Premise: A toll booth worker takes the blame for a bank robbing he was tricked into. When he gets out of jail, he decides to rob the same bank in order to justify his sentence.
About: This is the recently announced project Keanu Reeves (no relation) signed onto, which he will also produce. It will be directed by Malcolm Venville. Stephen Hamel and Lemore Syvan will produce along with Reeves. – Some of the trades are calling this a romantic comedy. Though I can see why classifying the script may have been difficult, there’s not an ounce of comedy in here, so you can kaput that rumor right now. Sacha Gervasi is probably best known for writing 2004’s “The Terminal” for Steven Spielberg.
Writer: Sacha Gervasi
Details: 121 pages (unknown draft date)
So how *does* one classify Henry’s Crime? We’ve determined it isn’t a romantic comedy. But it does have romance. Yet I wouldn’t call it a romance. It’s got a lot of drama, that’s for sure. Oh, and it’s also a heist flick. Well… It’s not quite a heist flick. You’d need a lot of heisting going on for that. I guess you would call this a soft blend of all of these, with an exclamation point after “soft”. I’m having a hard time forming my thoughts for this review because Henry’s Crime didn’t really leave a lasting impression on me. It’s minimalist to the extreme. It’s reserved. It’s passive. And for that reason, it moves through you like a daydream. You’re experiencing it but when you wake up…you only remember bits and pieces.
The premise is actually kind of neat. A simple toll booth worker named Henry is unknowingly roped into a bank robbing by a few loose acquaintances. When it all goes to shit, Henry’s the one who gets caught. He’s told that if he names the men involved, he’ll go free. For reasons that are still unclear to me, he doesn’t name the men. This leads to a four year stint in jail, where he meets a wise older gentleman named Max. They become best friends. The sage Max is always pushing Henry to find his point here on earth. Why is he here? Henry doesn’t know. After Henry gets out of jail, he goes in search of this point. He ends up heading back to the bank he didn’t rob, and that’s where it hits him. He went to jail for a crime he didn’t commit. So he might as well go ahead and commit the crime.
So far, so good.
Except that’s pretty much where the interesting stuff ends. Henry’s Crime feels like a script desperately searching for a way to fill up all the empty space around that intriguing premise. And although there are some original choices made in the story, they never really feel like they’re a part of it.
Henry himself is quite a vapid character. He rarely interacts with life unless it interacts with him first. He doesn’t offer his opinions on matters unless someone asks him. He will speak only when spoken to. In fact, most of Henry’s vocabulary revolves around different ways of saying, “I don’t know.” To be honest, Henry feels a lot like a robot. I couldn’t help but think of Jeff Bridges in Star Man. Remember how that character always seemed confused and asked a lot of questions? That’s pretty much Henry here. Except Henry is from earth. I know, I know. There are a million Keanu Reeves jokes to be made here. But I actually like Reeves and respect how he takes chances on material. Only a few A-list stars are that brave. But this role may even be too introverted for him.
Anyway, eventually Max gets out of prison and Henry convinces him to help him with his plan. It so happens that there’s an old theatre company right next to the bank, and that underneath it is an ancient water tunnel that nobody knows about, which leads to the bank vault. Henry ends up befriending a young actress who works at the theatre, and the two strike up a relationship. Eventually (and I wouldn’t fault you if you laughed here), Henry and Max realize that they can only get into the tunnel through one of the actor’s rooms. So Henry tries out for and lands the lead part in the play, which allows Max to use his room to dig into the tunnel.
I mean…that’s about as bold of a choice as you can make. Because if it doesn’t work, it’s gonna fall faster than the floor Max is standing on when he breaks through.
Towards the end, things start getting Prison Break in nature (can anyone explain to me how that show lasted more than one season? THEY BROKE OUT OF THE PRISON!!! There’s nothing left to do!). The original gang leader who robbed the bank first (and screwed over Henry), finds out about the heist and wants in. So does the security guard who spotted Henry during that original robbing (though his interest feels more like a convenient way to give them a man on the inside). And while this is the one place where the script adds a healthy dose of conflict, the heist itself doesn’t sustain it.
I fully admit there’s a chance here I didn’t “get” this story. I didn’t read the trades until afterwards and therefore had not heard of people classifying this as a “Capra-esque” romantic comedy. Looking back at it, that surely would’ve colored my approach to the read. But I think it’s better I went in knowing nothing. Because that way I read the material for what it was. And I never felt any comedy in here at all. In fact, I thought this was a pretty heavy drama. Who knows? Maybe Variety got it wrong and everyone else picked it up. I will give this to Gervasi. He’s written something very original. But I simply couldn’t get into it.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] barely kept my interest
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: This very well may be a pet peeve of mine so I’m not going to speak for the rest of Hollywood here. But one thing that drives me crazy is characters that only ask questions. One of the reasons I hated Kevin Smith’s Dogma so much, is that all the main character does is ask questions. That’s all she does the entire script. I never learned a single thing about her because she was too busy asking everyone else questions. And while Henry isn’t that bad, he definitely spends a lot of time asking questions, and as a result, I never get to know who *he* is. Without knowing your main character, it’s hard to identify with and root for him. And that was my big problem with this script. I never got a sense of who Henry was, so I didn’t really care about his life.
Premise: A group of rich friends have a monthly dinner ritual where they each bring the biggest weirdo they can find, then discreetly make fun of them over the course of the evening.
About: Add yet another project heavy-set in-boy Zach Galifianakis is attached to. The film will co-star Paul Rudd and be directed by Jay Roach. The film is actually a remake of a French film that came out about a decade ago (Having some major déjà vu here after The Tourist review). Galifianakis’ part was originally to be played by Sacha Baron Cohen when he was attached to every comedy in town. When he dropped out, so did the project, and Roach has been trying to get it going again ever since. It should be noted that, like a lot of comedies, these things are rewritten right up to the end, so a few story points may have changed from this relatively older draft.
Writer: Andy Borowitz (Revisions by Cinco Paul & Ken Daurio and Jon Vitti — Further revisions by David Guion & Michael Handelman — Based on the original French film “Le Diner de Cons” by Francis Veber)
Details: 118 pages (February 2007 draft)
I guess if there’s anyone qualified to review this script, it’s me. I’ve actually seen the original French film it’s based on. In fact, I’ve seen quite a few French comedies. I don’t know what it is about them that I’m drawn to. I mean, the French aren’t exactly known for their sense of humor. But the films are kind of like bastardized versions of our own ridiculous comedies. So they take everything about them that’s ridiculous, and make them even more ridiculous. I don’t know if I ever really laugh at them, so much as marvel at how strangely seductive and amusing they can be. So when I heard there would be an American film based off of a French film, that bases its principles off American films, I thought at the very least I might be able to offer some commentary on how insane that is.
The story is about a group of rich assholes that have a monthly dinner ritual whereby they each find and bring with them a “schmuck.” Someone so out of touch with the world, so strange, so ridiculous, that they’re unaware of just how idiotic they are. The person who brings the strangest “schmuck” ends up “winning”. Our hero, Tim, is on the verge of landing a 100 million dollar investment for his company, and his boss, in anticipation of Tim’s newfound status, has invited him to one of these infamous dinners. Tim is stressing out as there are only a couple of days left before the dinner and he still hasn’t found a schmuck. If he doesn’t impress these men, there’s a good chance they won’t let him into “the club.”
Enter Barry Speck (no doubt Zach Galifianakis), an IRS auditor who recreates famous moments throughout history (think the moon landing) using taxidermied mice. To say that Speck is a bit of an odd duck would be selling him short. The guy recreates history…with dead rodents. Tim realizes right away he’s found his golden ticket and asks Barry to join him for dinner in a couple of days. Barry, not used to any attention whatsoever, is thrilled by the invitation and accepts.
Back at home, Tim prepares his beautiful girlfriend Julie for their Jeffersons moment. But when Tim explains what goes down in these exclusive dinners, Julie is horrified and tells him he shouldn’t go. Of course, since that means throwing everything he’s worked so hard for down the drain, Tim’s quite reluctant. This inaction leads to Julie huffing and puffing and eventually claiming she needs some “time away to think about their relationship”. So she leaves. And wouldn’t you know it, as soon as she does, Barry shows up. Tim asks him what the hell he’s doing here and Barry says he’s here for the dinner. Tim informs him that the dinner isn’t until tomorrow but Barry refuses to accept this. He’s convinced the dinner is tonight. Tim tries to inform him that he’s the only one between the two who would know when the dinner actually was. But Barry’s not buying it.
After Barry worms his way into Tim’s apartment, he eventually finds out that Julie’s run out on him. This hits Barry particularly hard because he experienced a particularly harsh dumping himself. After talking it through, Barry convinces Tim that Julie is probably cheating on him with her slimy boss, Kieren. Hence begins the main thrust of the story – Tim and Barry desperately trying to prevent Julie from being with Kieren. Naturally, whatever plan they come up with, Barry ends up making it ten times worse than it would’ve been had they done nothing at all. When Tim realizes just how disastrous Barry is, he tries to get rid of him. But the thing about Barry is, once he’s in your life, he doesn’t leave.
For a movie called “Dinner For Schmucks”, it’s somewhat odd that the dinner doesn’t happen until the last 30 pages of the screenplay, but like I mentioned before, this is a French film. And for better or worse, the French throw logic, along with movie conventions, out the window.
There are some good things and some bad things here. One issue I had was Julie deciding she needed to “get away” because of the schmuck dinner. I mean come on. There are worse problems going on in relationships *every day*. If that’s what’s going to break you up, then keep walking honey, cause you were never going to make it in the first place. One thing that will undoubtedly work though is Zack Galifianakis as Barry. I mean, if there was ever a more perfect marriage between actor and character, I’d like to see it. Barry is such an odd weirdo and Galifianakis has so claimed the crown on odd weirdos, that the two couldn’t be more right for each other. But that doesn’t necessarily make it funny. And that’s where Schmucks runs into some trouble. Is this movie supposed to make you laugh? Or is it supposed to make you uncomfortable with Barry’s character? Cause it definitely achieves the latter. I’m not so sure it achieves the former.
The jury will be deliberating on this one for sure. I think at best it can be a solid middle-of-the-road comedy. At worst it can be a huge misfire, with the audience sort of wondering what the focus is and seeing the humor as too weird. Regardless of what it becomes, the script isn’t quite up to snuff. It would be interesting to see what’s happened since, but I can’t recommend this draft.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] barely kept my interest
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: I try to preach this to any writer who will listen. It’s one of my big things and that’s why I keep harping on it. Make sure your script abides by real-life logic, not movie-world logic. I simply did not buy this idea that Julie would get so upset about a business dinner that she’d leave Tim. This falls into the “movie logic” world, where you need something to happen (in this case, Tim and Julie need to be split up) so you come up with a bogus reason to do so, regardless of if it would ever happen in real life. I’m telling you, readers and audiences aren’t dumb. They’ll sniff this shit out. I realize there’s some leeway involved in comedies, but not on the critical plot turns that set up your movie. You gotta make sure that stuff is 100% believable.
In Bruges is one of those movies that you’re supposed to like if you’re a film nerd. Saying you don’t instantly loses you credibility. I guess I just lost credibility. I’m not sure it’s the script so much as Colin Farrell’s acting. I can never understand what the hell the guy’s saying and I don’t think he’s funny. If I need a guy to break girls’ hearts or make women swoon, I’ll hire Farrell. If I want an actor who can deliver jokes, Farrell is somewhere on the bottom of my list. But hey, people love In Bruges and I’m not going to rain on their parade. Even though I just sorta did. Today, Roger takes a look at another of McDonagh’s (the writer of In Bruges) scripts, Seven Psychopaths. If I ranked all the scripts I get requests for, this one is somewhere near the top. People love this guy. Let’s see what Roger thinks.
Genre: Crime, Drama, Black Comedy
Premise: A writer’s life is violently turned upside down when his friends kidnap a Mafioso’s dog.
About: “Seven Psychopaths” is McDonagh’s third film script. It’s his favorite unproduced script. And that’s all he’s gonna say about it. At the age of 27, McDonagh became the first writer since Shakespeare to have four plays performed simultaneously in London. His plays have been nominated for multiple Tony Awards. He won an Oscar for his short, “Six Shooter”. Nominated for Best Original Screenplay Award with “In Bruges”.
Writer: Martin McDonagh.
Details: 116 pages (undated)
The only writer other than Shakespeare to have four plays performed concurrently in London’s West End Theatre District is Martin McDonagh. That’s an almost four-hundred year disparity between quite possibly the world’s greatest writer and a modern day Irish playwright.
One writes in manacled iambic pentameter and the other writes in an idiosyncratic language that champions casual swearing.
Both are writers who tell stories that explore the immemorial facets of honor, love, loss, sorrow, ambition, wrath and madness with jewel-like illumination.
A Shakespearean sonnet might stir the pain that hides in scars by driving a rapier through your heart, but a McDonagh murder ballad will pummel that protective wall you constructed around your soul with the butt of a gun until it creates its own entrance, turning what was once a barrier into a gate.
And that thing you call manliness that is actually a buffer between you and the world will erode in the winds of a howling melancholy and screaming black drama, leaving you with wrists upturned and your veins exposed to the world, laughing all the while.
Now here’s a script that exists on the other side. The side where rules are broken and where the writer’s creativity and skill create a form that, double-fisted, punches and shoots its way through the parameter walls and stretches the tethers of the tenants to the point where they snap, the story refusing to be held in such confines.
The new form might frighten you. It might scare you away. But there’s no need to run. Read it. Don’t know how? Let it show you how. Give it a chance. Like Nabokov’s “Pale Fire” or Danielewski’s “House of Leaves”, McDonagh’s “Seven Psychopaths” is a work that showcases meta-literary pyrotechnics. You learn how to read it as you go along.
But here’s the thing. It’s actually a quiet display that does not get in the way of the story. There are points, especially near the mid-point, where it teeters on the brink, where McDonagh seems to mutter fuck-all while he tight-rope walks between pretentious disaster and pure screenplay brilliance, but then he makes it to the latter side and all you can do as a reader is shake your head in wonder and nod approvingly as you skim back over the pages you just read to see exactly how he made it across.
There’s a danger that comes with playing with the rules. But your reward, if you survive the attempt, is that you may achieve something much more interesting than what would be possible by opting to play safely in the life-guarded screenplay sandbox. There’s a part in this script where it seems like McDonagh is telegraphing the entire third act, but then he reels the story back in and we’re served with something completely compelling, fun, tense, violent and heartbreaking.
If you get to the mid-point and find yourself frustrated, like I did, just keep reading.
I promise that it’s not what you think it is.
Here’s the story. We have our writer Marty, who may or may not be Martin McDonagh. He’s a writer. He’s a bit of an alcoholic. He’s trying to write a screenplay he has entitled “Seven Psychopaths”. Yeah, I know. But hold on. Pay attention.
Marty’s best-friend is Billy Bickle. Billy…well…let’s just say that Billy doesn’t like Marty’s girlfriend, Kaya. Kaya doesn’t like Billy. But it’s okay, because Billy is concerned with being a good friend and he’s not afraid to tell Marty that Kaya is kindof a bitch. He’s looking out for his friend.
At one point we might even get a glimpse at Billy’s diary and learn that he’s made lists on how he can be a better friend to Marty and Hans.
Hans is –-
–hold on. Sorry. I’ll get to Hans in a second.
Did you catch the “Taxi Driver” reference there? Look again. Billy’s name. Billy Bickle.
Billy actually thinks that he’s the son of Travis Bickle, Robert De Niro’s character in Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver”. No, he doesn’t think he’s the son of De Niro. He believes he’s the son of the character, Travis Bickle. He thinks Travis Bickle is real.
But it’s not…it’s not something you want to ride into him for. Billy’s a sweet guy and it’s kind of painful to watch Marty get drunk and make fun of him concerning this character trait. It just makes Marty come off as cranky and mean-spirited. And Billy is an awesome friend. I would be honored to have a friend like Billy in my life.
You see, Billy is concerned that Marty is drinking too much and that’s causing problems with work on his script. And he’s not afraid to say it. As burgeoning scriptwriters, we could all use a cheerleader like this on our sides, alcoholic or not.
Now let’s get back to Hans.
Hans is an older guy, closer to sixty than fifty. He’s poor but always neatly dressed. He wears a distinctive cravat that might just be a stylistic fashion choice, or he might be using it to cover up a telling scar. He has a black wife named Myra, a victim of breast cancer who spends her painful days lying in bed at the cancer word.
Hans hasn’t worked in twenty years or so, and you get the sense he’s struggling to pay Myra’s hospital bills. So he’s come up with a dog-napping scheme to help him with his financial woes. Billy helps him out. They steal dogs from people at the local park, hold them in pens and wait for the missing-dog flyers to appear. And since this is a pretty rich area, they are able to score hundreds of dollars in reward money from suddenly ecstatic and wealthy owners.
But one day they make a mistake. They nab a cute, little three-legged shitsu by the name of Bonny that both men grow pretty fond of.
Except there’s already a guy who’s extremely fond of Bonny. Namely, his owner Charlie Costello. See, when we first meet Charlie, he’s at a double funeral for some mafiosos.
That’s something else you should note. Someone has taken it upon themselves to murder members of the mafia, leaving Jack ‘O Diamond playing cards on the bodies.
Anyways, Charlie is at this funeral, and he’s consoling the mothers of the fallen men. He’s telling me, with much passion, that he’s going to crucify the people responsible for this.
Then someone arrives to tell him that something has happened to his shitsu, Bonny.
And then we truly see Charlie’s true colors.
He goes apeshit and when the Irish priest at the funeral tries to calm him down, Charlie responds by pushing him into an open grave. Yep. He pushes. A priest. Into. An open grave.
And now worlds are about to collide. People are about to die.
And it reminds me a lot of McDonagh’s play, “The Lieutenant of Inishmore”. Which is about a psychopath named Padraic, a leader in a Irish National Liberation Army splinter group, who finds out his best friend has been killed.
His best friend is a cat named Wee Thomas.
Anyways, a bloodbath ensues as Padraic returns to his old stomping grounds as he avenges the cat.
So Charlie is a bit like Padraic. His interrogation starts with the woman who was walking Bonny when he went missing. She’s chained to a chair and he has a gun in his hand. And if we weren’t sure about Charlie’s sanity already, this scene provides us with frightful and hilarious clarity.
It can be argued, that when it comes to plays, that what you need is three ingredients. (1) Quirky characters. (2) Good dialogue. (3) Interesting stories for each character. And off you go.
The idiom of McDonagh’s work is that, yes, he has quirky characters. And he also has dialogue that captures a sense of madness through speech. His characters express themselves through the oddness of their expressions. And not only do they seem to have interesting backstories, the stories that they are living portraying in the present to the audience are compelling and interesting as well.
But plays are different. You can tell more than you have to show, and you can get away with it.
Cinematically, it’s wise to show more than you tell.
And McDonagh has some great stories that he shows us here. You see, there are stories within stories here. The frame device is the screenplay Marty is writing, and he needs to find and populate his story with seven characters. Seven characters worthy of the title psychopath. Seven psychopaths with interesting stories to tell.
There’s a funny bit of business that involves a hungover Marty finding an ad in the paper, a call for psychopaths with interesting stories to be used in a film being written by Marty. He didn’t put this in the paper. Billy did.
And this is how we meet Zachariah. He’s very old. He arrives to Marty’s apartment to tell his tale to Marty’s tape recorder. Marty just wants to be rid of the guy, so he goes about his business making coffee and such when he hears Zachariah reveal that he lived his life as a serial killer who travelled the country killing other serial killers.
He didn’t do this alone. He had a girlfriend and partner named Maggie.
And it’s the type of well-told tale that catches your breath. And what starts out as a story about grisly serial killers turns into a sad tale of regret and love lost.
Zachariah’s motive for coming to Marty is so that Marty will post a note after the credits roll if his screenplay is ever made into a film from Zachariah to Maggie.
You see, he’s an old man looking for the woman that got away.
And it’s a powerful, touching sequence that made me cry. And then I was laughing while crying at the irony of shedding tears over the story of a couple that offed serial murderers.
And that’s what makes this script such a joy and pleasure to experience. It’s the stories and connections and reversals that rise to the surface as a man looking for his stolen dog wreaks havoc on the people responsible.
The characters speak dialogue that showcases McDonagh’s ear for elliptical speech. People often speak around subjects and the truth before they finally settle on it. It takes them a bit of time to figure out how they’re going to approach a subject or something that’s bothering them. But when they finally do, it’s a moment of connection that lights up the circuits and gets our agreement and empathy.
There’s a great line of dialogue, a line that resonates still:
“I think anything made with brains and heart is life-affirming, no matter how black the subject matter.”
Living in the Bible Belt, people like to make me feel weird.
Sometimes they ask me, “How can you like that? It’s not uplifting.”
Like this one time I was watching David Gordon Green’s “Snow Angels”, and after it ended, my roommate, who had been grading papers in front of the flat-screen, she says, “That wasn’t very uplifting, was it?”
And she scowled at me and told me it was a terrible, terrible film.
Not totally pleasant, yes, but it was totally captivating. It had things to say. Things about grief that spoke to me, calmed me as a person who was going through his own grief. But she clocked out and chose not to believe that it had things to say.
Now I’m a guy that likes somber, melancholy, dark fairy tales dripping with sparkled chiaroscuro and luminous tenebrae…I like stories with swearing and guns and knives and people behaving badly.
And you know, people will look at me and say, with a straight-face, that there’s no value to such stories. No artistic, humanistic, or moral merit.
Well, what a shitty stance that’s more a matter of taste and bias then it is of criticism. Than it is of giving a story a chance.
And it frustrates me, because I’m a person that tries to find the beauty and truth in everything. I want to say, didn’t you pay attention? There’s light here, there’s gem-like soul-stirring stuff going on here, and sometimes you need some of the darkness to accentuate the light, the life. It’s like alchemy, chemistry. You need the vile stuff, the dark stuff, to cull out the light.
Because I’m going to tell you right now, there are multiple moments in this story that violates Stuart Beattie’s screenplay axiom: “Never kill the dog.”
Animals die in this thing.
And so do people.
Life is hacked to death with a machete. It melts in pools of acid. Flare guns are shot into mouths, bullets bounce around inside bodies. There’s fisticuffs and bloody physicality. Men break up with women. Women and men both die tragic deaths.
And I don’t really think there’s any bias or prejudice betwixt the things that die in this script.
But there’s men professing love for each other. It’s not homosexuality. It’s the manly Romantic friendship found between two males in Victorian times and literature. You know how people would snicker in the theater during “Lord of the Rings” whenever Frodo and Sam gazed at each other? How people mistook that for them being hard and wet for each other?
There’s that except it’s not two dudes who want to fuck each other (it wasn’t in Tolkien either).
It’s a sense of honor, of loyalty, of friendship.
It’s also a meditation on Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai”. Chinks in the armor and macho exteriors that lay bare the insecurities, the tenderness, the red-beating hearts of these characters. Push past through the posturing and physicality to see these men naked, offering their beating hearts in outstretched supplicant hands.
There’s writer as warrior.
You fight for the time and dedication to write, and sometimes you lose the simple pleasures of life in exchange. If you’re in a relationship, it’s a hard juggling act. Because writing has become your mistress, and your stories have become your children. You have to decide, who is going to be the wife, and who is going to be the mistress? Your writing? Or your mate?
I think there’s a sacrifice that comes with choosing a path as a writer, with things like logophilia or cinephilia. When you’re so haunted and obsessed with words and images you find the rest of the world passing you by as you lose yourself in the loop. Sometimes it’s out of your control.
And sometimes when you’ve worked months or years to complete something, you’ve shed friendships and jobs. You’ve opted not to settle on a straight career path and a yuppie life because you’re working something minimum wage while you live in a ratty apartment with Good Will décor as you spend the majority of your time writing.
Like Seven Samurai, these guys uphold their honor to each other, their friendships for the greater good, but it’s the warriors who ultimately lose. They have lost their lives and Marty has lost his friends. As Kambei muses, “Again we are defeated.”
Because in the end, Marty has even lost his girl because his writing is important, and she is, after all, a fucking bitch.
And with Marty alive, life-sustaining work has prevailed over war, left all warriors (Billy and Hans and the others) as the defeated party.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] barely kept my interest
[ ] worth the read
[ ] genius
What I learned: When you’re someone like Martin McDonagh, you don’t compromise. People don’t tell him, “That’s a great first draft.” He has the confidence and the stubbornness and the belief in his own work to say, “We’re shooting it my way and we’re not going to change a fucking word.” And you know what? That’s what’s gonna happen. If you’re going to last in this business, you have to believe in yourself. You have to believe in your scripts. The moment you lose belief, the moment you quit and give up. It’s over. Otherwise, how are other people going to believe in you? Are you writing for a paycheck? Or are you writing because you need and have to tell stories? Are you writing a story to tell it to other people, or are you telling it to yourself?
note: Scroll down for Friday’s review
So a few months ago I held a free contest over on the Done Deal Message Boards. It was a very simple competition. The first 100 people to contact me got in. Over the next three months I read all 100 scripts. In the end, there were three that really impressed me. I can’t speak about the top two because they’re currently being looked at by two of the top agencies in town, but as for this last one, all I can say is I really really liked this script and was shocked that the writer wasn’t already represented.
Without going into too much detail, the script is sort of an understated cross between Basic Instinct and Gothika (although Gothika hinted at the supernatural. This is *not* supernatural. It’s based completely in reality). It also has shades of The Stepfather and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. The thing that scares me the most is: How well do you know the person closest to you? We all think we do. But what really goes on in their minds? What secrets do they keep from us? What are they capable of? That’s what this script explores.
What popped out at me was just how cheap this could be made for. You could go the independent route and make it for nothing. Or you could nab a couple of big stars and make it a studio movie. Anyway, I realize this is a bit unorthodox, but if you’re interested, please e-mail me at Carsonreeves1@gmail.com. I’ll speak with the writer afterwards and let her decide who she wants to send the script off to.
Premise: An American tourist is roped in by a mysterious woman who uses him as bait to find her lost lover.
About: The Tourist is the project Tom Cruise was attached to but ditched in favor of Wichita. Once he left, the younger, beefier, and Australianer Sam Worthington took his place. Worthington, best known for landing the lead role in James Cameron’s smurf adaptation, Avatar, was also up for the part of James Bond, ultimately won by Daniel Craig. Julian Fellows is the Oscar winning screenwriter of Gosford Park. The Tourist will be produced by Roger Birnbaum, Gary Barber and Jonathan Glickman. It is a remake of a recent French film.
Writer: Julian Fellows (revisions by William Wheeler – based on “Anthony Zimmer” by Jerome Salle. Current revisions by Jeffrey Nachmanoff. Ernest Hemingway, Bill Cosby, and a bucket of elves are also reported to have worked on the script).
Details: 103 pages (June 9, 2008 draft)
Sam Worthington is a bit of a curiosity at this point. Because of the longstanding tradition of Australian hunks who have been anointed super-stardom here in the states, whenever a new one comes along we blindly trust the Varieties and the Entertainment Weeklys when they tell us they’re the real deal. “This is the next Mel Gibson,” they say. And we shrug our shoulders and go, “All right. You’re the boss.” But what’s really going on here? When Sam Worthington signs on for The Tourist and Clash of the Titans and Last Night (a Scriptshadow Top 25 script), is it because he’s actually a good actor? Or is there something else at play?
Oh, there’s something else all right. It’s called 70 million dollars worth of advertising plastering his face all over the world this winter. These movies aren’t signing this guy on ability. They’re signing him on bank-ability. By the time their movie comes out, the average schmoe will know Sam Worthington’s name and face better than they know their own daughter. Fuck you little Julie, Sam Worthington’s movie is opening this weekend! “Who’s Sam Worthington daddy?” “Hell if I know. He was in the Smurf’s remake!”
You may remember this with other Australian demi-gods like Hugh Jackman, Eric Bana, and the late Heath Ledger. Which begs the question: What the hell is wrong with us Americans?? Are we not sexy enough? Do we not possess the requisite beefiness factor to be considered stud material? Hell, I love Australia. But do we really need to take a 24 hour plane ride to find our next movie star? Thank god for Will Smith, right?
Anyway, whether we approve or not, Worthington is the latest implant and boy is he taking advantage of it. While not everyone watched Terminator Salvation (was that even a Terminator movie?), you can’t discount Cameron’s adaptation of the smurf franchise this winter. At the very least it’ll be watchable. But will Worthington be Michael Biene? (that’s Kyle Reese from the first Terminator film if you’re not paying attention) or will he be the next Sigorney Weaver?
The Tourist is about a man so secret, not even his best friends know what he looks like (he’s had extensive plastic surgery to keep his identity a mystery). And about a woman so gorgeous, men fall in love with her at just a glance. The man’s name is Alexander, and he seems to have stolen 744 million dollars from the U.S. government in unpaid taxes (Didn’t George Lucas teach us never to base our stories on taxes?). For that reason, since the story is set in Europe, the British government, in cooperation with the American government, very much wants to put an end to elusive Alexander’s freedom. But how do you catch a man when you don’t know what he looks like?? The key is the beautiful woman I just mentioned, Charlize Theron’s Cara. The two used to be an item but were split up when she was captured and he escaped. Out of jail for the first time, it’s assumed that Alexander will try to contact Cara. So a team led by John Ackerman (shamelessly described as a British “Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive”) is tailing her, waiting for her to lead him to the pot of gold.
So where the hell is Sam Worthington in all this? Did he catch the last Quantas flight back to Melbourne? No, actually Worthington plays Frank Taylor, an American tourist who somehow gets wrapped up in all this nonsense. You see the clever Alexander sends a message to Cara telling her to get on a train and find someone of similar build to travel with. This way, the police will assume that the man is Alexander, blow his brains out, and Cara can slip off to rendezvous with the real Alexander, living happily ever after.
So innocent Frank cannot believe his good fortune when Cara approaches him on the train. It never occurs to him that the hottest woman in the world hitting on him might be the least bit suspicious. Nope, it doesn’t matter if you’re the Elephant Man. If a beautiful woman approaches you, the male ego simply assumes it’s a result of his indescribable inner awesomeness. The scenes where Cara playfully flirts with Frank are some of the best in the script. From the Shanghai Express to Venice, it’s like a big budget Before Sunrise as the two connect on several levels, or so Frank assumes. But no sooner does this dream ride begin than it all comes crashing down, like a game of jenga after a dozen bud lights. Cara disappears out of Frank’s life and it’s then that we learn that the police aren’t the only ones looking for Alexander. Mr. Nip/Tuck himself apparently double-crossed a very eccentric Russian mobster named Demidov – who wants Alexander Demi-dead. Or all the way dead.
After a chase so extensive it makes Jason Bourne look like he’s stuck in a wheelchair, Frank escapes the Vodka Express, barely intact. Sir Tommy Lee Jones then fills him in on the details. Who Cara *really* is and where they think she’ll find the elusive Alexander. I was a little confused as to why the police would tell a random guy all their deepest secrets about an international top secret case that’s been going on for a decade but whatever. You go with it. Needless to say we eventually learn that not everything is as it seems. But is it ever?
The Tourist isn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination. But it certainly isn’t breaking any new ground. I don’t know if you figured out who Alexander was, but I sure did….by page 10! Granted I’m super-sleuther read-every-script-in-the-world, sizing up every usual suspect the second they hit the screen. But in a script that sort of telegraphs its ultra-snazzy twist in the first act, I wonder if people won’t be leaving this movie ultra-disappointed.
It’s not a total loss. The journey is fun. And Cara is definitely a winning role. But I see why Cruise left the film. For the majority of the movie, Frank is more passive than Ghandi. And even as he tries to turn the table in the end and become super-spy 009, you’re sitting there thinking, “Aren’t you a little late to the game my faux-American friend?” You can decide for yourself though. I’ll certainly be interested in hearing your thoughts.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] barely kept my interest
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: I’d really really avoid comparing any of your characters to one of the all time great characters in cinema. Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive is cinematic royalty. As soon as Fellows described him as such, the movie lost a considerable amount of its originality. It just shows a lack of imagination on the writer’s end. You should always try to create unique characters that no one’s ever seen before, especially in your antagonists. Fellows is lucky he’s won an Oscar. Because a first-timer would get killed for pulling something like this.