed by an apathetic interview from his killer, that it becomes evident that the Wilkin-Shoshanna story is supposed to be more than just a romantic subplot.

Overall, the writers simply don’t spend enough time developing the relationship between Wilkin and Shoshanna into something more interesting than a mere story beat. For instance, it’s poignant conceptually that Shoshanna gets involved with Wilkin because of orders from Goldblum but then truly falls in love with him, but their romance is never made convincing. They spend too much of their time discussing plot-related political affairs instead of getting to know each other in more significant ways. It makes moments like Wilkin’s proposal seem far-fetched and confusing instead of loving and romantic. Developing the relationship would, in turn, give these characters more depth. They’re based on real people, yet they never feel like more than cardboard cutouts. Only the fact that they have more screen time signifies Wilkin and Shoshanna as more important than any of the many other characters.

Ironically, the time the writers spend dramatizing the relationship comes at the expense of all those supporting characters. The story is rather complex, but the writers are content to merely dramatize the historical events rather than depict the people behind these events. While the characters don’t necessarily fall victim to ridiculous stereotyping or clichés, they also don’t stand out as anything more interesting than historical chess pieces. For the most part, they don’t seem to have any motivations or feelings regarding the things they are doing or that are being done to them. The only exception is Avraham Stern, whose desire to see a Jewish state very clearly drives every one of his actions.

It’s possible that a skillful director can overcome some of the narrative obstacles, and maybe great actors can fill in the gaps on what drives these characters to do the things they do.

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Age of Heroes

Author: Adrian Vitoria and Ed Scates

Genre: War/Action/Historical

Storyline: 3

Dialogue: 5

Characterization: 4

Writer’s Potential: 4

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Pass

Logline:

During World War II, a unit of British commandos raid a communications outpost in German-occupied Norway.

Synopsis:

World War II. On the Belgium/France border, four British soldiers—including SMITH and their de facto leader, RAINS—take on heavy enemy fire as they attempt to escape a vicious battle. Although one of the soldiers is seriously injured, Rains refuses to leave a man behind. They narrowly escape the Germans but end up lost in the French woods. Eventually, they come upon a British military police checkpoint. Noting that the soldiers have lost their leader, the military police attempt to send them on an ambush job. Rains refuses, observing that he doesn’t take orders from MPs, and the last order from his sergeant was to go to Dunkirk. Angered by the defiance, the MP arrests them and forces them to a detention camp to rehabilitate insolent soldiers.

Meanwhile, commando leader CAPTAIN JACK “DAVEY” JONES meets with IAN FLEMING, his lieutenant commander. Fleming explains to Jones that they use RDF (a precursor to modern radar) to track German ship movement—but the Germans are working on similar technology. Jones must lead his group into German-occupied Norway and destroy their prototypes. Helping them will be MORTEN STEINAR, a Norwegian-born American who volunteered with the royal military. In the military prison, Rains is defiant from the start. He tries to help a dehydrated fellow soldier, BRIGHTLING, and attacks a prison guard when they tell him to stop. Brightling is actually a commando. He takes a shine to Rains, who thought commandos were just a myth. Jones arrives at the prison to retrieve Brightling, and Rains insists on tagging along. Jones sends Rains away, telling him to find Jones once he’s released and maybe he can be considered as a commando then. Rains deliberately misinterprets Jones’s instructions. He steals a rifle and holds Jones hostage until he’s safely out of the prison. Jones is both irritated and impressed by Rains’s speed, skill, and improvisation. They meet with MAC, a Scottish sergeant, before dropping Brightling off at a hospital. They go to Scotland to train with Steinar and several other members of Jones’s team.

Rains and Steinar are taught how to use the special commando weapons and explosives, hand-to-hand combat, mountain-climbing, and stealth. Rains gets to know the other men. After extensive training, Fleming shows up to brief them on intelligence. They’re to fly into Norway with a young soldier, ROGER ROLLRIGHT, an expert on the German RDF technology. They’ll rendezvous with a resistance operative known only as BEOWULF, who will lead them to the German’s RDF, which Rollright will help them destroy. Once the mission is completed, they’ll return to pickup coordinates and wait for a return flight. Rains asks about the opposition. Fleming tells them they’re up against an extremely well-trained platoon, but they have the advantage of surprise. The men prepare for the mission. Jones assigns Rains the job of protecting Rollright.

On the plane, the PILOT explains that because the weather is good, he’ll land and allow them to dismount with their skis. He’ll return to retrieve them in 72 hours, unless they send up a red flare to signal danger. The dozing comandos are suddenly awakened over Norway as antiaircraft fire threatens to rip their plane apart. They toss out their equipment and parachute out of the plane, losing two men in the chaos. The others reach the mountain forest safely, but they’ve lost their skis and have to hike down the mountain to the rendezvous point. While Rains and Steinar keep watch, Beowulf arrives, skiing down the mountain, face covered in balaclava. To their surprise, Beowulf is LIV JANSEN, a Norwegian woman. They take her to Jones, who is equally surprised. Jensen briefs them on the intelligence she has gathered. They have roughly 20 soldiers guarding the RDF, but they’re using the harbor to store U-boats. They organize the infiltration of the communication outpost, and carry out their assault. Despite some casualties on the British side, the soldiers manage to hold the Germans off long enough for Jensen, Rains, and Rollright to destroy the RDF kit and steal the technology for analysis. They retreat in a German jeep. Jensen radios for their pickup, but Fleming tells them there’s a storm approaching—their only option is to cross the border into neutral Sweden.

Rains and Steinar do some recon over the nearby village and discover the SS herding villagers to the center of town, where they’re all unceremoniously executed. Both are horrified, particularly Steinar. Jones and Mac try to convince Rains and Steinar that they’re merely casualties of war, but Rains and Steinar won’t accept that. Jones tells them their objective is to return home, but Steinar convinces them to stay behind and go after the SS officers who did this. Jensen knows the SS officers and U-boat captains spend most of their time in a nearby ski lodge, which is not heavily guarded. The group mounts up and descends on the ski lodge. A wild firefight ensues. Rains places explosives. Once placed, they retreat into blizzard-like conditions. Jensen is pleased—this will give them ample cover for hours. Jones is shot in the thigh. Steinar intends to retaliate by throwing a grenade, but he’s shot dead before he can throw it. Jones and Mac scramble away just as it explodes. As conditions worsen and ammunition gets low, Jensen, Rains, and Rollright are forced to separate from Jones and Mac. By dawn, the trio reaches the Swedish border.

Comments:

Age of Heroes tells a straightforward World War II story with as little flourish or suspense as possible. Although the screenplay itself is actually incomplete (cutting off where one assumes the third act would begin), enough of the story is present to know the by-the-numbers storytelling and dull characters point to a screenplay that simply doesn’t work. As written, it merits a pass.

The first act does nothing more than give background information on Rains, Jones, and the mission. Redundant scenes show Rains defying authority and Jones learning the details of “Operation: Grendel,” over and over again to the point of tedium. When they’re finally brought together at the end of the first act, the script continues to pile on the redundancies through endless training montages and “character development” scenes. These scenes should define all the characters, but none of them have much personality or depth beyond their varied nationalities. Rather than imbuing the characters with any real spark, the scenes simply rehash the same traits (one per character, if that) ad nauseam.

The script gets a bit more interesting when the unit meets Jensen and prepares their assault on the communications outpost. However, the writers make too many grave miscalculations in the story. After page after page of tedious, redundant scenes in the first half of the script, they’re forced to rush through the meat of the story—destroying the Germans’ RDF—which automatically makes it less compelling. Also, it drastically reduces the amount of jeopardy for the characters and crushes the suspense. Although bullets are flying and the expendable members of the unit who have no dialogue or traits get killed, everything seems too quick and easy. Expanding on the mission (while drastically reducing the endless training montages), filling in the details of what they actually need to do and then throwing monkey wrenches into their plans, would greatly enhance the script.

As mentioned, the characters lack any real spark or individuality. Aside from Rains’s inconsistent disdain for authority (without any real rhyme or reason, he seems to choose which authority figures he’ll decide to respect), the only personality these characters have is driven by their nationalities. That’s simply not enough to make them interesting. They also lack any real interpersonal conflict, which contributes to the feeling that everything in this supposedly arduous mission comes to easily. With all of them getting along and all the selfless heroics, they all come across as a bit bland.

The writers also seemed to have been attempting a romantic subplot between Rains and Jensen. Aside from Rains flirting and Jensen rebuffing his advances, it doesn’t go anywhere in the first two acts. Unless it manages to do the job of undoing the problems with the characters’ lack of depth in the missing third act, it feels about as tacked-on and pointless as a romantic subplot can. Again, this all roots back to the lack of depth. It’s hard to show two people fall in love convincingly when they don’t have enough personality to make their attraction to one another clear.

It’s unlikely that even exceptional acting or skillful filmmaking will improve such a problematic script.

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A Great Education

Author: Christopher Keyser

Genre: Drama/Romance

Storyline: 6

Dialogue: 8

Characterization: 5

Writer’s Potential: 6

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Pass

Logline:

At 1930s Harvard, a poor student must come to terms with the fact that his wealthy best friend is gay and has fallen in love with him.

Synopsis:

In 1936, CHARLES KINER (18, ambitious and optimistic) arrives at Harvard College, determined to leave behind the boring old “Charlie” from Athens, Indiana. He enthusiastically discusses his college career with PROFESSOR PILLSBURY (50s, a blue blood), his academic advisor. Pillsbury reminds Charles that his scholarship doesn’t cover his full semester bill, so he must find a work-study job. Charles takes a job as a waiter in the freshman dining hall, where he’s treated poorly by the wealthy students. While crossing Harvard Yard one night, Charles sees a group of students having fun with some Radcliffe girls (including LIZA, to whom Charles finds himself attracted )as they stumble into a club. Charles attempts to follow them inside, but he’s kept out by the stern doorman. In the dining hall, Charles has the privilege of seeing the Krokodiloes (an a cappella singing group) perform. He’s amazed by the soaring harmonies and the apparent camaraderie, so he attempts to join the group. He quietly slinks into the auditions, where he’s all but ignored—until he actually starts singing. The others are dazzled by his lilting, angelic voice. Pillsbury warns Charles against joining the group, suggesting it will distract him from his studies.

When the Krokodiloes show up at his dorm room to announce he’s made the cut, Charles ignores Pillsbury’s advice and joins them enthusiastically. The other guys take him to buy his first tuxedo (the group’s official uniform), and Charles strikes up a fast friendship with ALEX, who volunteers to pay for Charles’s tux. They have lunch together, and Alex is amazed by the fact that Charles comes from Indiana and attends the school on scholarship. Pillsbury sees Charles among the Krokodiloes and chastises him for throwing away his college career for frivolities. After spending the entire night hanging out with his new friends, Charles is shocked to see the sun coming up. He excuses himself to go to work. Alex volunteers to pay the balance of Charles’s tuition, and when Charles resists, Alex points out that this will be the best use of his money so far. Charles, who would rather hang out with the Krokodiloes than work as a waiter, allows Alex to do this. Charles ditches a study session with his former coworkers at the dining hall to go to a fancy party in Newport and sing with the Krokodiloes. Liza and her family are at the party, as are Alex’s stuffy parents. Charles flirts with Liza. When he returns to Harvard, he struggles to complete an exam.

Charles calls Liza to ask her out on a date. She shoots him down, so he and the Krokodiloes stand outside her window, serenading her with “Liza” (the Gershwin song). This wins her over. Charles begs Alex to teach him how to dance in time for his date. Alex viciously refuses, but finally gives in. Charles is terrible, but Alex is great. They faux-flirt. Charles takes Liza out to a park to fly a kite. He’s horrible at it. He takes her dancing, and he’s horrible at that, too. Liza finds his ineptitude endearing. The end up in front of the Porcellian Club, an elite, male-only “final club.” They each acknowledge the fact that they don’t belong there—he’s too poor, and she’s a woman. Alex, on the other hand, does belong, and from inside the club, he witnesses Charles and Liza kiss each other goodnight.

Reality comes crashing down when Pillsbury informs Charles that he’s only pulling Bs and Cs, which are not good enough to remain on scholarship if he doesn’t improve before the end of the semester. Charles gripes that Roosevelt had a C average, but Alex observes that Roosevelt was rich. Alex tentatively invites Charles on a trip to New York, but Charles gripes that he needs to study to stay on scholarship. Alex writes Charles an IOU for the amount of the scholarship and takes Charles to New York. Charles is amazed by the size of the city. Alex takes Charles to a cool jazz club. The next morning, Charles takes the first train back so he can keep a date with Liza. Alex meets with his parents, who encourage him to find a girlfriend of his own (unaware Charles is dating her, they suggest Liza). Alex doesn’t show up for the next Kroks rehearsal, so Charles goes to his room to check on him. A drunken Alex angrily sends Charles away.

On the night before the big Harvard/Yale game, the Kroks and Yale’s Wiffenpoofs hold a joint concert. Charles is disappointed to learn Liza is ditching him for a lecture on “the Nazi problem.” When they reunite afterward, Liza’s too despondent to feign enthusiasm as Charles recounts the concert. She complains that the world is too scary to have fun. She announces they should sleep together, in defiance of the terrifying world in which they live. Charles is very enthusiastic about this idea, but neither of them can go back to their dorm rooms. Charles rents a tiny hotel room and takes an eternity removing his many layers of winter clothing, to Liza’s amusement. The next morning, Charles and Liza have breakfast with Liza’s parents. Her father is impressed to learn Charles overslept because he was “studying,” and offers to give Charles a tour of his brokerage house. After, Liza is irritated that her father would essentially offer Charles a job without knowing more about him than that Liza likes him. Charles urges her to tell her father how she feels, but she’s too afraid. Liza wonders why Charles never spends any time with Alex. Charles says he’s gotten weird, and Liza theorizes it’s because he’s jealous of their dating. She decides to fix Alex up on a double date, but Alex treats the other girl horribly and storms away from them. Charles confronts Alex about his behavior, and Alex lets it slip out that it’s Charles, not Liza, that he’s fallen in love with. Alex knows how wrong it is, doesn’t like the way he feels, but he can’t help it. Horrified, Charles flees.

Liza asks what is going on with Alex. Charles tells her she was right: he has a crush on Liza and is jealous of the time Charles is spending with her. Charles spends the entire holiday break frantically studying for final exams. Liza tries to cajole Charles into coming out, but he refuses. After the exam, Alex stands outside Charles’s windows, waiting. He apologizes to Charles about his feelings, wanting only to remain his friend. Charles tells him to keep away. Charles visits Liza, who has received a letter from Alex, spilling his guts about everything. Liza wants to know why Charles won’t talk to Alex. Enraged, Charles storms into the Porcellian Club to confront Alex. Alex tells Charles he’s spent his entire life bored, because he has everything, but now something matters to him, and he can’t simply ignore it. Charles orders him to stop talking about it. After the public confrontation, word gets out. The other Kroks move to kick Alex out of the group, and Charles does nothing to stop them.

Charles receives his final grades: still Bs and Cs. The fellowship committee revokes his scholarship. He goes to see Liza, who has learned about Alex getting kicked out of the Kroks. She dumps Charles. Charles is dragged to a party by the other Kroks, who ramble on and on about their petty, wealthy problems. Charles is going crazy, wanting to study and needing to find a job. Charles gets a job as a stock boy at a music store. Alex dines with his parents. His father has learned he’s a homosexual. His mother is shocked. Alex is thrown out of his house. Charles turns over a leaf, working his ass off (both at school and the store). One night, at the library, Liza decides to talk to Charles. She’s still angry that he turned his back on a friend in need. She points out that they both know what it’s like to want something desperately that they can’t have. Charles tells her she has no room to talk if she won’t talk to her father about a job.

Liza calls her father, but he doesn’t take her seriously. A drunken Alex shows up and commiserates. They both idly consider going to Spain to help in the war effort. Alex decides he’s going to cross the Charles River into Boston. Liza points out it’s not cold enough for the river to be frozen over, but Alex doesn’t care—he’ll swim across if he has to. Unable to stop him, Liza rushes to find Charles. Charles and Liza race for the river and find Alex in the cold water. He narrowly avoids drowning, thanks to Charles’s help. Liza tends to the two of them until they warm up. Charles and Alex argue about the stupidity of Alex’s actions, and they tentatively make amends. Charles rushes to Pillsbury’s office to turn in a paper. He witnesses Pillsbury get turned down for the job of Chairman of his department. Pillsbury tells Charles a late paper is automatically dropped two letter grades. Charles whines that this is unfair, that he’s working two jobs and taking four classes, but it’s not good enough. Pillsbury has no sympathy—he knows Charles is still spending time socializing and drinking instead of studying.

Desperate to make ends meet, Charles sells most of his possessions and begs for more hours at the store. The manager tells Charles he’d have to work full-time, plus overtime, to get what he needs to cover tuition. It’s impossible, so Charles faces facts and quits school. The bursar informs Charles that his bill for the spring term has already been paid in full. Charles knows Alex paid for it, so he instructs her to tear up the check and consider him gone. Charles visits Alex to tell him he can’t take his money. Charles is stuck working at the music store because he sold his train ticket back to Indiana and can’t afford another one. While there, he notices a book of photos of everyone who’s worked at the store since the 1880s. He’s surprised to find Pillsbury’s photo. Charles confronts Pillsbury about it. Pillsbury finally explains that he’s spent 30 years learning what he hoped he could teach Charles in six months: that status is everything, and he needs to accept who he is and stop trying to impress the blue bloods. Pillsbury disappointedly confesses he and his wife had a son who would have been Charles’s age, but he died of the Spanish flu as a baby. However, they started him a college fund, which has grown considerably over the past 20 years. Pillsbury offers it to Charles, who humbly accepts.

Liza invites Charles to a Radcliffe social. He playfully turns her down in favor of studying, but she insists. Alex is at the soiree. The three of them dance together. Later, Alex announces he’s going off to Spain, to drive an ambulance. Charles and Liza are shocked but sort of impressed. Alex tells them he’s realized he needs to do something that matters, for once. Pointedly directed at Liza, Alex asks if anyone wants to join him. Liza turns him down. Charles races to convince the Kroks to let Alex sing at a spring event at the Harvard President’s house. They’re reluctant at first, but Charles convinces them that Alex is better than all of them, including Charles. Present day: much older versions of Charles, Alex, and Liza reunite for the commencement. Charles and Alex embrace. Back in 1937, Charles and Liza receive a letter from Alex, declaring his love for both of them. On the soundtrack, the Krokodiloes sing “He Loves and She Loves” (another Gershwin song) as Charles and Liza cross Harvard Yard together.

Comments:

A Great Education tells a compelling story in the most frustrating possible way. Although it contains strong, frequently witty dialogue, the stale class-warfare conflicts and cliché-ridden characters destroy any potential this script has. As written, it merits a pass.

The story starts well enough, with fresh-faced Charles arriving at Harvard and finding difficulty navigating this strange new world. The writer does a nice job of evoking the late-’30s period throughout the script. However, things go awry fairly quickly. Although the writer evidently wants audiences to believe Charles really has to struggle to get some social standing at Harvard, it all happens so quickly and with such low stakes that it all seems far too easy. Especially when Alex pays for Charles’s tuition, allowing him to quit his job and pursue social activities, Charles doesn’t seem to face any real challenges until the third act.

The second act presents Alex’s homosexuality as a big twist, which is a huge problem in the script because it’s so obvious. Had the writer depicted this solely as a shocking revelation for Charles, and not for the audience, it would be fine. However, the way it’s portrayed will probably result in more eyes rolling with annoyance than popping out with surprise. It also causes the story to lose some of its focus. The first act suggests this is a story about a poor kid trying to make it in the world of the wealthy, but in the second half, all the focus shifts to Alex’s homosexuality, how it affects Charles, how it affects Alex, how it affects Liza—how it affects pretty much everyone. Understandably, given the time period and the status-conscious characters, it makes sense that this would change everything for the characters. It just feels more like a distraction from Charles’s struggles to stay afloat at Harvard than a well-developed storyline.

The third act wraps everything up tidily, but not satisfactorily. Professor Pillsbury turning into Charles’s benefactor is an overly simplistic way to keep him in Harvard. Alex’s decision to make something of himself rings false for the character. Liza’s many twists and turns all feel arbitrary, motivated by the plot more than anything consistent in her character.

These story problems all speak to major problems with the characters. The writer tries to devote equal time to both Charles and Alex, but that ultimately leads to both of them getting the short shrift. As mentioned, Charles’s struggles to remain in Harvard are always resolved too quickly or easily to really reveal his true character. He just worries a lot, then things work out without him making much of an effort. It’s evident that he’s desperate to please the rich kids, but even this he accomplishes with too little effort.

Similarly, Alex’s struggle feel too contrived to really empathize with him. Actually, most of his struggle occur off-screen, so the agony of him coming to terms with his feelings and sexual identity never comes across as much more than a plot device to drive conflict between Charles, Alex, and Liza. When the writer does finally decide we should pay attention to Alex, it’s too little, too late. Like Charles, everything’s explained too easily: he’s drunk, or he’s confused, or he’s figured everything out and will now do something important to redeem his years of idle loafing. It’s frustratingly artificial, lacking the depth or complexity one might expect from this sort of story.

Liza and Pillsbury, the only other characters with anything close to depth, just come across as lazy clichés (the older mentor who’s a mirror image of the youthful protagonist, the rebellious woman who reflects modern views ahead of her time). The potential for a good story—actually, several good stories—exists in this script, but it’s both too unfocused and too happy to rest on lazy clichés to be truly effective without significant work.

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Drive

Author: Hossein Amini

Genre: Action/Thriller

Storyline: 4

Dialogue: 2

Characterization: 5

Writer’s Potential: 4

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Pass

Logline:

After a stunt driver falls in love with a beautiful woman, he agrees to serve as wheelman for a bank heist spearheaded by the woman’s ex-con husband.

Synopsis:

In Los Angeles, a man known only as DRIVER plans out a mysterious route on a map. He visits his friend, SHANNON (male, a grizzled old mechanic), who provides Driver with a white Civic. Driver waits impatiently in the Civic as two thieves rob a huge electronic store. He listens to the Clippers game on the radio. The thieves are caught by a security guard and must shoot their way out. They barely make it to the Civic, but the police have already been alerted. Driver has to make a daring escape through downtown L.A. Just when it seems like he’s eluded the police and blended into the heavy night traffic, a police car catches sight of the Civic and gives chase again. Driver tries to listen to the Clippers game and the police scanner simultaneously, and once the game ends, we understand why: he reaches the Staples Center just as crowds of people flood the parking lot, dozens of them getting into Civics identical to Driver’s. The police lose Driver, and he and the thieves get away unscathed.

The next day, Driver and Shannon work on a film set as stunt drivers and mechanics for the cherried-out vintage cars required for this 1970s-set production. Both Shannon and Driver hate the work. Shannon yearns to earn enough to buy their on stock car and get Driver racing, but they’re along way from that, even with their illegal nighttime activities. Driver performs a stunt maneuver with an incompetent actor who insists on doing his own driving. Driver is such an expert that he makes the actor look great. The crew applaud the actor, while Driver goes unnoticed. Shannon asks mobster BERNIE ROSE to invest in his stock car, promising a return of millions once Driver starts winning big races. Bernie balks when Driver says he doesn’t have any money himself. Driver stops for dinner at a redneck bar populated by lowlives. A man who once worked with Driver asks him to work as wheelman again. Driver refuses.

Driver goes to his apartment building and discovers he lives down the hall from IRINA, an attractive Latina. They have an awkward moment together on the elevator before going to their respective homes. Shannon and Driver take Bernie to a dirt track to test drive a stock car. Bernie’s impressed with Driver’s maneuvering. Driver and Shannon haggle with the car owner, while Bernie agrees to invest in their plans. Driver spots Irina and her son, BENICIO (6), at a supermarket. Driver quietly observes them. He drives past Irina as she struggles home with the groceries and offers to help. Irina offers Driver a drink, then makes him feel bad for refusing, so he stays. She asks a lot of typical getting-to-know-you questions, but she notices Driver’s terse responses and lack of enthusiasm, so she starts talking about herself instead. She explains that Benicio’s father is in prison for attempting to rob a bank. When Irina finds out Driver is a stunt-driver, she invites herself to the film set, to show Benicio something he’d enjoy. On set, Shannon and Benicio get along extremely well. Driver and Irina quietly continue to get to know each other. Driver finds himself falling for her in spite of himself. When they’re saying goodbye, he hesitates and doesn’t kiss her.

Another day, at Irina’s apartment, Driver and Benicio watch cartoons dubbed into Spanish while Benicio narrates. An emergency comes up, and Driver offers to drive Irina. She reluctantly explains that her husband cut a deal and is being released from prison. Driver isn’t sure if this will change their budding relationship, until she explains that she must stay with her husband for Benicio’s sake. Both Driver and Irina are disappointed by this development. Irina kisses Driver passionately. The next day, Irina and many of their friends throw a getting-out party for STANDARD, Irina’s wife. He seems like a nice guy, but he’s not terribly enthusiastic about Driver being at the party. Benicio doesn’t stop talking about Driver, and he keeps seeing looks exchanged between Driver and Irina. He politely threatens Driver. Later, on set, Shannon gets into an argument with an assistant director, which prompts Driver to beat the living crap out of them, getting both Driver and Shannon fired. Driver returns to his apartment to discover Standard in the parking garage, bloodied and beaten, with a shocked Benicio as a witness to it. Standard pathetically asks Driver to use his apartment to clean up so Irina doesn’t see him in this condition. Standard correctly identifies Driver as an ex-con. He confesses that he’s in deep to a gang for debts he collected in prison, and they now want to collect. He says he has a “sweet score” lined up to fix all his problems.

Driver, Shannon, and Bernie try to sell NINO (Bernie’s business partner) on their stock car idea. He’s not as easily convinced as Bernie. Standard shows up at Shannon’s garage and offers Driver the opportunity to be his wheelman. Driver agrees to help Standard, for Irina and Benicio. Standard introduces Driver to COOK, the mastermind of this bank heist. Cook obnoxiously lays out the plans. Thrilled that things are coming together, Standard buys a huge chicken and brings Driver home for dinner. Irina is suspicious about the two of them together. Driver test drives and buys an old Dodge sedan. He maps various routes to the bank, various avenues of escape, memorizing the terrain, street names, speed traps, everything. Irina confronts Driver about Standard’s sneaking out at night and talking big to Benicio. She wonders why Driver would agree to help a failure. Driver tries to talk Standard out of the heist, but Standard believes it’s such a sure thing, he can’t say no.

The heist goes off seemingly without a hitch: Cook, Standard, DAVE, and BLANCHE hold the place up. The manager takes Cook to a safe deposit box, where he retrieves a duffel bag filled with cash. Standard eyes this suspiciously. They don’t take any other money. Outside, Driver notices a suspicious souped-up Roush Mustang parked down the street. Cook gets down on the floor and pretends to be a hostage while the others make their escape. Standard and Dave don’t notice a young guard follow them outside. He kills them both. Only Blanche gets to Driver’s Dodge alive. He reluctantly speeds away, taking notice of the Mustang. After a long chase, Driver leads the Mustang to a speed trap. He slows down to the speed limit while the Mustang plows past the cops, who pull it over. Driver and Blanche hole up in a cheap motel, where they find $3 million in cash in the duffel bag. Blanche insists she was only supposed to get $30,000. They see a news report in which the young guard says they shot “both” robbers and there were no accomplices. Driver realizes Cook always planned to double-cross them, and that the guard was an inside man whose sole function was to kill them. Driver assumes the Mustang was there to serve the same purpose. Driver thinks Blanche was in on the setup. She admits she was but that nobody was supposed to get hurt—they were just supposed to get much less money than the actual take. An assassin sneaks through the bathroom window of the motel and kills Blanche. After a lengthy, brutal fight, Driver kills the assassin and steals his car.

Shannon takes Driver to a shady doctor to get patched up. Driver seeks out Irina at Standard’s funeral. She’s angry at him. Driver tries to explain about Standard’s debt, and she softens—until she finds out he, too, is an ex-con. She leaves. Shannon asks Bernie if he knows anything about Cook. Bernie says Cook is a dangerous man who works out of a strip club. Armed with that information, Driver goes to the strip club and is about to beat the hell out of Cook—when he sees Cook has had the hell beaten out of him already. Driver realizes Cook is a shill for someone else. When Cook won’t give up his bosses, Driver beats him up and takes his cell phone. Driver calls a number that appears multiple times on Cook’s call log, and he’s connected with an enforcer in a TAN SUIT. When Driver tells him he has $3 million, Tan Suit connects Driver to his boss—Nino, Bernie’s business partner. Driver doesn’t recognize the voice. Driver agrees to hand over the money in exchange for being let out of this game completely. Nino agrees.

Driver goes back to his apartment, explaining to Irina that he’s leaving but he wants Irina and Benecio to come with him, so they can get away from this life. Tan Suit (not recognized by Driver, who only spoke with him on the phone) and another enforcer follow Driver and Irina to the restaurant where she waits tables. They attack Driver at the restaurant. He manages to get away, making sure Irina’s all right before fleeing. Driver meets with Shannon, wondering how they could have tracked Driver. Shannon realizes Bernie is the connection. Driver asks Shannon to rig a car for him so he can get away cleanly. Nino explains to Bernie that the money belonged to a Philadelphia mobster who intended to set up shop in L.A. Bernie is angry that Nino would defy their bosses. The only solution is to kill Driver and Shannon, to prevent anyone from ever knowing who stole the money. Bernie agrees to it. He kills Cook, then goes after Shannon. Shannon’s resigned to his fate. He allows Bernie to kill him without a fight.

Driver arrives at Shannon’s to pick up the car. He finds Shannon’s corpse. He goes to Nino’s restaurant and follows two luxury cars—one with Nino, the other with bodyguards—onto the PCH. With spectacular stunt driving—including an intentional repeat of his stunt with the incompetent actor in the first act—Driver is able to take out both cars. Nino’s the only one who survives, and barely. Driver takes one of the enforcers’ guns and shoots Nino dead with it. He meets with Bernie, who’s pragmatic about the whole situation. He agrees to hand over the money if Bernie gives him a decent head start to avoid any future mob enforces. Bernie agrees, but just as he’s about to hand over the money, Bernie sticks Driver with a switchblade. Driver slits Bernie’s throat with it and takes the money. He abandons his car in a large, long-term parking lot, then calls Irina and gives her the license number, explaining he’s left some money in it for her and Benicio. At death’s door, Driver hot-wires a Camaro and speeds away.

Comments:

Drive can’t figure out if it wants to be a mindless action flick or a brooding study of a criminal who wants to reform. The end result is a script that’s simultaneously tedious and ridiculous. None of the characters are interesting or developed enough to care about, the story is filled with holes, and the action sequences are both infrequent and dull as dirt. As written, it merits a pass.

The story opens on a sour note, with a seemingly endless robbery and chase sequence that seeks to throw the audience in medias res. The most compelling—and confusing—thing about this sequence is Driver’s mysterious obsession with the Clippers game. While this leads to a moderately clever payoff, it isn’t worth 10 pages of stale car-chase antics to get there. From there, the script gets bogged down in the bland Driver-Irina relationship, which is supposed to drive the rest of the action. Their romance simply never comes across as intense or interesting enough to believe Driver would do so much—including possibly sacrificing himself at the end—just for her and her adorable moppet.

The addition of Standard in the second act could have served the Driver-Irina relationship well. He essentially exists to keep them apart, even after his death, but because the writer never does the job of making their relationship significant in the first act, not much in the second or third act holds any weight. This includes the goofy twist—that Nino and Bernie, his alleged business partners, were coincidentally behind the whole bank heist and now want Driver dead—which is patently obvious from the moment Bernie starts taking such an active interest in Driver’s driving ability. This leads to the disastrous third act plot hole, which suggests that Driver will be chased by the Mafia for the rest of his (probably short) life, yet Irina and Benicio will be fine with $3 million in Mob money. Nobody from the Mafia is going to come after the wife of a man publicly identified as one of the slain bank robbers? Not even when she quits her job, moves to a better part of town, and enrolls Benicio in private school? Really?

The characters, simply put, are a brooding bunch of sourpusses. The script barely has a moment of levity, which contributes to its leaden pace. They’re all angry people with rotten lives, but none of them are angry in interesting ways, and there’s very little that’s compelling about their rotten lives. A believable, well-developed love triangle between Driver, Irina, and Standard could have gone a long way toward making these people interesting, or at least vulnerable, but this isn’t that. Because the characters rarely have any believable motivations for their actions (the closest is Standard and his debt), they exist solely to drive a plot forward. It would be nice if these characters had real personalities, and did foolish things for clear reasons that may not be smart, but are at least in line with who they are and how they act.

The dialogue is atypically atrocious, which perhaps contributes to the feeling that these characters lack dimension or personality. Every character has pretty much the same speech pattern, regardless of age, occupation, or fluency in English, and that speech pattern too often resembles the florid, exposition-heavy monologues of an Agatha Christie novel instead of the gritty tough-guy patois a script like this needs.

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