Gold Coast

Author: Michael Bregman
Genre: Comedy/Drama/Crime
Storyline: 5
Dialogue: 7
Characterization: 4
Writer’s Potential: 6

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Recommendation?

Pass

Logline:

When a Mafia don moves in next door to a successful lawyer, they form a friendship that threatens to destroy the lawyer’s life.

Synopsis:

In voiceover, JOHN SUTTER explains the history of the mansion-lined Gold Coast of Long Island. Home to the wealthiest of the wealthy in the roaring ’20s, it’s the last bastion of “old money,” but the mansions are dwindling as developers, new money, and taxes decimate these testaments to wealth. Sutter lives in the guest house of Stanhope Hall, a Gold Coast mansion owned by his wife’s family. Although his lineage dates back to the “old money” of the 19th century, they lost their fortune in 1929, so Sutter has to make do as a successful Wall Street attorney. Sutter greets an elderly client, MRS. DAVENPORT, who produces old stock certificates — dating back to 1918 — of a corporation called Haloid. She wants to know how much they’re worth. Sutter meets his friend LESTER at The Creek, an old Gold Coast country club. He hands over the certificates and asks Lester to track down the origin. They both assume the company has long since gone bankrupt. Lester turns Sutter’s attention to the new family moving into Alhambra, the mansion next door to Stanhope Hall. Mafia don FRANK BELLAROSA is moving in with his unenthusiastic wife, ANNA, and his underboss SALLI. Frank savors the ostentatious home.

Later, at The Creek, Sutter spots an attractive woman playing tennis. He follows her and makes a lewd advance, but the woman only speaks French. Undaunted, Sutter sneaks into the locker room after her, secretly watching her undress and walk into the shower. After a moment of deep contemplation, Sutter follows her into the shower. When he opens the curtain, the woman has lost any trace of accent — in fact, she’s SUSAN STANHOPE-SUTTER, John’s wife. In voiceover, Sutter explains that they play these little games to endure the boredom of their lifestyle of luxury. Sutter goes skeet shooting with Lester and some other male friends. Sutter is an expert with the shotgun. The Sutters entertain Susan’s parents, WILLIAM and CHARLOTTE. They announce their intention to put Stanhope Hall on the market, only preserving the guest house for Sutter and Susan. The news depresses Susan. Another day, they receive an unexpected guest — Frank, who greets them with vegetable seedlings. Susan is charmed, and after Frank leaves, she chides Sutter for being a wise-ass. Some time later, Susan rides her horse onto Alhambra and is assaulted by Frank’s private security force, led by Salli and huge ANGE. They want to know how Susan got on the property. She explains all the mansions have interconnected horse trails. Frank greets her cordially, apologizing for his goons, and takes Susan to meet Anna.

Later that day, Susan calls Sutter at the office to announce that they’re dining with the Bellarosas. Sutter is shocked and disappointed. His conservative law firm would not look kindly on Sutter dining with gangsters. Ultimately, Susan wins the argument, so they go to Alhambra that night. Sutter commends Anna on redecorating the old, dilapidated mansion, but Anna surprises him by acknowledging Frank did the decorating. They introduce the Sutters to their kids, MICHAEL (10) and NICHOLAS (11). Susan offers to take Anna and the kids sailing on their boat. Sutter is uneasy about this. Later, Frank brings Sutter to his study and offers him a cigar. Sutter politely asks Frank for permission to build new stables. Frank asks why he needs permission, and Sutter tells him the county law requires a variance from the neighbor if a building is within 200 feet of the property line. Frank agrees to it, then asks Sutter to represent him in buying the property on his other side. Sutter won’t, but Frank’s easygoing about it. He says they’re even for the variance if Susan introduces Anna to some of the locals. As they prepare to leave, Susan tells Anna that she does oil paintings of old mansion interiors, and she’d like to paint Alhambra’s “Palm Court.” Anna agrees to it. Back at the guest house, Susan gets Stan to admit he liked the Bellarosas.

The next morning, Sutter is greeted by MANCUSO, an FBI agent investigating Frank. Sutter is his typical wise-ass self. Unfazed, Mancuso gives Sutter his card and tells him to call if he has anything he’d like to talk about. At The Creek, Lester explains the story behind Mrs. Davenport’s stocks: the Haloid Corporation weather the Depression and eventually became the Xerox Corporation. Her 35 shares of Haloid can be traded for 120,000 shares of Xerox stock, worth $16.8 million. Sutter is stunned. Lester asks Sutter a “hypothetical” — because the stocks are too old to trace, certain firms will try to buy stolen stocks. Sutter asks Lester where the certificates are; Lester tells him he gave them to a brokerage house for safekeeping. Sutter is livid — he demands that Lester return the stocks by the following morning. The next morning, Lester announces that the brokerage firm is charging a $500,000 “handling fee” to return the stocks. Sutter has his secretary call the U.S. Attorney’s office and demands the names of Lester’s contacts. Their business card tells Sutter they’re in Miami, and Lester tells him they’re criminals — not the kind of people to trifle with. Sutter meets with Frank, asking if he knows these criminals. Frank says he’ll ask around. That night, Frank tells Sutter he can get the certificates back under one condition — Sutter take the kids sailing. Sutter’s bewildered, but Frank reminds him that they’re friends.

Sutter goes to Miami and meets TOMMY SIMONE, who politely returns the stock certificates. He tries to encourage Sutter to stick around, but Sutter claims he has to catch a flight. When Sutter returns, he and Frank make a grand old time of going to The Creek for a round of golf. That night, the Sutters and the Bellarosas attempt to dine at The Creek, but the waiter keeps them waiting and eventually offers a table on the terrace. Outraged at this treatment, the Sutters leave. Frank takes them to an old Italian restaurant in Brooklyn, Belmonti’s. They have a good meal and a good time. Frank casually observes how much the neighborhood has changed — what he considers the wrong kind of people have taken over, opening trendy cafés and sushi restaurants, driving property values up so high that most of the “old neighborhood” folks have been forced out. Later, Sutter and Frank relax in Frank’s study. Frank explains that last year, he was accused of killing a Dominican drug dealer — an absurd accusation because his crime family doesn’t traffic in drugs. Nonetheless, the D.A. has manufactured evidence putting Frank at the scene. Sutter finds it hard to believe. Frank asks Sutter to represent him at the arraignment, because he’s respectable. Sutter hesitates, but Frank ensures it’ll just be the arraignment — if it goes to trial, which is unlikely, Frank will use his normal attorney. He just needs someone respectable to get him bail, because if he has to spend time in jail awaiting trial, the Dominicans will have him killed. Sutter agrees to help Frank.

While Sutter and Susan take Michael and Nicholas sailing on their boat, Agent Mancuso shows up again. He asks Sutter if they can place cameras and microphones on Stanhope Hall’s property. Sutter refuses. Mancuso reminds Sutter that Frank is evil, and allying himself with him will destroy his life. One day, while working on her Palm Court painting, Susan hears banging. She investigates and finds Frank, shooting at a range built in the basement. Frank teaches Susan how to shoot, but it’s not her cup of tea. They go for a stroll, where Susan asks how he ascended to the top of the Family’s food chain. Frank says process of elimination, then goes on to suggest the Stanhope family faced as much bloodshed — if not more — to get where it is. Susan doesn’t exactly disagree. She tells him she’s nearly done with the painting, so Frank decides to arrange a grand unveiling. He also decides to buy Stanhope Hall.

One night, Ange arrives at the Sutters and drags Sutter to see Frank, who explains that police will arrive to arrest him in the morning. They do it early to both catch people off-guard and ensure they’ll be arraigned without the presence of an attorney. Frank plans to have Sutter there with him, so he can race to the courthouse and represent Frank to ensure he gets bail. The next morning, as the police storm the mansion, Frank mentions offhandedly that he may need an alibi for the day of the murder — and that he could swear he saw Sutter and Susan riding on horseback while he was out on the grounds. Sutter refuses to perjure himself, but Frank menacingly suggests bad consequences if he and Frank don’t walk out of the courtroom together. Sutter rides with Ange and DOMINIC, following the police cruiser, which turns on its lights and tries to lose them. Ange speeds to keep pace and is pulled over. Sutter threatens legal action if the police don’t let him go — they’ve unlawfully detained Frank’s attorney. The police let Sutter and Ange go, holding Dominic on an unrelated charge. They get into the city, but traffic makes them late. Determined, Sutter leaps out of the car and runs the last 12 blocks. In the courthouse, he’s lied to about where the arraignment is being held. Lying to say he’s with the press, he finds out the correct courtroom from a bailiff. He arrives just in the nick of time, but JUDGE ROSEN ridicules Sutter’s pleas for bail on a murder charge. Left with no choice, Sutter’s forced to say he and his wife saw Frank on the day in question. He also points out that he’s brought $20 million. Rosen says they’ll take all of it.

Frank takes Sutter out to celebrate. He buys Sutter an old Renaissance painting, but Sutter is more interested in ELEANOR, the art dealer. Later, Sutter excuses himself from dinner and drinks with Frank’s inner circle to cozy up with Eleanor at the bar. They sleep together. The next morning, as they ride back to Long Island, Frank tells Sutter there’s nothing wrong with sleeping with another woman. Later, Susan’s horrified to learn Sutter defended Frank and perjured himself. They check his date book and discover, with some relief, that Sutter and Susan were home on the date in question. The next day, Sutter is fired from his law firm. His membership at The Creek is revoked. Frank invites Sutter to work for him full-time. Sutter doesn’t want to, but he has little choice. On his way out, Sutter sneaks a peek at Susan’s painting. He sees it’s not a painting of the Palm Court. It’s a portrait of Frank. That night, the Sutters and the Bellarosas dine at Belmonti’s. Paranoid, Sutter examines every tiny detail — Frank pouring Susan wine, them touching hands, her laughing a little too enthusiastically at his jokes… Sutter’s anger grows throughout the night.

After dinner, Frank is attacked. Dominic’s throat is slit, Ange is killed, and Frank takes two shotgun blasts to the chest. Sutter uses rudimentary first aid to help Frank, then runs out in the street and carjacks an SUV. When the driver discovers it’s Frank Bellarosa who needs help, he helps them turn a tabletop into a gurney and load Frank into the back of his SUV. They speed to the hospital. Frank survives, thanks to Sutter. Sutter describes what happened to some detectives. Mancuso arrives, but he doesn’t believe Sutter’s story. Later, Sutter confronts Susan about Frank. She denies having an affair.

When Frank recuperates, he asks Sutter why he never visited him in the hospital. Sutter tells Frank the affair with Susan must end. Frank refuses to admit to an affair, saying he values their friendship too much to betray him in that way. Sutter goes to the skeet shooting range and takes a shotgun home with him, claiming it needs a new firing pin. He saws off the barrel. Susan brings muffins for Frank, at which time it’s abundantly clear that they have been having an affair. Susan tries to end it, but Frank won’t hear of it. He gets aggressive, announcing that she and John belong to him. Susan’s humiliated and enraged. She leaves. Meanwhile, Anna has overheard much of the conversation. Later that night, she announces she wants the family to move back to Brooklyn. Frank refuses.

Frank sneaks onto Alhambra, traces Frank to the pool house, hides. He’s ready to shoot Frank when somebody beats him to it, piercing his chest three times. He falls in the pool. He’s dead. FBI agents and Frank’s men storm the grounds. Sutter sneaks away. The Sutters attend Frank’s funeral. In voiceover, Sutter explains that Anna sold both Alhambra and Stanhope Hall to developers before moving the kids back to Brooklyn. Sutter and Susan sold the guest house and moved onto their sailboat. As Sutter explains that nobody found out who killed Frank, Susan carries a silk-wrapped bundle to the edge of the boat. In it is a nickel-plated revolver, which she dumps into the ocean. Susan is startled by Sutter standing on the deck, watching her. She tells him how much she loves him. As they embrace, it’s clear from Sutter’s eyes that he knows she killed Frank.

Comments:

Gold Coast is little more than a modern update of The Great Gatsby, and while it suffers in comparison, the script does have some engaging, entertaining moments. Unfortunately, the third act descends into incoherent melodrama, leading to a frustrating conclusion. As written, the script merits a pass.

The first act shows a great deal of promise, establishing a darkly comic tone as it presents the setting and introduces the Sutters, the Bellarosas, and the ultimate conflict between Sutter and Frank. The second act meanders quite a bit, however, developing the friendship between the two central characters without giving any indication that the story’s going anywhere. The third act could have redeemed the slow spots and lack of mounting tension, but the story completely unravels. The reveal of Susan and Frank’s affair comes out of nowhere, as does Sutter’s sudden desire to murder Frank. Since the entire third act focuses on Sutter’s murder attempt and Susan’s actual murder, the resolution is ultimately unsatisfying.

Sutter and Frank are established as interesting, complex people, but they each turn on a dime in the third act. Frank becomes a power-mad sociopath, while Sutter falls victim to murderous passion. There’s no momentum or foreshadowing to these sudden changes. What could have come across like clever, believable twists on their personality feels like a big cheat, and the third act feels like a completely different story. Because so much of the script is shown solely through Sutter’s point of view, Susan is marginalized. We never get to know her well enough to feel betrayed by her sudden, murderous impulses, but that’s not exactly a positive. The other supporting characters are similarly undeveloped.

Gold Coast starts with a lot of potential, but it’s all squandered by the end. There’s a slim possibility that excellent actors can make the characters’ sudden 180-degree personality changes feel smooth and natural. Without that, audiences will leave confused and disappointed.

Posted by D. B. Bates on April 26, 2009 11:45 AM