Genre: Western
Premise: A group of bandits use the cover of a torrential thunderstorm to rob the occupants of a small town.
About: The Brigands Of Rattleborge was the number 1 Black List script back in 2006. Warner Brothers later optioned it. It has since gone through some revisions but is still waiting to be made.
Writer: S. Craig Zahler
Details: Original 2006 draft (This is an early draft of the script. The situations, characters, and plot may change significantly by the time of the film’s release. This is not a definitive statement about the project, but rather an analysis of this unique draft as it pertains to the craft of screenwriting).

I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to review Brigands. It’s one of my favorite scripts. Better late than never, right? Before I get to the actual review, let me give you a little backstory on my mindset when I read it. I knew this was a highly rated Black List script, but I was far from a Western fan. Something about that era and that time is just hard to relate to for me. And let’s be honest, Westerns aren’t exactly burning up the box office. The system will take a shot with one every few years (Jonah Hex – albeit a stylized Western – is an example), but they’re usually considered a risky bet. However, this is the very reason I wanted to read Brigands. I figured if this many people liked a Western, one of the hardest genres to sell, then there must be something special about it.

Part of the reason I wanted to review it today was because we’ve been talking about what a “great script” is these last couple of weeks and I’ve been giving you examples of scripts that perfectly fit my “13 Keys To A Great Script,” but I wanted to show you the other side of the coin. I’d consider Brigands a great script and yet it DOESN’T follow a lot of the “great script” protocol. It’s 137 pages. It definitely doesn’t start off fast. So I thought it would be interesting to look at why it still works.

Brigands begins with two cowboys asking an Indian Chief to perform a fierce rain dance to bring a lethal storm down on a nearby town. What we’ll later find out is that the rain storm is a cover for our baddies to go in and steal from the town’s richest residents. This is where Brigands deviates heavily from convention. It uses the next few days and 60 pages (SIXTY!) to introduce us, in exquisite detail, to each and all of the main characters who live in the town. These, of course, are the people who will later get robbed.

Now 60 pages of character work and no plot are akin to strapping a REAL ticking time bomb to yourself and jumping off the Sears Tower. In short, it’s a quick recipe to el scripto destructiono. But what we find out is that Zahler is a master at creating characters, from their picturesque descriptions to their inner and exterior conflicts. Every single person in this script has something interesting going on.

More importantly, there’s a reason he decides to take so long in this part of the script. Zahler knows you won’t care about any of these characters dying if you don’t know them intimately. This is why we spend so much time with them. When these people do end up getting murdered, you feel it. It hits you because you know them so well. You’ve just spent 60 straight pages with them!

The story is anchored by three of these characters. You have Billy Lee, the heartless gunslinger who would shoot his own child if it got him an advance on his paycheck. He’s the man who will be doing all the killing. You have Pickett, the 50-something by-the-books Sheriff whose only concern is keeping the peace. And finally you have Abraham, the dark mysterious doctor/drifter who somehow knew the town was in trouble before they did. He’s here to settle a score, a score that goes back a long ways.

When the storm finally hits, Billy Lee and his gang slip in and out of the houses, leaving a trail of ruin wherever they can. The gang tortures, rapes, and murders anyone in their path. Most of this is described in horrific detail. We truly feel the horror of what’s happening. When it’s all over, when they’ve got the money and have hightailed it out of there, Pickett receives devastating news. Someone very close to him has been killed by the bandits. As a result, he’ll have to put all that moral highground aside, and team up with a most unlikely adversary – Abraham.

The reason the script works is simple. Its character goal, the driving force behind the story, is the strongest character goal I think I’ve ever read. Revenge on its own is an incredibly powerful driving force. But here, we got to know the person who was murdered. We know how much it hurts our hero. We felt that love between them. For that reason, we desperately want retaliation. This isn’t just his revenge story, it’s ours.

What I loved about Brigands though, is it adds this second mysterious element in Abraham. This man who dresses in all black, who makes his own bullets, who’s a doctor (what’s a doctor doing here??). The evolving mystery behind his character is the perfect counterpart to Pickett’s revenge story. We need something to balance the relentless horror of that thread, and he does it perfectly. Not to mention, the actual revenge scene, the way Abraham takes care of one of the bad guys, is probably the most memorable revenge moment of any movie in the history of film. Yes, I just said that. It’s that good!

So the closeness we feel to these truly unique characters combined with the unstoppable driving force of a relentless revenge story are the reasons this script has always hit me on a deep level. It will stay in my Top 5 until it gets made. It’s just a great script.

[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[xx] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: Very simple. I learned from The Brigands Of Rattleborge how important it is to have a great villain. Billy Lee is so evil, so despicable in this script, that all we can think about for 2 hours is him getting his just due. You’d be surprised at just how into your script a reader will be just to see the villain fall.

  • bryan fiedler

    anyone have a script link for this?

  • Jack O’Connell

    Did you end up getting this? I’ve got it.

    • Ghoul77

      Hello jack could you please email the script
      dfarlinno@yahoo.co.id

      • Ryan Sasinowski

        Sent

        • Thomas Anderson

          Hey Ryan, do you think I could get a copy of the script. Id really appreciate it.

          My e-mail is “misformabuse@gmail.com”.

          Thanks!

          • Ryan Sasinowski

            Sent!

  • Ryan Sasinowski

    Sent.

  • Ryan Sasinowski

    Sent!

    • Craig Rosenthal

      Hey Ryan could you send THE BRIGANDS OF RATTLEBORGE script to hellocraigrosenthal@gmail.com Thanks heaps Craig

      • Ryan Sasinowski

        Sure thing, man. Sent!

  • Ryan Sasinowski

    According to their own site, Red Granite Pictures (The Wolf of Wall Street, Dumb and Dumber To) will be making The Brigands of Rattleborge. That’s something to look foraward to, I think.

    [Site link: http://www.redgranitepictures.com/our-story/

  • Lucid Walk

    anybody got a copy, please? Writing a Western myself, and I’d very much appreciate it.
    send to sde91@hotmail.com

    • MJ86

      Sent.

      • Lucid Walk

        Much appreciated

        • Thomas Anderson

          Hey Lucid. Do you think you could send me a copy of the script. Really wanna read this one. I’d be willing to trade for it as well.

          My e-mail is: misformabuse@gmail.com

  • Lucid Walk

    I’m sorry, but this is not a great screenplay. Number 5 on Carson’s Top 25? Number 3 on Reader’s Top 25? Seriously?

    Don’t get me wrong. The prose was outstanding, the description of the setting was spot on, and the story itself was unpredictable. If this were to be a movie, I could think of no one better than the Coen Brothers to direct it. And considering Mr. Zahler already has some professional credits under his belt, I understand why he could get away with breaking so many screenwriting rules.

    That being said, it is not without fault. And it has plenty of faults. Nothing happens for the first 70 pages. Paragraphs of description extend 10 lines (w/ plenty of unnecessary details). It wasn’t clear who the protagonist was given the excessive number of character introductions. A page count of 137 that could’ve easily been trimmed down to 115 at least.

    I didn’t hate this script, and I don’t have bad taste either (I love westerns as a matter of fact). It’s just if you’re a beginning writer, I strongly advise against studying this script.

    Is it a great read? Yes. Is it entertaining? Yes. Is a movie? No; it’s a novel disguised as a movie.

  • Ryan Sasinowski

    Sent!

  • Ryan Sasinowski

    Sure thing, man. Sent!

  • Ryan Sasinowski

    Sent!

  • Lucid Walk

    Sent

  • Ryan Sasinowski

    After a couple years of meaning to, I finally got around to actually reading this thing. And man, it’s crazy. Lots of memorable characters, moments, and most importantly, imagery.

    This will definitely be an experience on-screen. It’s no surprise that it’s being made by Red Granite, the guys who made The Wolf of Wall Street.

    Apart from a few formatting errors, and words that made me want to crack a dictionary, this was a pretty brisk and enjoyable read. Again, I’m really looking forward to the finished product.

  • Ryan Sasinowski

    Sent