Premise: The story of a slimy town marshal who saved the town of Revelation, Wyoming with the help of a mysterious Jewish gunman.
About: Jon Favreau (director of Iron Man) wrote this script while editing the film he’s still probably best known for, Swingers. He and Vince Vaughn really wanted to make it but could never find financing. It’s considered a relic of the past. But maybe Favreau wasn’t right to give up on it. Maybe, just maybe, this is his best script.
Writer: Jon Favreau
Details: 115 – pages (12/17/96) draft
I FINALLY understand why Favreau directed Cowboys & Aliens! I didn’t know why anybody would want to make that film. But it’s obvious now he regretted never being able to make “Marshal of Revelation,” and realized this would be his only shot to make a Western.
So what’s going on with this mysterious script you’ve probably never heard of? A script that had no business being good (I mean seriously, are there more boring words to open a screenplay to than “Wyoming, 1877?”). Well after those words disappear, we endure a horrifying scene where a gang of mixed nationalities swoop in on a family home, kill a father, brutally rape and murder the wife, and then wait hours for the hiding son so that when he emerges to run away, they can murder him too. Hmm, maybe Wyoming 1877 isn’t so boring after all.
Jump forward a couple of years and we meet Isaac Meek, the 1880 equivalent of a car salesman. He’s rough around the edges. But he’s handsome enough and he’s got the gift of gab, which allows him to bed many ladies and talk his way out of any situation. That is until he bangs a business associate’s wife. A Chicago bigwig. Isaac realizes that his life is now in danger so he does what he does best – runs.
He eventually bumps into a Jewish cowboy searching for a Russian man. The Russian man turns out to be the same leader of that gang who massacred the family in the first scene. Apparently, he’s been doing this to many families, and started with the Jew’s. So the Jew’s out for a little revenge. And much like Inigo Montoya, he’s been training his ENTIRE LIFE for this meet-up. As a result, he’s the BEST shot in the country (even better than Buffalo Bill – who makes an appearance later!).
Sensing he needs protection, Isaac promises to help the Jew find the Russian if he becomes Isaac’s bodyguard. The two soon find themselves strolling into the town of Revelation, a once thriving city that’s since been overrun by criminals. After a dazzling display of gunmanship and a few dead bad guys (all done by the Jew but orchestrated by Isaac), the town begins to rally around Isaac as a savior, and makes him the Marshal.
As they continue to clean up the town, Isaac’s legend grows, with no one realizing that it’s the Jew who’s doing all the killing here. However, when the Jew realizes Isaac’s been lying and hasn’t done a thing to find the Russian, he leaves. Finally, Isaac will have to prove his worth on his own, a challenging proposition since he’s grown so fond of his legend that he no longer knows what’s real and what’s fable.
Damn, this script was good! It feels Django-like, albeit reigned in. I wouldn’t even be surprised if Quentin read this back in the day and was inspired by it. The Jew very much feels like Django (discriminated against, stoic and quiet) while Isaac is the more flamboyant personality-infused of the two.
Speaking of personality, this script taught me a lot about it. I NEED personality in at least ONE of my major characters. I’ve brought this up quite a bit lately because I continue to read a ton of material with forgettable characters.
We focus so much on things like flaws and backstory and character actions, we forget those only do so much. If a person doesn’t talk in some sort of interesting way, they usually lack personality, which makes them boring. Han Solo, Hannibal Lecter, Lloyd Dobler, Juno, Jack Sparrow, Tony Stark. Give me someone who lights up the page!
Well, you can now add Isaac Meeks to that list. Isaac is a salesman. He’s a con man. He’s a selfish swindler. He can talk himself out of ANYTHING and while we may hate the guy, we sure enjoy watching him work. For example, early on in a whorehouse, Isaac’s confronted by two men. Rather than fight, he plots a more… “Isaac-like” solution:
I can see where this is headed. As you can see, not only is it two on one, but I am without my pistol. Now, if you don’t share General Lee’s yellow streak, you’ll wait for a moment while I go to my room and fetch my revolver.
Here, Meek, use mine…
I’m afraid that won’t do. A gunfighter’s tools are as unique as his personality…
I’ll fetch it…
I’m afraid that won’t do. A gunfighter organizes his belongings in a way as unique as…
(fed up with the stalling)
Fetch your iron!
Of course, Isaac pretends to do just that, but when the gunmen rush to his room, all they see is an open window and a pair of blowing curtains.
But here’s the reason I really liked “Marshall.” Favreau not only created a great character who oozes personality, he created a great character with zero personality – the Jew. The Jew was all about action. He was all about looks. Where as Isaac sought the spotlight, the Jew basked in the shadows.
Characters like these (quiet ones) are tough to write because the lack of dialogue dims their light on the page. They don’t pop as much. But because the Jew was SO DAMN GOOD at his job and so driven (he’d stop at nothing to kill the Russian), we enjoyed him just as much as we did Isaac.
This script used a lot of Scriptshadow principles as well. The character goals were clear and strong (clean up the town, kill the Russian). The motivation was high (the Russian killed The Jew’s family). We had two very interesting main characters that actors would want to play. And due to the stark contrast in personality of our leads, there was tons of conflict. One couldn’t shut up. The other never said a thing. One was a coward. The other was brave. One had principles. The other stood for nothing. When you have a two-hander like this, you’re really writing THREE characters. You’re writing Character A. You’re writing Character B. And then you’re writing THE DYNAMIC BETWEEN CHARACTER A AND CHARACTER B. If you haven’t given thought to that third character, your two-hander’s probably missing something.
The failure of this film to get made probably comes down to trying to find financing for one of the least bankable genres in Hollywood. You saw what happened with Cowboys & Aliens. You saw what happened with The Lone Ranger. To get these made, you probably need a top ten director on board, who will pull with him a couple of major stars. So it’s too bad that The Lone Ranger tanked. It means a resurgence for The Marshal of Revelation is unlikely. Still, this is a really good script. Nice job, Jon!
[ ] what the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] genius
What I learned: In my book, I talk about the advantage of using “scene agitators” in your scenes. This refers to a third element that occurs outside the primary action/dialogue that gives the scene a little more kick. You use them because oftentimes, having only two people interacting is boring. So in “Marshal,” there’s this great scene where Isaac is playing poker against some dangerous locals. The pot has gotten huge, and the leader believes Isaac is cheating them. As Isaac and the leader keep raising the pot, a man walks in the bar (who we’ll later find out is the Jew). The leader, who doesn’t like Jews, tells him to leave. The Jew ignores him, sits down, and orders a drink. The leader continues to raise the pot, but is agitated by the fact that the Jew is ignoring him. So between exchanges with Isaac, he keeps turning to the Jew and telling him to leave. The pot increases and the tension with the Jew increases until finally the leader storms over and confronts the Jew. This is exactly how you want to use a scene agitator. The poker scene by itself was good. But the agitation the Jew adds makes it great.