Premise: A screwed up cross-dresser’s private life is thrown into disarray when a train accident sends a caboose into his/her back yard.
About: To star Cillian Murphy and Ellen Paige, this 2005 script finished very high on that year’s Black List. Although it was the 2005 script that landed on the Black List, I read a draft dated February 2, 2008 by the same writers – so it should be noted this is a rewrite. The film will be hitting theaters late this year.
Writers: Michael Lander and Ryan Roy
Check out some of these names: Cillian Murphy, Ellen Paige, Susan Sarandon, Josh Lucas, Keith Caradine. What do these actors have in common? They all signed up for one of the most frustrating scripts I’ve ever read.
Now this is complicated. There is ambition here. There is originality. There is a desire to do something different. But for the life of me I can’t find anything in this script to latch onto. Not one single thing to identify with. I love Cillian Murphy. I love Josh Lucas and Ellen Paige and Susan Sarandon. But why they signed up for this………….I’m still trying to figure out.
I would say my confusion started less than a page into the screenplay. There was no indication of what year it was. It could’ve been 1932 or 2005. Why didn’t I know? Cause they never told me. The script begins by pointing out “1900′s Middle Class homes.” Does that mean we’re in the year 1900? Or does that just mean we’re in a modern town with very old houses? This isn’t insignificant information we’re talking about here. The film tackles the issue of cross-dressing and the way our society reacted to cross-dressing in 1930 is different than how they reacted to it in say, 1965. Or 1978. Or 1990. Of course there were some things that implied a certain time period but because this town was so isolated, I didn’t know if these old-fashioned things were old-fashioned because the town hadn’t caught up yet or because we were literally in that time period.
We meet Emma, 30s, who lives in a house by a field in the small town of Peacock, Nebraska. Emma peeks out of her house in the morning hours but looks flighty, uncomfortable, always dashing back into the shadows whenever she’s near a window. She cooks breakfast, writes a note to someone named “John” before heading upstairs, enters a bedroom, undresses, and we see that Emma…has no breasts. Because Emma…is really a man! She’s John! Or John’s Emma. Or they’re each other. I’m still not sure.
So once John dresses up as a man, he bikes to the town bank, where he works as a clerk. John shuffles quietly by everyone, preferring not to be bothered, not to be noticed. I guess he’s a little like Emma in that sense. Which begs the question, why does he need to change personalities if their personalities are exactly the same?
Anyway, the next morning Emma is preparing for her day when a caboose from a passing train comes loose, wobbles off the tracks, into the field, and through John/Emma’s yard, stopping just a foot from her/his house. Within minutes the town descends upon the house, and the worst possible thing that can happen to a person so dependent on privacy happens. John and Emma are forced to interact with other people.
Now at this point, I saw potential for a movie. I like the idea of forcing a character to face their deepest fear. But as soon as that moment passes, the story takes on a garbled confusing plot that I’m still not entirely sure I understand. At first it appears that there’s some Psycho thing going on here as it’s implied that John is dressing up as his dead mother. However at a certain point, Emma becomes John’s wife. It’s all very bizarre because at times it seems as if John has no idea who Emma is and vice versa. Yet they’re writing notes to each other and occasionally hear about one another from the townspeople.
As if not being satisfied with only being kind of confusing, Farm-Trash Maggie shows up out of nowhere and needs money for a child apparently fathered by John. John seems very confused that he has a child. So does that mean that in addition to not knowing about anything that happens in Emma’s life, he sometimes doesn’t know about things that happen in his own life as well? Lol. You can’t make this stuff up. Emma, however, doesn’t want to give Farm-Trash Maggie any money. She’ll do anything to keep the money from her. Despite this, she decides to become Maggie’s best friend. Are you starting to sense why I was frustrated? It was all so bizarre.
There’s a moment in the script where John is talking to Farm-Trash Maggie, says ‘hold on’, goes upstairs, comes down 2 minutes later dressed as Emma, and Farm-Trash Maggie has no idea that the person in front of her is still John. It’s as if you were standing in front of a phone booth and Clark Kent ran in, you saw the whirly super-changing blur, then out came Superman, and you still had no idea that the two were the same person.
The Senator sees a photo opportunity to use the train in the backyard for his campaign and asks John for permission, yet all John wants is for everybody to be gone. Emma is initially against it as well but then changes her mind (not for any logical reason – just because). So as the townspeople come in and out, they get yes’s from Emma and no’s from John – sending mixed messages. They occasionally wonder why John and Emma are never together but no one thinks to address the fact that EMMA LOOKS EXACTLY LIKE JOHN WITH A FUCKING DRESS ON!!! That might be your first clue on why they’re never seen together.
Now there may be a chance -although if it happened, I missed it – that everybody knew that John and Emma were the same person but they were just playing along, afraid to rock the boat. But because that would turn what was previously just a terrible movie into a fucking catastrophically terrible movie, I didn’t even want to consider that possibility.
Now for all of you who are saying, “Well, what do you expect Carson? You read a script called ‘Peacock’.” I would say to you, “You’re right.” What does a high Black List script read like? Download it here and find out.
Script Link (2008 version) : Peacock
Script Link (someone just handed me the 2005 Black List version. Read that here and tell me if it’s any better): Peacock
[x] trash (I hate to say this but I just. did. not. get it.)
[ ] barely kept my interest
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
I’m actually encouraging people who enjoyed this script to comment. I am desperate to find out what it was that got 30-some executives and development execs to vote this as not only a good script, but a great script. Tell me what I missed. Or is this just a case where I didn’t “get it”?
What I learned: Unless you have some reason to hide it, please make the time and setting of your screenplay clear. Don’t leave it up to the reader to guess.
Here I am, back to making these darn lists. Believe me, I’m trying my hardest to be more disorganized. If you have questions or comments about any of these, e-mail me at Carsonreeves1@gmail.com. Thanks!
1) Script Analysis - A lot of you have been asking me if I’ll read your scripts and as much as I’d love to, there are simply too many scripts and not enough time. I do, however, offer a script analysis service. If you’re interested, please e-mail me for rates. I have everything from a simple 2 page tune-up to a complete 8 page breakdown.
2) Comment All Ye Faithful - I understand that a lot of you are having trouble leaving comments. Apparently you post and nothing shows up. I have no idea why this is happening but I’m looking into it. If anyone knows how to fix this, please e-mail me.
3) New Look - Check out the new look. So many people had been complaining about the white on black that I finally made a change. Although there was one user in the comments section who hated it, the general response has been positive. What do you think?
4) Scriptshadow Is Needy - First of all, I want to thank everyone who has sent me a script off my “Need” list over to the right there. I love you. Honestly. But I must call on you again. A couple of those titles are burning a hole in my blog and it is up to you dear readers to put an end to it. I’ve added a couple of new ones to the list (Reapers and Fools Rush In) so you may yet be able to help.
5) Any Suggestions? - Is there a spec script you’ve been wanting me to review? Is there something good that you can’t believe I haven’t read yet? Well darnit, suggest it here in the comments section. If there’s enough demand, I will read it! I will!
6) On Tap - This week should be fun. I’ll be posting another horror review. I have a script that made my blood boil I hated it so much. I might have a guest review for one of the most controversial scripts of 2008. Let’s just say it was a Nicholl winner. I have a big sci-fi spec sale from awhile back. And finally, via Tarson Meads’ suggestion, I have a script based on a city. So get ready. And keep leaving those comments (if you can).
Premise: (revealed in the review)
About: Original draft written by hotshot Kurt Wimmer. Current draft written by screenwriting God Frank Darabont. This project made headlines late last year when Darabont dropped out of directing duties. I’d tell you who replaced him and who’s starring in it, but I don’t want to taint your reading experience with big Hollywood faces. If you just have to know, go to IMDB. But I’d recommend jumping in the pool naked.
Writer: Frank Darabont
It’s about time. It’s about fucking time. I’ve been yearning for a script I could wholeheartedly endorse for weeks now. Sure I’ve given a few “impressive” reviews along the way but nothing where I could stand up and demand my readers sit down…and then read! In comes the late 2008 headline grabbing Law-Abiding Citizen. One hell of a script.
Now I’m going to give you some advice. As is the case with most scripts I enjoy, I knew nothing about this one going in. And the twists and turns are so fun that I’m going to advise you do the same. Go down, grab it, read it. Come back and read the review.
Clyde, a loving husband, comes home one day to find both his wife and 10 year old daughter murdered. Nick, the District Attorney assigned to the case, learns that while two men were at the scene, it’s unclear which one did the murdering. So when one of the men agrees to testify against the other, sending one murderer to jail and another to freedom, Nick essentially makes a deal with the devil. Clyde, the poor husband and father, begs Nick to take the case to trial and get both men indicted. But Nick doesn’t want to go through the trouble. A deal is so much easier. Here is Nick and his team discussing why it would be a bad idea (in a nice little example of invisible exposition to boot):
Nick glances back at Sarah.
What do you think?
What are you asking her for? She’s just an intern.
(deer in the headlights)
I am just an intern.
You were top of your class at Yale, don’t give me that shit.
Young lady. Someday you might have our jobs. You know the issues of the case before the court. Speak.
Okay. Um. You can take both men to trial, spend a year and millions of taxpayer dollars, and probably lose. Or you can cut a deal and at least put one of the men who did the crime on death row. It’s a no-brainer. You make the deal.
And therein lies the issue of Law-Abiding Citizen. The justice system is just that: a system. And any system can be manipulated as long as someone has enough money, information, or power. The problem is, the system just screwed over the wrong man. As Clyde watches one of the men who killed his family shake Nick’s hand and thank him for the “deal” that set him free, there’s a moment where Nick catches Clyde staring at him. It’s a chilling moment. And it’s a look that tells us…this isn’t over.
Cut to 10 years later where we’re about to witness the first killer’s execution via lethal injection. Now since this is Darabont, you know this isn’t going to be your average execution (anybody see Green Mile?). But nothing can prepare you for the horrid gruesome way in which the murderer is killed. When the chemicals are injected, we can see immediately that something is wrong. His body starts smoking. He screams in pain. His skin turns black. His veins burst. The chemicals in his body are so toxic, men can’t even go in the room without being poisoned.
Meanwhile, the second murderer, the free one, only wishes he could’ve died that easily. In a great scene with an unexpected twist, he’s kidnapped and hauled back to an abaondoned barn. There Clyde, using as many drugs as possible to keep him alive, proceeds to tear apart his body piece by piece. The man is awake during the whole process, forced to watch as he’s chopped to pieces.
So does Clyde try and hide the death? No. He actually videotapes it and sends a DVD of the killing directly to Nick’s house.
In one of Citizen’s many great scenes, Nick brings Clyde in for an interrogation. The awesome thing about the scene is that Nick knows Clyde is guilty. Clyde knows he’s guilty. And Clyde knows that Nick knows he’s guilty. So this should be a pretty straight-forward conversation, right?
Nick and Dunnigan prepare to go in. Dunnigan takes off his gun and holster, lays them on a table, as Garza activates the VIDEO. Cantrell finds a chair by feel, sits down, as – Nick and Dunnigan enter. Dunnigan melts into a corner to observe as Nick sits across the table from Clyde.
Why so formal? We go way back. Call me Benson. Or Ben.
Nick sits across the table from Clyde, settles in.
Well. I’m here. So?
So. Maybe you can explain what this is all about.
Nick almost laughs — not what he expected to hear.
I think that’s obvious.
Clyde spreads his hands questioningly — not really.
You murdered two people. Rupert Ames and Clarence Darby.
(shifts his gaze)
Dunnigan. I thought I’d made it clear I would only speak to the gentleman across the table from me. Dunnigan glowers at him, looks to Nick.
You murdered two people. Rupert Ames and Clarence Darby.
Darby? I knew about Ames, of course. I’ve been following the news about his horribly botched execution. But Darby too? Quite a coincidence.
Cut the shit. We know you did it. Save everybody a lot of time and trouble and just confess.
Are you going to continue to insist on being part of this conversation?
(beat, gives in)
Fine. Far be it from me to be rude.
Clarence Darby was found on your property. Old abandoned shed?
I didn’t know I had one. It’s 150 acres, uncultivated. The other day I found a creek I never knew I had. Hunters trespass all the time. You going to try to pin the dead deer on me too?
I don’t believe this guy.
That man is frosty.
- Inner Room -
It occurs to me that an even moderately clever person could try to frame me for the murder simply by killing him on my property. One of Darby’s drug rivals? That’s an unsavory world.
(off Nick’s stare)
A jury would have to weigh that possibility. What else you got?
How about video of you dismembering Darby while he was still alive?
That’s odd. See, if I were to do such a thing, I’d probably wear something so I couldn’t be identified. Some kind of mask maybe. But you say it’s actually me on the video? Did the camera capture my good side?
Nick snaps, lunges across the table, grabs Clyde.
You sick fuck, you sent it to my house! My daughter saw that video! It fucking traumatized her! She couldn’t stop sobbing!
Dunnigan moves in fast, trying to pull Nick off (but failing)-
Whoa-whoa, Nick, ease off!
No trouble here, Detective, we’re fine. Thank you, though.
Dunnigan backs off. Clyde turns back to Nick, who’s still got him in his grasp, their faces close.
Your daughter is, what, ten now? That’s a wonderful age. My daughter was always so busy at that age, so interested, so into everything. Jumping around. I called her “Bean,” she jumped around so much.
Nick is easing off by inches, subtly and ineffably weirded out, unable to break Clyde’s gaze.
I am sorry, Nick, that your daughter experienced that. You’re right. That video should not have arrived that way. The person who sent it should have thought twice.
Dunnigan moves in again, gently but firmly pulls Nick away.
Unless there’s hard evidence tying me to these crimes — forensic or otherwise — why am I here? Why are we having this conversation?
We know you did it.
It’s not about what you know. It’s about what you can prove in court.
(off Nick’s look)
Your words. Like when you called it a justice *system*. You know the thing about a system, Nick? Any system can be played.
You think you can play us? You gonna take me on?
Clarence Darby did. And I’m much smarter than he was. Or you.
Nick advances, furious, held back by Dunnigan:
I’m gonna bury you, fucker!
(lunges to his feet)
That’s it, that’s what I want! That fire in the belly! That’s what I wanted ten years ago! Do it, Nick! Bury me!
(shouting at Clyde)
Sit down! Sit the fuck down!
Clyde does, settles in, speaking calmly -
Or. Set me free.
Did I stutter? Make your case. Or. Shake my hand on the courthouse steps and send me on my way.
(off Nick’s look)
I’ll even make it easy on you. I will confess, how’s that?
You’re gonna confess.
Let’s start tomorrow after a good night’s sleep. We’ll all be fresh and rested.
And this is where the story of Law-Abiding Citizen finally takes shape. Clyde is determined to make the system work for him, just like it worked for the men who killed his family.
It’s a great premise because we’ve all thought it before. Our justice system is a joke. An officer can forget to read someone his Miranda Rights and a murderer is back on the streets within days. What if someone angry enough, someone with the capability and know-how, someone with the resources, decided to exploit this joke of a system for what it was? And what if he was willing to go to any lengths to do it? That is the premise of Law-Abiding Citizen.
I have a feeling this description is going to come back to bite me but I see this as sort of a hyper modern-day version of Silence Of The Lambs. The similarities are limited in most respects, but the memorable bad guy pulling the strings and manipulating the system really brought me back to that initial feeling of watching Silence Of The Lambs.
The only reason this doesn’t get genius status and a higher place on my Top 25 is because of the ending. And it’s not that I didn’t like the ending. I did. But the last 15 pages were the only time in the script – regardless of how absurd it got- where I was actively wondering if what was happening was possible. When we find out Clyde is sneaking out of the jail to perform some of these murders…………eh, I don’t know. This is a man who’s killed dozens of people. Wouldn’t you have a couple of guards down by his cell watching him at all times? Or at the very least a camera? Incidentally, you only end up noticing this because the rest of the script is so damn good.
If done right, this has the potential for greatness.
[ ] trash
[ ] barely kept my interest
[ ] worth the read
[x] impressive (near genius)
[ ] genius
What I learned: There’s no real traditional Act 1 turn in Law-Abiding Citizen. A series of really interesting twists and turns keep happening, but the true nature of the plot doesn’t reveal itself until around page 45. This is just a reminder that the 30 page point is a rough placemarker for when the plot is supposed to kick in. But if you can keep a series of mysteries going, the readers will be more forgiving and allow you to take more time to begin your story.
postscript: So, if you went to IMDB you saw that the movie is now being directed by F. Gary Gray, and stars Gerard Butler and Jaime Foxx. I’m not sure I like the casting here. I would’ve rather seen someone like Patrick Wilson in the Nick roll and a young John Malkovich type in the roll of Clyde. But hopefully these guys pull it off. I know I’m rooting for them.
A little Thursday afternoon treat for you guys. Not all of us are millionaires and have 500 bucks to go see the new Star Trek movie. So why not read a few scripts this weekend instead? If you liked Tarson’s take on “Kristy”, you may enjoy the rest of his Top 10 scripts, which I’ve listed right under my own. There’s a couple on there that I haven’t read myself. Maybe I’ll check’em out. Enjoy! :)
[ ] trash
[x] barely kept my interest
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: I’m not saying everything has to be a soap opera, but if you avoid every opportunity to add conflict to your story, your audience is going to get bored really fast. Put your characters in danger. Make them do morally questionable things that have consequences on other characters. Give us something interesting to sink our teeth into. Paper Wings is so centered on its core story, it forgets to take advantage of its other potentially dramatic situations.