Genre: Legal/Action/Drama
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):

[scrippet]
Nick glances back at Sarah.

NICK
What do you think?

REYNOLDS
What are you asking her for? She’s just an intern.

SARAH
(deer in the headlights)
I am just an intern.

NICK
You were top of your class at Yale, don’t give me that shit.

CANTRELL
Young lady. Someday you might have our jobs. You know the issues of the case before the court. Speak.

SARAH
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.
[/scrippet]
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?

[scrippet]
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.

CLYDE
Counselor.

NICK
Mr. Clyde.

CLYDE
Why so formal? We go way back. Call me Benson. Or Ben.

Nick sits across the table from Clyde, settles in.

NICK
Well. I’m here. So?

CLYDE
So. Maybe you can explain what this is all about.

Nick almost laughs — not what he expected to hear.

NICK
I think that’s obvious.

Clyde spreads his hands questioningly — not really.

DUNNIGAN
You murdered two people. Rupert Ames and Clarence Darby.

CLYDE
(shifts his gaze)
Detective…?

DUNNIGAN
Dunnigan.

CLYDE
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.

NICK
You murdered two people. Rupert Ames and Clarence Darby.

CLYDE
Darby? I knew about Ames, of course. I’ve been following the news about his horribly botched execution. But Darby too? Quite a coincidence.

DUNNIGAN
Cut the shit. We know you did it. Save everybody a lot of time and trouble and just confess.

CLYDE
Are you going to continue to insist on being part of this conversation?

DUNNIGAN
Yes.

CLYDE
(beat, gives in)
Fine. Far be it from me to be rude.

NICK
Clarence Darby was found on your property. Old abandoned shed?

CLYDE
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?

-Observation Area-

SARAH
I don’t believe this guy.

CANTRELL
That man is frosty.

- Inner Room -

CLYDE
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?

NICK
(temper flaring)
How about video of you dismembering Darby while he was still alive?

CLYDE
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.

NICK
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)-

DUNNIGAN
Whoa-whoa, Nick, ease off!

CLYDE
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.

CLYDE
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.

Softly-

CLYDE
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.

DUNNIGAN
Okay, enough.

CLYDE
Unless there’s hard evidence tying me to these crimes — forensic or otherwise — why am I here? Why are we having this conversation?

NICK
We know you did it.

CLYDE
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.

NICK
You think you can play us? You gonna take me on?

CLYDE
Clarence Darby did. And I’m much smarter than he was. Or you.

Nick advances, furious, held back by Dunnigan:

NICK
I’m gonna bury you, fucker!

CLYDE
(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!

DUNNIGAN
(shouting at Clyde)
Sit down! Sit the fuck down!

Clyde does, settles in, speaking calmly -

CLYDE
Or. Set me free.

NICK
What?

CLYDE
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?

NICK
You’re gonna confess.

CLYDE
Let’s start tomorrow after a good night’s sleep. We’ll all be fresh and rested.
[/scrippet]
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! :)

: Paper Wings

[ ] 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.

Genre: Comedy
Premise: A college-aged kid becomes his father’s boss.
About: Lord and Cohen sold this to Disney two weeks ago for an undisclosed amount of moola. Scott Rudin will produce. Lord was a co-producer on “The Heartbreak Kid”, which, btw, I thought was hilarious.
Writers: Tony Lord & David Cohen

Harvey Hutchinson has been working at the Hibrau Beer company for over 20 years. When his boss unexpectedly dies of a heart attack, the owner of the company tabs Harvey, who’s been working his ass off for a promotion, as the likely successor.

Harvey’s 21 year old son, Hutch, is a beer-drinking pot-smoking recent college drop-out. He doesn’t know a thing about responsibility nor does he really want to. He spends his days trolling for desperate chicks, hanging out with his deadbeat friends, drinking, and playing video games.

Harvey forces Hutch to take a job at the brewery. After only one day of work, Hutch has had enough and plans, a la Jerry Maguire, to write a “memo” to the company telling them how terrible their product is in hopes of getting fired. But wouldn’t you know it! The president is “happy” that someone was brave enough to “tell it like it is”. So instead of getting fired, Hutch gets promoted!

After this, there are about 6 or 7 gimme jokes associated with the premise. The dad is humiliated and angry. The son takes advantage of his money and power. The company, of course, does better under Hutch’s fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants leadership. The dad waits for the luck to end. It doesn’t. The son “learns a lesson” when he starts caring more about the stock price than what club to hit that night. His friends think he’s too serious. Don’t like him anymore. Blah blah blah. Everybody’s a better person.

I was going to write a scathing review of Boss. I’m talking “Wedding Banned” scathing. But then I remembered that universal truth: It’s really hard to write a script. I mean, it’s really fucking hard. A lot of people on the outside see movies like “Betrayal” and think it’s easy. But trust me when I say this: Even writing a movie like Betrayal is hard. It’s why the same guy who wrote the genius “The Sixth Sense” can also write a movie about a pool fairy. It’s why the same guy who wrote Jerry Maguire can also write Elizabethtown and Vanilla Sky. Because there is no formula. Even the best writers are capable of writing complete and utter shit.

But that doesn’t excuse a company for buying this.

Most writers, when they get an idea for a movie, they start writing down all the cool scenes and characters and lines that come to mind. Like in Boss, you know you’re going to get that line where the dad is at work and his son is ordering him around, and the dad screams back, “You’re grounded!” That’s a given before even a page is written. So you cobble together all these ideas, come up with a starting point, sit down, start writing and…………

…..and then you realize that the entirety of your ideas amounts to 15 pages of screenplay. Which means you still have to come up with another 90. And it’s in those 90 where most writers fail. Because it’s really hard to come up with a story that takes advantage of a cool concept.

To me, Boss felt like a script that never had anything more than those 15 pages. Even the first 30 pages, which tend to be the easiest to write, repeated information over and over again, treading water until the first act break (when the son becomes the boss).

But Boss’s problems run much much deeper than that. The biggest issue I had was that I absolutely hated the son. I mean I hated him. He’s lazy, rude, a loser, a dick, a deadbeat, and stupid. And on top of that, he spends the entire script telling his dad to fuck off. You can have deadbeat characters in your movie but at least give us something to latch onto. Take Knocked Up for instance. Seth Rogan may be a deadbeat pot-smoking loser. But he’s also a big teddy bear without a mean bone in his body. It doesn’t have to be a lot. But give us something.

For the record I did laugh once in the script. Once. It’s near the beginning, during dinner, when Hutch is telling his family that he dropped out of college and makes his case for taking a year off from work.

[scrippet]
HUTCH
Okay. Since I have yet to clearly define my career path, it makes smart business sense, especially in these tough economic times, to evaluate the various opportunities out there. So why not take a year off, really research this thing, and ‘find myself’? Then bang! I’m back in school, heading toward a career and a life filled with huge financial rewards and tons of emotional stability. To top things off, you guys won’t have to worry about cash if things get really bad. ‘Ol Hutch here will unselfishly be able to provide for the whole family and we’ll live happily ever after.
(like Barack Obama)
Yes, we can.
[/scrippet]
So for the record I didn’t hate all of Boss. In the end, I’m guessing Disney fell head over heels with the concept (make no mistake: it’s a great concept) and plan to rewrite the thing immediately. There’s a good movie in here somewhere. They just haven’t found it yet.

[ ] trash
[x] barely kept my interest
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: Oh no! We’re back here again! The main character being “likable” argument? Unfortunately, that’s really what this script boils down to. If you’re going to give us someone who’s despicable and worthless, you gotta offer something/anything for us to latch onto so we at least sort of like the guy. In Pierre Pierre, it was that Pierre was funny (or at least I thought he was). In American Beauty it was Lester Burnum’s desire to break free of his miserable marriage and be happy again. Hutch is just a deadbeat with no goals and nothing to offer. He ruined this script.

It’s taken, what, a month? But I’ve finally read a script that will break into my Top 25. Very excited to tell you guys about this one! Unfortunately, you’ll have to wait until Friday to find out which script it is. Sorry! I know. I’m terrible. :)