Author: Gavin O’Connor and A.M. Tambakis & Cliff Dorfman
Writer’s Potential: 7
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In Los Angeles, TESS CONLON undergoes an examination from a cardiologist — she’s had a heart transplant, and the doctor says she’s healthy and is almost back to normal, but she should avoid big crowds and particularly stressful activities. Her husband, BRENDAN, asks about sex. Their six-year-old daughter, AUBREY, asks what sex is, leading to some awkwardness. JODI PINNIX, the transplant coordinator, hands Tess some medical masks. Tess is ready to go home for the first time since her transplant. As they drive up to the house, Tess is overcome with emotion. The next morning, Brendan makes breakfast for Tess. He notices an envelope addressed to Jodi and figures out Tess is trying to find out who her heart donor was. Brendan reminds her the donation was anonymous, and she shouldn’t pursue it. Brendan goes to work, teaching high school physics. He’s a good teacher who treats the diverse students like adults.
That night, Tommy and Silvio arrive in the Badlands of South Dakota. Tommy tells him to throw the fight, offering nearly 10 times his usual payment if Tommy will take a dive. Tommy refuses, but Silvio reminds him it’s not open to discussion. As they fight, state troopers and the Native American Tribal Police bust them; their Native American contact didn’t pay them off. Tommy wants to get paid because, technically, he didn’t win. Silvio doesn’t want to pay because Tommy would have won. Silvio reminds Tommy that he owns him — permanently. Silvio pulled Tommy out of his Mexican prison cell, and he can put Tommy back. Tommy drops Silvio, lifts his wad of cash, and pays off a bartender to keep it quiet. Then he leaves.
Outside a Long Beach cathedral on Christmas Eve, a drunk Tommy surprises PADDY CONLON — his father. He offers Tommy some harsh words about leaving — at age 14 — with his mother and having to bury her recently. He also offers a Christmas present: a bottle of whiskey. Paddy tells Tommy he’s sober now. He takes Tommy back home. Tommy looks at some old photographs, some of which reveal Brendan Conlon to be his brother. The next day, Paddy wakes Tommy up and surveys his old room — a time-warp of 1994, with shelves cluttered with wrestling and boxing trophies. They go to a diner for breakfast. Paddy tries to discuss Tommy’s Marine duties by describing his experiences in Vietnam. Paddy drives Tommy past Colt’s Gym, and Tommy tells Paddy to let him out. Tommy buys a gym membership.
At the Credit Union, it’s explained to Brendan that he’s in dire financial straits and has no way out except bankruptcy. Later, Brendan catches a newspaper ad for an amateur mixed martial arts fight night. The owner of the gym, COLT, catches Tommy training. He pairs him up with MAD DOG GRIMES, his best fighter. Tommy destroys him, until Colt breaks them up. Brendan lies to Tess about having to go to a “parent teacher thing,” and Tess believes he’s having an affair because he no longer finds her scarred body attractive. Brendan placates her but still leaves. He goes to the parking lot of a strip club, where he fights and wins. That night, Brendan creeps into the bathroom. Tess is awake and tells him to turn the light on. Brendan confesses he went to fight and turns on the light, revealing his bruised and swollen face. Tess isn’t happy, but Brendan admits their financial problems and tells her it’s the only way.
The school is abuzz with Brendan’s fighting. He’s hauled into PRINCIPAL JOE ZITO’S office and chewed out. At the hospital, Tess mentions cases of heart-transplant patients developing strange new quirks and interests after the surgery. Tess has developed some quirks of her own — notably an addiction to Chicken McNuggets — and urges Jodi to mention some of these things to the family. If they want to remain anonymous after that, she’ll stop pursuing it. Brendan goes to see FRANK CAMPANA, telling him that since he’s now suspended with pay, he wants to train hard to enter Sparta, an MMA tournament with a $5 million prize. Campana is reluctant, but their history prompts him to accept the challenge. Meanwhile, Tommy asks Paddy to train him to enter the same tournament.
In Iraq, a Marine named MARK BRADFORD sees a video of Tommy fighting on the Web. He realizes Tommy is the same man who pulled him and his unit out of an overturned tank. Brendan and Tess have another argument about his fighting. Paddy takes Tommy to Colt’s gym to fight some of Colt’s other fighters and make sure his winning wasn’t a fluke. Later, Paddy shows up to tell Brendan that Tommy’s back. Brendan wants nothing to do with Paddy, after his alcoholism put Aubrey in danger a few years ago.
Tess visits a middle-aged Native American, whose son provided Tess’s heart. She tells Tess that, after all that’s happened, she’s learned that what’s going to happen will happen, no matter what. At the gym, Frank teaches Brendan with the help of an iPod, blaring classical music to remind Brendan of three things: to stay calm, to remember this is an art form, and to remember to keep a certain rhythm. Weeks later, Brendan is back in top shape. Seeing how serious he is, Tess reluctantly decides to forgive him — if what’s going to happen will happen, she should support him instead of fighting him. Frank announces he’s decided to send Brendan to Sparta in Las Vegas. Tess wants to go, but Brendan reminds her that she can’t be near crowds.
In Las Vegas, Paddy and Tommy run into Silvio, who’s there with White Lightning. He assures Tommy they’ll finish “what he started in the Badlands.” ART DAVIE, founder of Sparta and Ultimate Fighting Championship, holds a press conference to introduce the competition and the 16 fighters who will duke it out for $5 million. On the odds board, Tommy is 20-1 — Brendan is 5000-1. That night, the story of Brendan saving Mark Bradford has hit the evening news. Bradford posted videos on the Internet, and suddenly Tommy’s a reluctant hero known to everyone as “the Superman.”
Brendan and Tommy meet up after Brendan sees the news report. He’s stunned by his brother’s courage, but Tommy denies it and argues with Brendan over choosing sides — that he choose “some girl” over their mother. When Brendan reminds him that “some girl” happens to be his wife, Tommy doesn’t care much. They both walk away angry. At the high school, some of Brendan’s students beg Joe Zito to let them use the gym to broadcast the Sparta match for all the students. Joe won’t let them.
Sparta begins, with BRYAN CALLEN and RANDY COUTURE calling the fight. They work through preliminary rounds, with “Superman” Tommy continuing to impress and Brendan surprising everyone by crushing the “Nigerian Nightmare.” Afterward, Art chastises Tommy for walking out of the ring after winning instead of waiting for announcements and interviews. Tommy says he’s just there to fight. They continue through more rounds, with Tommy and Brendan each defeating their increasingly difficult opponents — including Tommy defeating White Lightning. People gather at Colt’s gym to watch. High school kids gather at a local drive-in, which is broadcasting the fight on their behalf. Even Joe Zito shows up. Tess watches on TV.
That night, Tommy opens up to Paddy about why he bailed on the Marines and why he’s not a hero. He also implies he went to that Mexican prison on behalf of one of his fallen brothers. Then Tommy turns on him, saying Paddy’s lost all his fight since he sobered up. The next morning, Tess shows up to support Brendan. He tells her the crowd is too dangerous, but Tess says the cage is dangerous, too. Military Policemen show up to arrest Tommy, but Art convinces them to wait until the final round is over. Paddy gets trashed on whiskey, acts crazy, starts bawling, loses steam and slumps into bed. Tommy covers him with a comforter. That night, Tommy fights Mad Dog Grimes and slaughters him. Brendan fights a guy called KING KONG and barely manages to win. It’s down to the finals — Tommy versus Brendan.
Tommy is vicious, but Brendan has skill. He manages to get Tommy into an arm-lock. He urges his brother to tap out, but Tommy refuses — Brendan ends up breaking his arm. Finally, Brendan gets Tommy in a choke-hold. He continues to struggle despite having no air, but finally, he taps out. After, Tommy tells Brendan to take care of Paddy. The MPs escort Tommy out.
The conflicted family unit is psychologically empty. We’re given external motivations for everything. Brendan and Tommy fight because they need money, Brendan and Tommy had a falling out over a never-specified incident having to do with their parents and Paddy’s alcoholism, both kids hate Paddy because of said alcoholism… However, despite some on-the-nose lines of dialogue, none of these characters have any kind of psychological complexity. At one point, Brendan mentions going unrecognized by Paddy (who seemed to favor Tommy) and ending up as an underdog in general. So, is he fighting to prove something to himself, his father, his wife…?
Is he even the protagonist? We spend much more time with Tommy without getting any more insight into his character. In fact, the more the writers tell us about him, the less sympathetic he becomes. By the third act, he comes across like a shrill, immature jackass rather than a tough, taciturn bad-ass. This characterization had me rooting for Brendan by the end, and he wins, but all things considered, I can’t imagine the writers actually want the audience to turn against Tommy. Delving into the conflict that made him leave with his mother might make him a bit more sympathetic. The writers leave this intentionally vague, but it’s Tommy’s only hope if they want audiences to like him.
More troublesome is the mixed message of both Brendan and Tommy. Tommy and his mother left because of an incident that had to do with Paddy’s alcoholism; Brendan is estranged from Paddy, also a result of the alcoholism. Paddy has sobered up (although he seems to have missed the “making amends” step), but Tommy encourages him to relapse, and then at the end they’re all a happy family again? It’s a little bizarre, considering what little we know about their past conflicts all stemmed from this, that they would just up and forgive this relapse.
The writers also drop the ball a bit in resolving the initial conflict with Silvio. This occupies a great deal of the first act. Silvio then disappears completely until the third act, but after Tommy defeats White Lightning, we never see him again. Silvio’s portrayed as a bloodthirsty criminal, and Tommy pummeled him, stole his money, and ran away. He’s not shown to be the kind of guy who would just let that go because Tommy beat White Lightning, fair and square.
Despite the flaws, it’s reasonably well-paced and well-plotted. The writers have a good feel for dialogue, aside from a few on-the-nose moments, and if they spent some more time working on these characters, it’ll be a pretty solid script. It’s not unique, but it’s not unsatisfying, either.
This will definitely appeal to fans of boxing/wrestling/MMA or martial arts in general. It could also appeal to a broader base of sports and action fans.
Posted by D. B. Bates on October 1, 2008 12:52 PM