Author: Stephen Gaghan
Writer’s Potential: 3
Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]
Teddy goes to a psychology lab for an extra credit test. He’s played a series of videos showing husbands and wives, and he has to choose whether or not they stayed married or divorced. Teddy is so good at this test, he’s able to guess the correct answers before the couples even open their mouths. PROFESSOR KRIZAN is shocked by Teddy’s abilities. His TAs casually point out that Teddy is the son of Redmond, a well-known businessman. Redmond invites Teddy to come along with him to an ancient factory for Allegheny Steel. Redmond and Teddy tour the factory. Redmond thinks it has potential. Back at his office, Redmond discourages Teddy from taking a job in money management. Instead, he offers Teddy a job at his company. Teddy takes José to a museum, where they come upon AMANDINE BRUGES, a gorgeous girl of indeterminate age. Teddy sloppily flirts with her. She asks Teddy for his number. Teddy receives his psych test back. Krizan writes that he wants to meet Teddy personally and leaves an address. The address is for a racetrack. Krizan hands Teddy binoculars and tells him to pick from three horses. Teddy studies them, picks one on instinct, and Krizan immediately places bets for tens of thousands on this horse. The horse narrowly wins. Krizan takes Teddy back to his lab to explain that Teddy has a gift — an instinctive ability to read “micro-expressions” and intuit deep psychological profiles within seconds. At the elementary school, José ignores the class as they read from juvenile literature. Teddy observes that the book they’re reading is horrible. Dining with his friends, Teddy confesses he’s been volunteering and thinks he wants to be a teacher. The others try to talk him out of it, saying Redmond’s handing him a job on a silver platter.
Teddy sees Amandine out of the corner of his eye and leaves, following her. Although he hurries, she disappears into the crowd. Back at NYU, Teddy studies famous archive footage of dishonesty with Krizan. Krizan explains the science of their expressions. Teddy goes to Redmond’s office, explains his gift, and turns on various financial news channels. He makes various suggestions to Redmond based on the demeanor of spokespeople and analysts. Redmond’s shocked and a little confused, but Teddy tells Redmond to trust him. Teddy follows Amandine to dancing lessons. She’s excited because her partner left. Afterward, they walk through Central Park. Teddy tells her about his gift, and she’s suitably impressed. As threy keep walking, Teddy realizes she’s heading to a group of young schoolgirls practicing field hockey. She sheds her coat to reveal a field hockey uniform. Teddy asks how old she is. Amandine tells him she’s 14. Teddy is stunned. Amandine is equally stunned that Teddy is 24, practically an old man.
The next day, as Teddy arrives at the elementary school, he’s intercepted by Redmond, who tells him every call he made was dead on. Redmond drags Teddy to his office to explain everything he knows about Allegheny Steel. Despite its rich heritage, the company is falling apart and the CEO is about to get fired. Redmond explains the complexity of bankruptcy law, and how they need to convince the company to file in a district with the right sort of judge, because the judge can control everything. Redmond sends Teddy to a dinner party to speak with an influential board member, MORAVIAN. It turns out, Amandine is friends with Moravian’s daughter, making things awkward when Teddy arrives and sees her there. Moravian explains that he’s worked with Redmond long enough to trust him, although he thinks Redmond’s “steel strategy” will fail. Everyone sleeps over at Moravian’s. The next morning, Amandine invites Teddy to breakfast. Teddy unloads his emotional baggage on her, regarding what to do after college and the pressure his parents are putting on him. Amandine is sympathetic but clueless. When Teddy returns to the city, Redmond asks Teddy if he can predict how a judge will rule based on limited video samples. Teddy wonders about the legalities, but Redmond convinces him that it’s okay. Teddy tells Patricia that he thinks Redmond has changed. Patricia warns him that Redmond probably just wants something out of him.
Teddy takes José to a bookstore. On the way, he explains that José’s problem is that he’s too smart for the structured environment of school. At the store, he tells José to pick out any book that catches his eye. José opts for Cop to Call Girl, the true story of a cop who became a prostitute. Teddy goes out to a trendy bar with his friends. They all spot Amandine making eyes at Teddy and try to convince him to wow her with karaoke. Teddy announces that she’s 14, shutting his friends up, then goes and talks to her. He suggests that hanging out at clubs like this might be the first in a long series of bad decisions. Teddy takes her out to dinner at a more laid back diner. The next day, Redmond announces to the board that he has narrowed things down to three possible judges, which Teddy will further narrow down using video: the first is a judge in Delaware, the second is a Scranton judge from a wealthy family, and the third is an inexperienced New York judge. Teddy tells them to eliminate the Delaware judge. When the partners wonder why, Teddy points out that he’s had a hard life, which makes him easily exploitable. The next video, of the Scranton judge, METCALFE, is inconclusive. Teddy thinks it will help to talk with him in person.
Redmond sends Teddy to a Scranton golf club, where he pretends to be randomly matched with Metcalfe. Metcalfe knows exactly who Teddy is, however, and warns Teddy that in Pennsylvania, he’d be nuts to make any rulings against labor, which is bad for Redmond. Teddy relays this to Redmond, who decides that maybe they should bring labor and management together to minimize harsh conflicts. Redmond and Teddy go to a union meeting at the factory, and true to ther plans, they unite labor and management — against Redmond’s planned takeover. They cite another company Redmond bought, where he moved all the operations overseas. Since that plan has failed, the only thing left to do is decide on the final judge, DORIS DUNN. Teddy brings Dexter to a park, where Doris plays with her blind daughter, JULIA. Doris studies her but can’t get a firm read. He goes to Krizan for advice. Krizan explains that analysts suggest people like he and Teddy will discover all they need to know about a person in the first 1.7 seconds. Everything after that is either second-guessing or misremembering. He urges Teddy to set up a “first 1.7 seconds”-type scenario so he can reassess Dunn. Teddy bribes José to come to a park with him and pick a fight with Julia. He studies Dunn’s reaction to the fight. To his surprise, she sympathizes with José, not her own daughter.
Realizing this means Dunn will side with the “bully” rather than the “victim,” Teddy recommends her to Redmond. Redmond has Allegheny Steel file for bankruptcy in her jurisdiction. He then sells the company to LAKSHMI MITTAL, an Indian businessman. Teddy’s shocked — he believed everything Redmond said about his desire to turn the company around and improve things. Redmond points out that he has investors to answer to. Teddy tells ERIC, the principal of the elementary school, that he’s taken a job with Redmond and, before too long, he’ll be able to bankroll 20 charter schools. Eric doesn’t quite believe him, pointing out that if he makes that much money, he’ll stop being Teddy. Teddy sells Redmond and his investors on an alternative-energy plan focusing on China, which has the potential to net them billions. Redmond will only invest a partial amount, so Teddy goes and convinces Moravian to invest in the rest.
Teddy notices an expression on Redmond’s face that he doesn’t understand. He asks Krizan, who looks at an old photo of Redmond and Patricia and decides they were both having an affairs. Teddy is confused, because they both look happy. Krizan explains the difference between a genuine “Duchenne smile” and all manner of other forced smiles. Teddy brings José to Dunn’s house and explains everything he and Redmond did. She recuses herself, so the bankruptcy is turned over to Metcalfe. Redmond is livid when he finds out Teddy was responsible for this. Mittal reneges on his offer, forcing Redmond to really make Allegheny Steel succeed. Teddy tells his dad he loves him. Redmond is genuinely touched, flashing a “Duchenne smile.” Then he leaves the company. Teddy writes a letter to Amandine, inviting her to a karaoke bar. He gets up and sings, impressing her. A montage shows Redmond excitedly running the company and Teddy taking a permanent teaching position at José’s school.
Easily the script’s biggest problem is its main character. Teddy spends so much time trying to read other people, he remains an enigma. Worse than that, he’s passive, allowing himself to get pushed into situations that move the plot forward without ever giving the impression that Teddy is driving the story. On the rare occasions that Teddy makes decisions for himself, like bursting into Redmond’s office and using his intuition to make all sorts of predictions, his motivations for taking action are never clear.
Each supporting character is either an over-the-top stereotype of wealth and decadence or an exaggerated salt-of-the-earth working stiff. The writer attempts to find a middle ground with Teddy, but these characters fail to underscore Teddy’s internal struggle about whether or not to embrace the easy, rich life or work for little pay. The characters who get the most story time — Teddy, Redmond, and Krizan — exist simply to disseminate information about the plot. They don’t interact on a human level, which will prevent audiences from relating to them, especially Teddy.
To top it off, Teddy’s “relationship” with Amandine is downright creepy, especially in light of his ultimate decision to teach elementary school. It’s all sunshine and roses when Teddy doesn’t know her age, but the fact that he finds out she’s 14, yet continues to pursue her, casts an unfortunate pall on the character. Although there is no inappropriate kissing or touching, the scenes between them wouldn’t feel out of place in a typical romantic subplot. This is not an awkward friendship or a father-daughter bond, and the fact that she’s so young serves no purpose. It’s hard enough for audiences to root for such a bland, passive protagonist, without making him inexplicably sleazy.
The first act does a clear job of setting up Teddy’s main conflict — deciding what he’ll do after college — but it frequently loses sight of this conflict in the second act, when the story gets distracted with revelations about Teddy’s intuition, Redmond’s scheming, and Teddy chasing Amandine. Teddy facing the obstacle of choosing a post-collegiate career should cleverly underscore Teddy’s hidden desires. Teddy’s uncertainty about his future should drive every scene, building to his ultimate decision. Instead, the uncertainty is only mentioned in passing, in random scenes awkwardly shoehorned into the story to remind us of a problem that doesn’t seem to affect Teddy at any point outside those scenes.
The third act is simply baffling, devoting a great deal of time (and reams of dialogue) to Teddy’s Chinese alternative-energy plan without ever making it clear how it’ll actually work, how it’ll make Teddy so much money, where he came up with the idea, and why it suddenly takes all of his focus. Since this brainstorm occupies nearly all of the third act, with no hint of it earlier in the script, it would certainly help to understand Teddy’s sudden, arbitrary obsession. Because the third act devotes so much time and effort to this perplexing development, with almost no payoff, the resolutions to the various subplots are crammed into the last few scenes and go by too quickly for audiences to derive any satisfaction.
This script needs major work. It will simply not succeed without significant rewrites.
Posted by D. B. Bates on May 6, 2009 11:01 PM