The Imposter

Author: Carlos Perez
Genre: Crime/War
Storyline: 6
Dialogue: 5
Characterization: 3
Writer’s Potential: 4

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Logline:

In the 1970s, Boise detectives search for a murderer who may have been a Nazi spy in World War II.

Synopsis:

In 1978, a Boise man stops at the side of the road to relieve himself when he finds a bag half-buried in melting snow. Inside the bag are dismembered body parts — arms and feet. Boise detectives REESE FUENTES (late 20s) and GREGORY MARSHALL (50s) are on the case. They notice a concentration camp tattoo on the arm that leads them to believe this was the work of a neo-Nazi cult. Trying to avoid dealing with that, Gregory decides instead to investigate leads from other noted racists with violent backgrounds. This leads them to LEE LEWIS, who four months ago had a domestic abuse call. Eyewitnesses claimed a man with two big suitcases came to the Lewis house, they heard fighting, and the man was never seen leaving. The stuff about the man was dismissed when Lee owned up to beating his wife, LIZ.

Meanwhile, an aging Russian-American, KROTOV, actually committed the crime. He’s shacked up with a young woman named ANNA. They make plans to sneak off to Argentina together. It becomes clear in a hurry that Krotov murdered and dismembered the man Gregory and Reese are investigating. Krotov also has a sexual relationship with a suburban woman, SHEILA PETERSON.

Gregory and Reese are forced to team up with a federal agent, WILLIAMS, who has come from Washington because of two similar cases of dismembered parts in burlap bags tied in World War II-style knots. He tells Gregory and Reese that he’s dug up obscure information that similar killings occurred in France during WWII. Through flashbacks, it’s revealed Krotov — a Russian officer — was handpicked from a concentration camp and assigned by the Germans to impersonate an American officer, commit murders on civilians in the most brutal possible way to lose sympathy for American soldiers. He also led a wide group into a trap — and Gregory, a WWII vet, was there.

In the present, Gregory and Reese don’t buy Williams’ theory that the WWII killings and the current murders are connected. From Lee and Liz Lewis, they learn that a man with suitcases did show up that night — a man named DERRY, recently released from prison. They pick him up and Derry tells them that four months ago, he had a chance meeting with a courier named MINYA MINCHAK at a bar at the airport. He found out Minya was transporting diamonds and also that he was a Jewish concentration camp survivor — their victim. However, Derry passed out in the airport bathroom and never saw Minya again. The detectives find that Minya was supposed to deliver diamonds to a local jeweler — Sheila Peterson. However, the diamonds never got there; when they ask, Sheila seems nervous about the diamonds. Later, Sheila reveals to Krotov that she isn’t nervous about Minya’s stolen diamonds (she doesn’t appear to know that he was murdered) — she’s been stealing diamonds herself, unchecked because they only inventory the jewels twice a year.

In flashbacks, it is revealed that Krotov killed a German SS officer he was working with. An American soldier, CARL MILLER, finds Krotov, who tells Miller that the SS officer was a German spy. Krotov and Miller bond, until Krotov stabs him in the neck with a knife baring his initials (NIK). Injured, Krotov steals Miller’s identity (uniform, dog tags, etc.) and is sent back to the United States. In the present, the detectives stumble across photos of the NIK knife and documents signed by Krotov, showing that his name matches the initials. The documents also imply that he murdered his landlord in self-defense when she accused him of attempting to rob her jewelry shop. The detectives suspect Krotov’s behind the current murders. Gregory recognizes him from a WWII photo.

Gregory, Reese, and Williams believe Sheila is key to the investigation, so they place a cop to watch her. He turns up dead, as does Sheila. They find Minya’s head in Sheila’s freezer. In flashbacks, it’s revealed that Krotov was also at the airport, overhearing everything Minya told to Derry. When Derry leaves, Krotov tells Minya he’s a cab driver and the Krotov is too drunk to drive. He offers to drive him home, but a SKY CAP outside the airport forces Krotov to also take a MOTHER and her CHILDREN home. Frustrated, Krotov does so and also drops Minya off at his girlfriend DIANA’s house. Krotov tells Diana that Minya told him he wanted Krotov to be there to take him back to the airport promptly at seven the next morning. The next morning, he kills and dismembers Minya, then finds out that he doesn’t even have the diamonds. In the present, Krotov kills Anna because she’s pregnant. He leaves with his tickets to Venezuela.

At the airport — which the detectives happen to be at, following up the lead from Derry — Krotov sneaks a pistol past the carry-on X-ray machines by giving a child a lollipop that induces vomiting. He hijacks a plane. The detectives discover Krotov was at the airport when Minya was there, and was the one who gave the child the lollipop. They receive word that the pilot gave the tower a code word to let them know they’ve been hijacked. The detectives take a private FBI jet to Florida and trick Krotov into believing they’re landing in Venezuela. They arrest him on sight. Gregory shows up at Diana’s apartment. He’s realized she’s the only one who could possibly have the diamonds. He arrests her.

Comments:

The premise of this script — mostly Krotov’s story, both in the past and present — and the overall criminal storyline is fairly interesting. However, all the flashbacks to World War II are totally unnecessary — they’re redundant and spend long periods of time establishing information that’s revealed through a few lines of dialogue. In fact, the entire use of flashbacks (with the possible exception of the flashbacks showing the events of four months ago) weakens the structure and the overall storyline. This maybe wouldn’t be a big problem if not for the fact that Krotov practically becomes the main character by default — we learn more about him and possibly spend more time with him than we do any other character in the screenplay. Even this would be fine if he were portrayed as even remotely sympathetic — he’s not. He’s a coldblooded killer, in most cases showing no remorse and little motivation beyond greed. Greed works well as a motivator, but give us a reason (other than the obvious desire for wealth) for a greed that drives him to awful murders.

We don’t want to root for Krotov. He’s an awful, despicable person, but really, there isn’t enough on the other characters to make them involving. Gregory has marital problems and a flirtation with a local reporter, both of which are so meaningless they didn’t even make it into the synopsis. Spend more time with these three cops — show us their flaws, their vulnerabilities, and make them mean something. Make them more interesting than Krotov, and perhaps then the audience will care about watching them solve this crime and catch the criminal. Right now they’re pretty generic, swapping plot-oriented cop dialogue with little in the way of characterization or development.

The overall crime story, while interesting and involving, is way too convenient to be believable. Krotov, portrayed as a spy who can pass so well for an American that he steals somebody else’s identity, isn’t smart enough to bury the dismembered body parts in the ground (or, if the ground is too frozen, far enough away from the road that people won’t stumble on it as soon as the snow melts)? He’s not smart enough to figure out that when Minya had the diamonds the previous night but didn’t have them in the morning, maybe Diana had them? He doesn’t realize that killing people in the exact same way he did during WWII, and that once again he’s attempting to steal jewels, might lead cops back to him? He has plane tickets to Venezuela but for no particular reason decides to hijack the plane that’s already going there? Also, the way the detectives are led from a seemingly unrelated domestic disturbance to a man who just happens to have spoken with the murder victim the night before he died, which in turn leads them to other key players that eventually leads them to Krotov — all of this is just way too convenient.

In short, make it harder for the detectives and focus more on the cops trying to solve the case. Where are their setbacks in solving the crime? In what ways do they struggle with the case? By better developing the characters, perhaps outside factors — such as Gregory’s collapsing marriage, if that were brought into sharper focus — will distract them, or make them sloppy. Maybe even playing on the time period would help: we’ve come a long way with forensics and crimefighting techniques in 30 years; it was much more difficult to solve crimes like this 30 years ago, and in fact many of them went unsolved until modern techniques were applied to the old cases. Portraying Krotov as smart and devious, as his character would already be, would also make solving the case more difficult.

By making the audience root more for the detectives but also making Krotov at least a tiny bit sympathetic, this screenplay could live up to the quality of its interesting premise.

Posted by D. B. Bates on August 4, 2006 12:52 PM