Genre: Drama/Thriller
Premise: (from IMDB) A man believes he has put his mysterious past behind him and has dedicated himself to beginning a new, quiet life. But when he meets a young girl under the control of ultra-violent Russian gangsters, he can’t stand idly by – he has to help her.
About: As you can see just by looking at my Top 25 list (over to the right), I hold this script in high regard. So I was more than curious how it would play out on the big screen. The project had a bouncy development process. Denzel was always attached, but it kept switching directors, moving from Rupert Wyatt (Rise of the Planet of the Apes) to Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive – another favorite script), and I want to say one other director before it eventually reteamed Washington with Antoine Fuqua. Let’s be honest here. Fuqua hasn’t been hitting it out of the park lately. But anyone who directed Training Day is an okay choice by me. The film opened this weekend at number 1, surprising a lot of industry analysts, who thought it would land in the 23-25 million dollar range. Instead it finished with 35 million.
Writer: Richard Wenk
Details: 2 hours and 12 minute runtime

TheEqualizer2-3

Writer Richard Wenk initially passed when he was offered The Equalizer. But the second time he was approached, the assignment came with a new piece of play-doh. Denzel Washington. Wenk, who had promised himself to only write for directors from this point forward (if you write something without a director attached, you’ll likely have to start all over again once one does join, so why bother?), changed his tune once the name “Denzel” was uttered.

But that still didn’t guarantee anything. Denzel has lots of people “officially” writing projects for him. If you don’t deliver, if the script doesn’t excite him that first time it hits his eyes, you’re SOL. So Wenk and the producers worked really hard to get it right. The result was one of the best scripts I’ve ever read.

It really is a master class in writing. Everything is so sparse, from the description to the dialogue. And that’s not surprising when you hear Wenk talk. He claims his m.o. as a writer is looking for ways to eliminate all the unnecessary words from his work, to slim the script/story down to its bare essence. And you see that here.

The question with The Equalizer script was always, is it too generic? The story is SO simple that it risks being a retread of lots of stuff we’ve already seen before. I didn’t see that happening. But you never know. If the director doesn’t pay attention to those little details the writer worked so hard to integrate, an “Equalizer” can easily turn into an “Abduction.”

For those who don’t know anything about the film, it’s about a 50-something “nobody,” Robert McCall, who lives by himself and works at Home Depot. He develops a friendship with a young hooker (Chloe Moretz), who’s nearly killed by her Russian pimps. We learn that McCall used to be a CIA officer, and knows about 7000 ways to kill a man. He takes down the pimps to set the hooker free, only to learn that the biggest Russian mafia boss in the world has put a price on his head.

So what did they change from the original first draft? And how did it affect the film? They didn’t change much. The most well-publicized switch was changing the 30-something hooker to a 17 year old. Here’s the thing you gotta remember when you make a key change in your script. Since you’re going to both lose something and gain something, you have to make sure that you gain more than you lose.

What they lose by going from a 30-something to a 17 year old, is a more flirty love-interest type of relationship. Audiences like these relationships, even in a script like this, where the romance doesn’t take precedence, because they like the idea that our main character and this woman might get together in the future.

You don’t get that when the girl is 17. It’s more of a friendship. What they were banking on, and this was specifically a note from Sony studio head Amy Pascal, was that we would sympathize and care more about Teri (the hooker) if she was just a girl. It’s a solid argument. The entire script hinges on us buying that McCall would kill five random men to save this one girl he barely knows. And if we’re seeing a girl in danger as opposed to a grown woman, we’re more likely to believe McCall will stick up for her.

It worked. I’m not sure how much less I would’ve sympathized with Teri as an adult, but that additional layer of her being a scared little girl affected me.  A smart call.

Some of the other changes were more subtle, but interesting nonetheless. In the script, McCall was a tidy dude, born out of his upbringing in the military. But in the film, McCall is OCD. He has to make sure things are lined up properly. He’s always rearranging things on desks and on tables. In the script version of the famous “Take-Down Russians” scene, McCall walks back to the door and locks it. Here, he opens and closes the door three times, the echoes of an OCD tick.

There’s no doubt in my mind that this is something Denzel Washington brought to the character. As an actor, that’s your job. You have to find ways to play the character that make them original, make them truthful. But that’s not how it should’ve gone down. And I’ll tell you why in the “What I Learned” section later.

Seeing the finished product also helped me notice a few things I missed in the script. First, you guys know how much I love underdog heroes. They are the heroes audiences root for the most. Audiences also love badasses. They love John McClane and Iron Man.

Therefore, I realized how genius it was that they somehow created a hero in The Equalizer who was both. They got a 2-for-1 deal! McCall is the most unassuming man in the room.  Couldn’t win an arm-wrestling contest with a 5th grader.  And that’s why we fall for him. He’s one of us. And yet it turns out he can take down the entire fucking Russian Mafia! How rad was that choice? Could you have created a more perfect likable combo?

Lastly, I noticed a unique structural choice that I wanted to discuss, as it’s something Miss Scriptshadow was curious about after the film. Usually, you want your main character to have a big goal once the first act is over. He’s got to kill the terrorists or win the Hunger Games – whatever. Equalizer doesn’t have this. McCall kills the local Russian Mob Ring, and for the next 20-25 minutes, he doesn’t have a clear goal.

He’s sort of drifting between helping people when his help is required. His storyline is directionless. Which can kill a script dead if it goes on for too long. I mean it’s great McCall is helping random people, but sooner or later the audience is going to be like, “Wait, where is this going???” So Wenk does something really clever, and something you should take a cue from. During that 20-25 minutes, he switches the goal over to the villain.

You can do this in your script, when, for whatever reason, your main character’s story is stagnant. Switch the focus over to the villain and his goal, and in this case that means our villain investigating who killed his Russian gang. The story is still moving forward because we feel him getting closer to discovering our buddy, McCall. Once he finds him, the story hits a new beat. McCall has to take these guys down before they take him down, giving both sides an overarching story goal that effortlessly drives the story for the last hour.

There was really only one big thing that bothered me, and it bothered me in the script as well. The Home Depot climax felt too safe. The script was so good up until that point, that to conclude things with a generic cat and mouse game in a glorified warehouse – it was lightweight.  Using the tools from his store to defeat the bad guys gave the impression of cleverness, but in reality, we were never at his work, so who cares if he’s using his unique knowledge of his workplace against the bad guys. Plus, McCall can kill people with anything. He doesn’t need tools. The tools ended up being cheap gore.

Because I loved the first 95% of the script so much, I didn’t penalize the script for that ending. Here, in movie form, it was more evident that it didn’t work, which brought it down a notch for me.

With that said, I still think this script is fucking amazing and should be studied in all screenwriting classes and read by all screenwriters. You can see Wenk’s philosophy at work in every scene – always looking to take words out, minimizing anything that’s unnecessary, keeping the read sparse and focused. It’s great stuff.

[ ] what the hell did I just watch?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[xx] worth the price of admission
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: Do the actor’s job for him – Like I was saying earlier, Denzel brought the OCD angle to McCall to make him more distinctive. Learn from this as a writer. When you’re writing a character, think about them from the actor’s point of view. Think about what the actor is going to say about your character after they read the script and how they might want to improve him/her. Then, write all that stuff into the character before it gets to the actor. I believe, that if an actor feels like they need to improve their character, that the writer didn’t do his job. You should build all that stuff into the character ahead of time, and you can do this, at least partially, by anticipating the weaknesses an actor might see in the character, and addressing them yourself.

  • Tschwenn

    John Singleton directed Abduction, not Fuqua.

    • carsonreeves1

      Yikes, corrected.

  • Casper Chris

    Down at 59% from 60% since last week on on Rotten Tomatoes.

    A cheerful gut-punch slice of vigilante porn, and such a mortifying waste of talent that audiences gradually sink into a slough of despair over the state of cinema art.

    Ouch.

    Sorry to be a debbie downer, but I have a really hard time getting excited for this. Feels like it doesn’t have a shred of originality. Like something we’ve seen a million times before. Man on Fire, Drive, A History of Violence… etc. etc. Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t rewatch León: The Professional instead. Does The Equalizer hold the wick of a candle to that movie?

  • brenkilco

    Yes, the prose is sharp, the dialogue above average, though only just above average, but the plot is so generic that if the script contained even a single tongue in cheek moment you’d assume it was a pastiche. It’s like a mix tape of elements from every B movie thriller from the past twenty years. We rehashed this thoroughly on Friday’s thread so won’t go through it again. But I wanted to give props to my two, favorite, bad B movie moments from the script. Still haven’t motivated myself to catch the movie.

    At the end of their first conversation Mccall asks the bad CIA guy, How did you find me. And he replies that’s what we do. You never do find out how the agents tracked Denzel down. Because clearly either the writer couldn’t figure one out or possibly because describing a realistic method would have taken too much screen time. Either way it’s lazy plotting and does not deserve praise.

    Then there’s my very favorite, truly classic, dumb B moment. See the bad guys have decided, on rather scant evidence, to kill Denzel. He’s a working class guy of simple habits. The’re CIA agents. Probably a million ways they could dispose of him quietly without anybody being the wiser. So what do they do? They hire five guys with machine guns to commit mass murder in a diner. Now in real life this would be the sole subject on cable news for a week with scores of detectives tracking down clues. But in this kind of movie once it’s over nobody seems to care. Understandable since the police also seemed to ignore the six russian gangsters killed mano a mano a few nights before. These sorts of movies are never advertisements for the competence of a big city’s PD.

    • filmklassik

      Love it! Reminds me of the evil South Africans’ “master plan” in LETHAL WEAPON 2, which, if you remember, involved mowing down an ENTIRE SQUAD of police officers in cold blood (That’ll teach ‘em!!)

      The (idiotic) conceit of that movie was that visiting foreign dignitaries could cut down 7 or 8 cops like spring corn, then blithely flash their embassy credentials and claim Diplomatic Immunity before walking away scott free — which of course isn’t just legally inaccurate, it is batshit crazy.

      And there’s also this: Murder just ONE cop in cold blood in this country, and legions of his brother officers will be out there gunning for you. Murder 6 or 7 of them and, trust me on this, every fucking cop in North America will be looking to put your head on a pike (and rightly so).

      It’s not that it’s a bad action movie — it’s not — but oh my God is it crazy.

      • Cfrancis1

        It is crazy. But for my money, Lethal Weapon 2 is one of the best action movies of the 80s… Yes, it’s outlandish and over the top but it’s also an excellent example of how an audience will follow your movie as long as you give them likable, interesting characters. In spite of all the bloodshed, the chemistry and love between Riggs and Murtagh is palpable. And Leo is pretty awesome, too.

      • klmn

        I thought it was laughable. Cops shooting up a consulate and there were no repercussions?

    • Marija ZombiGirl

      “At the end of their first conversation Mccall asks the bad CIA guy, How
      did you find me. And he replies that’s what we do. You never do find out
      how the agents tracked Denzel down. Because clearly either the writer
      couldn’t figure one out or possibly because describing a realistic
      method would have taken too much screen time. Either way it’s lazy
      plotting and does not deserve praise.”

      Why do you find this lazy ? It’s a sincere question :)
      I haven’t seen the movie yet but I’ve read the script and despite being generic, I loved it for the writing. I also enjoyed the story itself. And I believe that a script/movie CAN be enjoyed even though they’re not 100% original. I also don’t believe in overexplaining or even explaining things that don’t need to be. To me, it is not important HOW the CIA guys tracked him down – in fact, I couldn’t care less :) It adds a little bit of mystery and also hints at a weakness or a mistake – something that McCall didn’t pay attention to despite his OCD. I like that. It gives the character humanity.

      • Randy Williams

        You know your audience has been completely encased within your story when afterwards, discussing some unexplained business in it, someone explains…”They probably….”

        that’s a good thing.

      • brenkilco

        To me it’s the difference between an A script and a B script. An A script involves characters who think and behave like adults in a world where rules of logic apply. A B script takes place in a child’s world where momentary excitement or simply the need to get on to the next scene trumps rationality.

        As an example, was watching an old thriller from the seventies a couple of weeks ago. Charlie Varrick. Didn’t set the world on fire when originally released. Just a standard setup. A criminal on the run from the mob. But watched today it’s practically a revelation. The protag is thinking every minute. Making calculated decisions. The audience gets to watch him think things through so that the conclusion when he finally extricates himself from his predicament is extraordinarily satisfying. It all makes sense. A script that stands up under scrutiny is a better script.

        • walker

          Charley Varrick is an excellent, underrated film by Don Siegel.

          • brenkilco

            It and Dirty Harry made just before represent Siegel at his peak.

          • walker

            And really there are a number of great realistic thrillers from the mid-70s, with plausible setups, characters in over their heads, and beautiful late Technicolor cinematography.

          • brenkilco

            And oddly Walter Matthau is in more than a couple.

        • Eric

          “An A script involves characters who think and behave like adults in a world where rules of logic apply.”

          I haven’t read the whole script or seen the movie, but the CIA explaining to McCall how they were able to track him doesn’t seem like realistic behavior. They would be compromising their ability to exploit the same weakness in the future. And for what? A witty comeback? No CIA agent in their right mind is going to explain his methods of operation unless he has to.

          And if the script is told from McCall’s perspective, I think it makes sense to have the audience in the dark about this just as much as he is. Especially if it’s not plot relevant.

          I don’t think this is really a problem, but an audience having these sorts of thoughts tends to be symptomatic of other problems. When the viewer isn’t fully engaged, that’s when they start noticing the odd bits and pieces hanging off the plot.

          • brenkilco

            I don’t think the agent had to tell Mccall anything. I don’t even know why he took the risk of approaching him and potentially spooking him before learning all about him. I don’t mind that Mcall didn’t know how they found him. I mind that we didn’t know. And the movie is not told from Mccall’s point of view. There are numerous scenes involving just the bad guys and their plans. Maybe too many.

        • filmklassik

          ” An A script involves characters who think and behave like adults in a world where rules of logic apply. A B script takes place in a child’s world where momentary excitement or simply the need to get on to the next scene trumps rationality.”

          So trenchant. So relevant. So effin’ TRUE.

          brenkilco scores again.

      • pmlove

        The Conversation is littered with that sort of thing and that’s what makes it great. Gene Hackman is the paranoid surveillance expert, yet his old landlady finds her way in to leave him a birthday card. The contrast between this and the security community painting him as an expert is perfect – we have to decide for ourselves if he’s any good.

      • Mike.H

        Please forward a copy of Equalizer pdf, and thanks in advance. my earlier email picked up a malware and contents not received.

        MAY1MSG at gmail dot com. Thank you.

    • Kirk Diggler

      If Denzel is ex CIA, why would he even need to ask the question in the first place? He would know, the CIA finds people, it’s what they do.

  • Casper Chris

    What I learned: Do the actor’s job for him

    I would phrase that differently, Carson :)

    • Buddy

      I think that you can write the most memorable script ever done, actors will still ask for changing characterization or dialogues. they need it to put themselves in the habit of the character…and it’s still the best way to tell everybody who’s working on the project : “I’M the fucking movie-star here, ok ?!” ;-)

      • Casper Chris

        Yea, exactly. Be sure to leave a small part of the canvas blank so they have something to paint on ;)

        • Buddy

          yes, 90% of the job as to be done, but you need that 10% blank space so they can put their own stuff and proudly say that NOW the character is on the page ! :-D

  • filmklassik

    Carson, wouldn’t you say Wenk’s screenplay is perhaps worth studying more for its style than its structure?

    Why do I say that? Because in the screenplay that you love so much, McCall, our hero, isn’t ever for even one split-second in the slightest hint of jeopardy! (Although, yeah, I understand they gave him a semi-worthy opponent in the finished film. But we’re talking screenplay here)

    And this, I remind you, is a screenplay for an action movie — an R-rated bash-fest — and yet our stalwart hero isn’t ever NOT the toughest, smartest, baddest, skillzy-est dude in the room by a factor of a hundred.

    So it’s almost like watching a race between a Formula One car and — I don’t know — Seabiscuit or something. Me, I prefer a photo finish.

    • brenkilco

      “Couldn’t win an arm-wrestling contest with a 5th grader. And that’s why we fall for him. He’s one of us. And yet it turns out he can take down the entire fucking Russian Mafia! How rad was that choice? Could you have created a more perfect likable combo?”

      So he has these powers but pretends to be anonymous, meek and mild mannered. Great. Very original. But I’m not buying the home depot job. Maybe something a little more professional. How about a reporter for a great, metropolitan newspaper? Yeah, that’s the ticket.

      • Stephjones

        How about misaligned silverware as kyrptonite?

        • walker

          You say that like it’s a joke.

    • Scott Strybos

      “Because in the screenplay that you love so much, McCall, our hero, isn’t ever for even one split-second in the slightest hint of jeopardy!”

      Exactly! It was fun at first. I haven’t seen the film, but I read the script and this was the scripts biggest strength at first, it was so fun to watch him dominate, but by the third act I had lost all interest; it quickly became the scripts biggest weakness.

      • filmklassik

        I mind it… you mind it… a few other people on here mind it… but for general audiences around the world, well, it just doesn’t seem to matter.

        On the contrary, the omnipotence of the hero seems to be a selling point for many people. It’s actually scratching an itch for them, and I’m not sure why. And no, the simplistic bullshit explanation that, “In difficult times, people want heroes” simply doesn’t wash for me. After all, audiences didn’t mind vulnerable heroes during the Vietnam War (50,000 Americans dead)… not to mention the Cold War… and the 1970s when unemployment was north of 10 percent and the hostages were still in Iran… or during the Great fucking Depression (25% of the U.S. workforce unemployed)… or World War II…

        No, there’s something else going on in the Zeitgeist. I’m just not sure what it is.

  • UrbaneGhoul

    I think audiences today hate the cliched love interest so getting rid of it was addition by subtraction immediately.

    • Casper Chris

      I’d imagine the writer of The Professional probably came to a similar conclusion. Then made a truly brilliant decision:
      http://img2.timeinc.net/ew/dynamic/imgs/050105/185829__professional_l.jpg

      • Buddy

        actually in the uncut version of the professional, malthida asks leon to have sex with him, but he (obviously) refuses…

        • Paul Clarke

          In the script she’s 14 and he does have sex with her! It’s a very, very dark script written when Luc Besson was in a dark place after his wife left him.

          The casting changed everything. Natalie Portman was too young, and Jean Reno had come off success in a comedy so played the role with a lighter, childlike presence.

          • Casper Chris

            Wow, didn’t know that. All I know is the end result is genius.

  • Kane

    Would someone be so kind as to forward the script my way? I was on the fence with seeing the film but based on this review I will give it a go. It all felt so been there, done that. It also didn’t feel anything like the previous Equalizer incarnation. It looked more like an update of a 90s Steven Segal vehicle, in fact a lot of films do lately, but now you’ve got heavy hitters like Washington and Neeson playing the ex-Merchant of Death that just wants to play bingo, but good people are in danger so he has to dust off the bag-o-weapons. I want to read the script too because of the eliminating unnecessary words bit from the article. I love that, I’ve been trying to do that for years but somehow keep eliminating the good words too apparently. Sounds very Water Hill, and Hill once said everything he writes is basically a western. Perhaps that is why these films feel so familiar yet do so well at the box office. They are the modern day Western. Just like back in the day, sometimes the audience just wants to see the guy with the white hat come in and gun down the baddies. The audience knows what they
    are getting and enjoys the ride.

  • Logic Ninja

    It’s so important to ask yourself–just who are my characters, exactly? Who are they precisely? Subtle characterizations, like neatness versus OCD, which don’t change the direction of the story and don’t affect the writer much, turn into MASSIVE BOLD-FACED BANNERS OF SCREAMING OBVIOUSNESS in a movie theater.

    Those characterizations, when read from a page, are conveyed to the rational parts of our brain as information. But when portrayed by an actor’s face, by the subtle movement of his eyebrows and jaw muscles, by the tightening of his hands and shoulders, those characterizations are conveyed to the most emotional and primal parts of our being. They color the story for the audience as much as a perfectly paced second act, or a clever twist of irony.

    Which is all to say: beware changing the subtle makup of your characters! Consider every ramification, every slight, subtle connotation. Just like it’s vital to pull focus correctly when your 5K image will be on a 5-story screen, it’s vital to keep your characters crisp, clean, and true to themselves.

    • JakeMLB

      I agree. If the OCD were written on the page, it risks coming across cliched or hackneyed. But when a superb actor like Denzel gives his portrayal of OCD, well that’s a different story. Great actors will bring these subtleties to life. Cruise does this all the time and Edge of Tomorrow is a great example.

  • ChadStuart

    I do think that sometimes stories hit sweet spots with people. It’s difficult to explain, but otherwise average movies can really strike a chord with a person based on that person’s history. It’s more about that person than it is the quality of the movie.

    We all love some movies that we know aren’t great films. I have some strange affection for “The Rocketeer” and “Matinee” – two movies that are not masterpieces, but I dearly love them. I would never hold them up as shining examples of cinema, but that doesn’t diminish my love for them. Sometimes there are elements to movies that work so well, even though you know the rest of it is trash, you’re still drawn to it. Again, this is completely unexplainable, but for some reason the “rescue the maiden from the tall tower” aspect of Costner’s “Robin Hood” played well with me, and still does. I’m no idiot. I know the rest of the movie is laughably bad. But that idea of risking everything for love just hit me that summer when I was right out of High School – and in a complicated relationship – that it still works for me to this day.

    I think that may be what’s happening here. This is hitting Carson at such a primal level that it’s not hitting some other people. What that does is make this a glorious case study in the absolute subjectivity of this business. You can write a flawless story with sparse writing, great structure and unique characters, but, for many people, it just won’t hit their sweet spot and they’ll reject it. There’s no science or reason to it – it’s just got to be the type of story that the right person, at the right time, will love. That same person encountering the same story for the first time at a different point in their lives may feel vastly different about it.

    It’s a small sliver of the reasoning behind why you can’t predict cultural phenomenons like “Star Wars” or “Avatar”. There’s really nothing in those movies that couldn’t be found in other movies. But, as my wife describes it, the whole world was on their period and those movies just happened to be the only chocolate bar around. They just hit the cultural sweet spot at the exact right time.

    • brenkilco

      Yeah. De gustibus non est disputandum as they used to say in Roma. Personally I like Ice Station Zebra. But I would never tell anybody else that they ought to like Ice Station Zebra. All of us have junk that we love. That’s OK, just so long as we remember it’s junk.

  • leitskev

    As I did when this first reviewed here a year or two ago, I’m going to back Carson on this one. And as then, few if any will agree.

    It’s a solid effective script and story. No, it’s not Oscar material. Not ready for Cannes or Sunset. Not gonna make anyone’s hall of fame.

    The writing in the script was very visual and effective. The story itself is a perfect match for something that stemmed from an old TV series. The hero created is one we root for and even has a certain level of cool. It is what it is and doesn’t try to be more. Isn’t there room for that in film?

    Certain phrases I can do without ever hearing again. “It is what it is”, “At the end of the day”. Let me add this to the list. “What’s here we haven’t seen before?”…and all that phrases cousins.

    Stories come in a finite number of forms that are effective. In a medium such as film, where the story is limited by time and to visual format, the number of possible forms is even more reduced. So please understand this: almost every movie that is made will in some way resemble other movies that have come before. Saying “we’ve seen this before” is really just saying “see how smart I am?” It’s elitism at its most shallow because anyone can recognize familiar patterns.

    I certainly don’t always stand with Carson. But box office matters. He gave this project a favorable review back in the day, and the box office vindicates. Not every film cam be a masterpiece of art. Nor should be. If the story engages and entertains, that has value. And next time you see a Civil War movie, please don’t be alarmed if you see a battle; or a dramatic home run in a baseball movie; or some cheap scares in a horror. Patterns form for reasons. Judge the films on their own merits, not based on your library of films. You’ll possibly enjoy them more.

    • mulesandmud

      Regarding your last paragraph: vindication or not, can we acknowledge that a film’s opening grosses are not a function of its story? Audiences haven’t seen the film yet, obviously, with the exception of critics, who largely disapprove. As for word of mouth, even in the internet age, it has only a limited effect over a three-day period.

      The big weekend certainly vindicates the premise: people heard what the movie was about, and still showed up. Mostly though – and this is what executives are talking about today, I guarantee you – it vindicates Denzel, who it turns out can still open a movie, and Sony’s marketing department, which was on-point in its buzz-building.

      The opening grosses don’t prove anything about narrative quality, audience engagement, or even entertainment value. There are other metrics for that.

    • Casper Chris

      Oh no, not the tired “there’s nothing new under sun” refrain. Yes, there is. Dig deeper.
      And it’s not just that The Equalizer “resembles” (I’m going off the script). It’s that it does not even try to offer anything different or differently. It’s storytelling at its most pre-cooked, pre-heated and pre-packaged. A cookie-cutter meal with zero calories.
      No wonder the writer wasn’t interested in writing it in the first place. It’s hard to judge a film on its own merits when it has no merits that are its own.

      • leitskev

        Of course there are new things under the sun. But forms become forms for a reason. I am not advocating that films don’t try to find something new to explore. But the “we’ve seen it all before” is generally the safe retreat for the elitist, or the elitist wannabe. It is the fallback for the reviewer whose review is more interested in the reviewer than anything else. That’s why we see it so often. The cliche protest against the cliche. And pre-cooked, pre-packaged meals are loaded with calories. You might want to check the label.

        • Casper Chris

          Only bad calories. I was talking about the good.
          Are you calling the majority of the reviewing community elitist and those of us who side with it here elitist wannabes? Same reviewing community that gave Guardians of the Galaxy a score of 92% even though GOTG is “not Oscar material, not ready for Cannes or Sunset and not gonna make anyone’s hall of fame” either?

          Even if you’re not, “the elitist” card is just another safe retreat, usually thrown by people who like something which they know, deep down, is not that good. In which case, I think it’s more healthy to take Chad Stuart’s suggested position and recognize this. Recognize that The Equalizer, as a product of storytelling or cinematic art, is not “impressive”, that it’s not something to be exalted or replicated, but that you liked it because it was technically sound (it was) and, perhaps, because it resonated with you on some personal level. That’s okay. We all have our guilty pleasures. Let’s recognize them as such.

          • leitskev

            You are confused. I have not the seen the film and don’t intend to. I read the script and it’s not the kind of story I would see. However…as soon as I read the script I recognized the film would be successful. And that’s what we’re here to do. I also appreciated the effectiveness of the script writing. It’s a truly pro level script and therefore serves as a good model for writers. I don’t have a problem with people not caring for this kind of story. I don’t either. What I have a problem with is people not recognizing…in a forum where people want to earn a living selling scripts…that this is solid work designed to succeed. And as I said, I am not enamored with the much overused and empty “we’ve seen this before” comment.

          • Casper Chris

            I didn’t assume you had.

            You opened your original post with:

            As I did when this first reviewed here a year or two ago, I’m going to back Carson on this one.

            Carson gave The Equalizer a gushing “impressive” and put it in his top 3 screenplays ever read.

            The Equalizer is a critical failure. That’s not success in my eyes.

            As for the film being a monetary success, that has more to do with Denzel Washington starring than anything that’s in the script. Look at Denzel’s track record. In fact, a lot of critics are blaming the script right now, calling the material generic and uninspired (which it is), and calling Denzel the film’s saving grace.

            It’s a truly pro level script and therefore serves as a good model for writers.

            In terms of superficial craft, yes, it is pro level. But those scripts are a dime a dozen. There are far better models.

          • leitskev

            Good scripts are not a dime a dozen. There are a lot of people who think a script, particularly their own, is fine quality because there’s some solid wording and because it follows a structure they’ve been taught, or maybe because a certain scene tickled them a certain way. No way is it one of the best scripts ever written…nor was it intended to be. But it is one of the more effective scripts I’ve seen in the last two years. I’ve seen other scripts that have more interesting characters but which are not very tight and will require much actor and director improvisation to make work. For what the Equalizer set out to do, it’s pro grade work, all the more impressive because the writer had no passion for the project. That’s what a pro does: the assignment.

          • Casper Chris

            Consider how many great movies have been made throughout the ages. There’s tons of pro-grade scripts out there (even for movies that were never made), and many of them not only match The Equalizer in terms of superficial craft, but blows it out of the water in other categories such as originality, subtext, theme, message, social commentary, symbolism etc. (yes, even within its little sub-genre). In what writing class would you use the The Equalizer as a model over those?

            As for your point about assignment work, I respect that. Personally, I have no dreams of ever becoming a writer writing other people’s crappy ideas. I write stuff I’m passionate about. If it sells, great. If it doesn’t, thankfully I have another job that pays the bills. Hell is writing stuff I don’t care about. Writing is difficult enough as is.

          • JakeMLB

            If you want to write for a living you’ll eventually have to accept assignment work. That’s not true of everyone but it’s the overwhelming majority, particularly those who work strictly as screenwriters. There are very few Christopher Nolans or Wes Andersons. You can pretend that you’ll be able to create and maintain your day job but the reality is that if you want a career in screenwriting at some point you will have to make the transition to full-time and in order to survive financially you’ll be writing on assignment guaranteed or will be forced into writing specs with greater potential for marketability. Now you can pretend that you’ll only write stuff you’re passionate about but that’s false idealism. You can lose passion in the things you are passionate about just as your passions can change. And you can find passion in any story if you are passionate about writing and storytelling.

          • Casper Chris

            I already have a career in other things than writing. I only write on the side and I only write stuff I’m passionate about. Don’t assume that everyone here has aspirations of becoming a professional screenwriter.

          • JakeMLB

            Which is totally fine. I only said IF you want to work as a professional then you’ll need to do the above. You ask how this could be a model script. Well it is if you want to be in the movie-making business. That’s kind of the point. By saying you have no interest in screenwriting as a career then means you’re forming an opinion that isn’t really relevant to the realities of the industry or film-making in general. Do you want to make a film or just write blueprints of films? This is a studio film and it should be judged as such. Again, writing for fun is fine. It’s just that context matters.

          • Casper Chris

            So only the opinions of professional screenwriters or aspiring ditto are relevant to the industry? Interesting.

          • JakeMLB

            No but then don’t pull the “I only write what I’m passionate about” card. It’s grounds for elitism… It’s not my kind of film and I think you’re right that it’s crazy to have such a script in anyone’s top 10, but again, the argument for it can be made. It’s a clear-cut example of a studio script. And Carson is obviously coming at his reviews from an industry perspective.

          • Casper Chris

            How is it grounds for elitism? I just stated my position, to make it clear that not everyone here has aspirations of becoming an assignment writer. It’s the truth. Not elitism. I’m judging The Equalizer as I would any other work of art. The fact that it was written on assignment is irrelevant.

          • JakeMLB

            Fair enough. But then it doesn’t need to be stated does it? In doing so you’re implying that you would never write such dredge and that you are somehow above it. Anyway, no point in taking this further. I’m not trying to call you out, just pointing out that the perspective matters when judging this script. If you’re looking at it as a standalone piece of art it will undoubtedly falter. If you’re looking at it as a studio and star vehicle, then your opinion of it will differ.

          • Casper Chris

            I didn’t bring it up. Leitskev brought up assignment work, and I just made it clear that that’s not something I’m interested in. It doesn’t mean I’m “above it”. I have nothing but respect for people who can take an assignment and write a full screenplay with zero passion for the subject and somehow succeed in making it decent, perhaps even great. I don’t think I could ever do that, and I think it would be absolute hell trying. Like I said, writing is hard enough as is (and that’s stories I’m passionate about).

          • Eric

            “I have nothing but respect for people who can take an assignment and write a full screenplay with zero passion for the subject matter and somehow succeed in making it decent”

            I don’t think people who are good at assignment work come at it with zero passion. I think they’re just good at finding something to be passionate about in ideas that aren’t theirs. Thinking about TV writing and assignment writing and all the uncredited rewriting that goes on, I think finding a way to connect to material that isn’t yours is essential to being a working writer.

            Or at least to being a working writer who isn’t miserable.

          • Casper Chris

            I was going off leitskev who wrote:

            it’s pro grade work, all the more impressive because the writer had no passion for the project.

            Anyway, I think what you’re suggesting is a bit naïve. Passion is a strong word. Writing becomes work like any other work when you’re doing it constantly.You can’t be passionate about every project you work on.

          • Eric

            There are always times when it’s going to feel like work, even on your passion project. I guess what I mean to say is, those that get by aren’t passionate about projects so much as they are passionate about writing in general. If your passion is writing, that will find it’s way in to most of the projects you work on. But if your passion is limited to just a handful of ideas, you could theoretically not even like writing at all. It’d be just a necessary evil.

          • leitskev

            This is a common problem. People see a movie and they judge it next to their favorite movies of all time going back to the silent pictures. But that’s not a fair comparison. How many movies in a given year would stack up well on that list? I mean unless we want a film industry that only makes a handful of films a year, we can’t judge them all next to the classics. Not to mention that many of these “classics” were destroyed by critics at the time they were released.

            Equalizer is not my kind of film…but I’m glad it got made and is doing well. I’ll give you another example, a success from last year: Heat. I mean it’s a foolish movie. Cheap laughs. But you have to be able to recognize when reading that script that those laughs will be effective. There is a HUGE difference between an idea that is “crappy” and idea that doesn’t excite you or me or other people. Could the Equalizer have dug deeper for a more memorable character? Sure. But that doesn’t diminish the fact that it’s built to succeed and as a writer, knowing how hard this work is, I respect that.

          • Casper Chris

            But that’s not a fair comparison. How many movies in a given year would stack up well on that list?

            It’s currently sitting at number 3 on Carson’s all-time screenplay list. I never said it was a bad script. All I said was… it’s not that great. And that there are better models out there for aspiring writers (you suggested it be used as a model). And the critical reception seems to support that. But my point has already been made, and apparently, we’re not even in that much of a disagreement here.

            And let me be clear, I have nothing but respect for Richard Wenk as a writer.

          • brenkilco

            I agree that good scripts are rare. Indeed, if Equalizer is what passes for a good script these days, really good scripts may be even rarer than I thought. But now that this movie has been savaged by the more knowledgeable critics, and at most given a qualified pass by others as a cliched but serviceable star vehicle, it’s fair to ask whether it is a good script. The plot is no better than that of a hundred, thick ear, straight to video pieces of action fodder. Scarcely a surprise from beginning to end. The characters are all stock. The good hearted young prostitute; the inept ,chubby friend; the evil, overconfident CIA agent, the slimy, Russian mobster. Except for the sometimes embarrassingly on the nose literary references, the dialogue is just about what you’d expect. Nobody is going to remember this movie six months from now.

            Except for a comparatively sharp prose style, whose sharpness is partly the result of the writer’s willingness to forgo spareness at key moments, I’m clueless as to why people are labeling this impressive. If you tell me the writer did as much as anyone could with what he was handed and what the producers demanded I’d probably agree. But is that the same as saying the result was good?

        • brenkilco

          Producer: You know kid, I think of you like a literary olive garden.

          Writer: You mean because my writing is bountiful, serene, mysteriously in touch with the natural order?

          Producer: Nah, cause it’s like that shit restaurant.

          Writer: Oh.

          Producer Don’t be a putz. Millions of mouth breathers eat there every week. And you know what else they do? They go to the movies. And that warmed over slop you write satisfies em the same way. What are you looking so down in the mouth about?

          • leitskev

            Some of the comments here serve as a cautionary tale to me. I’m here to share opinion and learn, and I hope that my comments don’t come off as elitist. I don’t generally care for elitism and I suspect it’s counterproductive. Some comments reinforce that belief and I will be extra diligent to edit anything that smacks of it out of my own comments. Thanks.

          • brenkilco

            I didn’t find your comments elitist. Matter of fact you’re probably right in your basic point. I’m just sort of depressed about the way commercial considerations tend to work against quality, even the old school quality that I think should still exist within the confines of genre formula.

          • leitskev

            The writing on premium channels like HBO and Showtime is phenomenal. IMO better than anything the old movies can usually compare to. Now we just have to get more of that in movies. But at least the writers are capable of it. I don’t think films like Equalizer are as big a problem as the constant parade of superhero movies.

          • brenkilco

            Yeah, I find the growing leave the quality to TV mantra a little mind blowing. As for the life sucking, superhero market it can’t crash fast enough.

          • filmklassik

            Many would agree with you. As for me, nothing on TV right now or in the past 15 years (yes, up to and including THE WIRE) can compare to the writing I see in the best classic movies — the ones that got me into this business.

      • jw

        While true, there are 800 Olive Garden locations nationwide, which means there is definitely an audience for “pre-cooked, pre-heated and pre-packaged.” No matter if we like it or not. And frankly, I don’t and didn’t go to see it, but one of the things we as writers need to understand, especially if we wish to pay rent and drive a car, is that cash flow is necessary, thus, if you have to step outside yourself for a bit to collect a paycheck and cater to the Honey Boo Boo addicts of the world, if they bring their cash, so be it.

    • JakeMLB

      I agree. Favoring the critics isn’t and shouldn’t be the end-goal for most writers. I mean films like Blade Runner, Citizen Kane and The Shawshank Redemption were originally panned by critics. This clearly isn’t on the same level but just because it doesn’t excite a few of our posters her means what exactly? We’re talking a pretty blue collar actioner and given its source material, I’m having trouble thinking how much better this could be.

      And who cares what the critics think? The majority aren’t creators and they certainly don’t speak for the public. The film dominated the box office and as far as the script is concerned, I’m with Carson in that it’s a sterling example of tight, efficient writing and more importantly has what it takes to put assess in the seats. In today’s dwindling feature market, that’s important. Really important. Is it a masterclass of storytelling? No. But so what?

      • leitskev

        Better said than I did and right on.

    • S_P_1

      On this forum WE dissect scripts and films in a way no average movie goer would. It’s not elitism in recognizing familiar elements from the past. It comes with the territory of viewing movies in general, you’re bound to make comparisons. Whatever resonates with you stronger will shade your perception of what you perceive to be weaker. Before I started the journey of being a screenwriter I never scrutinized movies the way I do now. If I’m not into the film, I’m mentally writing the scene down. I’m trying to steer myself from being either a forum critic or film critic in general. There’s a level of jaded pessimism (2x negative connotation) with picking apart a movie or script. I’ve changed as far as my AOW reviews. I’m only throwing in my $.02 when I feel the script is [x]worth the read. I can also respect grendl’s opinion it’s a writer’s responsibility to survive the AOW gauntlet, or in this case a sold screenplay.

      • leitskev

        True on most points. But keep in mind, the idea is usually to pick apart a script with an eye to how it could be better…not just to try to score points. I spent a few years commenting at a forum where there are lot of active amateurs. A lot of good people, but at some point the competition to savage scripts becomes counterproductive. I mean I was never able to find a pro script they didn’t savage. Not a single one. That’s when a gauntlet becomes a peanut gallery. If a couple hundred studio level films get made a year, they can’t all be Oscar contenders,

        An look, I have not seen this film, nor will I. But the script was pretty well done. And I’m cool with reading the criticisms because you can learn from them. But I don’t want to see 24 people say “we’ve seen it all before”.

  • mulesandmud

    “The question with The Equalizer script was always, is it too generic?”

    Like Deniro says in RONIN: whenever there is doubt, there is no doubt.

    Yes, THE EQUALIZER is a master class, but not one on storytelling. The class would be about the delicate art of negotiating a studio assignment in modern Hollywood. How to package ho-hum material with just the right mix of efficiency and style, so that the powers that be will be neither bored by the generic product they’ve requested, nor scared away by excessive ingenuity. Wenk is a pro and I give him all due respect for walking the razor’s edge all the way to the finish line of a big opening weekend. He deserves any success he gets.

    Now, can we talk about Russian gangsters for a minute?

    They’re a red flag. Not automatically the kiss of death for a story, not at all, but like any cliche, they’re a warning sign that puts me on full alert. Is the story going to use this well-worn genre element in a new and interesting way, or did the script just pick up a few pre-packaged villains from local Home Depot?

    In RONIN, the Russian mob cliche collides with the ex-KGB cliche, the ex-CIA cliche, and the IRA cliche to make a crime spy cliche stew. The real villain though, true to the ideas in the script (it’s the greatest movie ever made about freelancing), turns out to be a rogue mercenary hoping to score big by double-crossing the others. The Russians and all the rest turn out to be a fun bit of razzle-dazzle that keep us in danger and suspense while the real plot heats up, then boils over.

    This weekend I saw THE DROP, a small crime film written by Dennis Lehane, based on his own story ‘Animal Rescue’. Excellent character, dialogue, and story work all around. THE DROP also features Russian gangsters, complete with sleazy leather trenchcoats, but uses them brilliantly. When we think they’re the villains, they surprise us by being helpful. When we think they’re helpful, they surprise us by being clueless. The film is always a step ahead of the cliche, all the way to the end.

    (Incidentally, THE DROP has many other parallels to THE EQUALIZER, including a soft-ish main character who is more than he seems, and a plot in which a dark and violent past bubbles back up to the surface. Also features a cute dog. Highly recommended.)

    THE EQUALIZER introduces us to a bunch a sleazy, bitch-slapping Russian thugs early in act one, and guess what: those are the bad guys, period. The script gives us a glimmer of relief at the end of act one, when McCall clears the room full of thugs, then pivots to a series of other good deeds he commits. “Is that the end of the Russian mob?”, we ask hopefully.

    Nope, sorry. Like bad borscht, the Russians end up repeating on us. The fun-and-games section of the plot that Carson cites above isn’t satisfying because the villain drives the plot, as Carson suggests; it’s satisfying because for a moment we can almost convince ourselves that the rest of this movie won’t be another boring trudge through the ganglands of Little Odessa. Unfortunately, the second half of THE EQUALIZER is almost exclusively interested in man-versus-Russians, to the extent that it ditches every other human element almost completely. The story is basically over by the midpoint, minus one single plot point: McCall wins.

    What do Russian gangsters have to do with the themes of THE EQUALIZER? How does its ideas inform the shape of its story? Hollywood doesn’t put a line in the budget for theme, I know, but people can tell when it’s missing, or when a script has to supplement its themes delivering them bluntly via dialogue or ham-fisted literary references, because the screen time that should be devoted to meaningful story development has been replaced by a van full of gunman from the Russian sausage factory.

    McCall could have been fighting Martian Space Pimps and the plot would have been exactly the same. And in the end, in movie form even more than script form, the narrative seems vacant because of that.

    Carson is right to sing the praises of the the script’s presentation, but you can’t tell a great story by recycling programmatic plot points, which is to say, you can’t run the engine of a muscle car with watered-down vodka.

    • walker

      Russian gangsters are a red flag. That is positively Wenkian.

    • Malibo Jackk

      Suddenly had the urge to write a Fast and Furious script
      — fueled with vodka.

      • klmn

        I have the urge to write a Martian Space Pimp script.

    • GYAD

      Well said, Russian mobsters are usually a clear sign a script will be unoriginal.

      That said, there are some great Russian mobster films, especially those by Aleksei Balabanov ,whose two “Brother” films are superb. Although they’re very dark…

      • mulesandmud

        I don’t blame the Russian mobsters themselves; it’s all about how the film uses them. A genre trope used inventively can be more exciting at times than a wholly original idea (see Tarantino).

        As I mentioned, both RONIN and THE DROP do strong work with Russian heavies, as does EASTERN PROMISES, LITTLE ODESSA and WE OWN THE NIGHT (both of the last two by James Gray), and many others, I’m sure.

        The BROTHER films are excellent – it stands to reason that Russians would do Russian mobsters best.

        • GYAD

          Of course.

        • charliesb

          Eastern Promises is pretty damn close to brilliant. I’m still pissed that we are not getting the sequel. A reader on another site said he had read the script and that it was fantastic.

          If anyone can get their hands on that. Please let me know.

          • Marija ZombiGirl

            I have a first draft from 2010. Just give me your email address and I’ll forward it to you :)

          • charliesb
    • Kirk Diggler

      The Drop has barely made 10 million. Hopefully it will make a lot more. Probably not. The Equalizer made 35 mil it’s opening week will easily gross 100 million domestic.

      It’s a pity, because The Drop is a great little film with really good performances all around. I’d rather watch The Drop a dozen more times than see Denzel and his well worn character cliches. But we’ll see The Equalizer 2 before you know it, Guaranteed.

      • mulesandmud

        THE DROP is actually doing fairly well by specialty release standards. And with that cast, I suspect they did solid foreign pre-sales. They’ll be fine.

        No use comparing it to THE EQUALIZER of course, but at a sixth of the budget and a tenth of the marketing cost, it won’t take long for them to get into the black, which means that everyone involved will get to do more work that they genuinely believe in. That’s my standard for success.

    • filmklassik

      Wenk writes well… with fast, lean, diamond-hard prose… but as I’ve already indicated, I do wish his hero was just a tad less superhuman.

      Also, there’s something else…

      What no one else has noticed so far… or at least, seen fit to comment on… is that the now-famous scene in the Russian restaurant in Wenk’s EQUALIZER script was lifted more or less beat-for-beat from an identical scene in the William Goldman novel HEAT (called EDGED WEAPONS in the UK).

      The chapter in the Goldman novel, published in 1985, is called “Eighteen Seconds.”

      The chapter features the exact same set-up: Benign-looking but preternaturally lethal hero is seeking payback for an abused prostitute in a room full of gangsters.

      There is the same long, tense, build-up to the violence. And very similar dialogue:

      FROM WENK’S SCREENPLAY:

      “I’m here about a certain girl. Name’s Teri. She was beat up pretty bad.”

      “I think you have the wrong address, dedushka.”

      “I’m not a cop or anything. I just want to help her.”

      (McCall, the hero, tries to keep bargaining with Slavi, the Head Gangster, but is verbally abused and quickly shown the door).

      Slavi nods to one of the Muscle who grabs a six-inch blade from a table and shoves it up his sleeve. Moves behind McCall as McCall reaches for the door knob.

      Only McCall does something unexpected…

      HE LOCKS IT.

      MCCALL’S EYE

      Turns. Half-lidded. Dull. Like an alligator. WE PUSH INTO THE PUPIL AS IT DILATES, In it WE SEE…

      THE ROOM

      As McCall sees it. With the detachment of a predatory animal…

      A series of frozen pictures flashing through McCall’s head – mind calculating and evaluating a thousand details in a millisecond…

      PARTS OF THE ROOM FADE AWAY… THE UNIMPORTANT PARTS TO MCCALL. Walls, doors, furniture, faces…

      Leaving only what’s necessary to him: The glass edge of a shelf. The DRAGON TATTOO covering the CAROTID on the man’s neck, the handle of a KNIFE in the man’s waistband… the throbbing heartbeat in the center of the MAN’S CHEST… The SHOT GLASS on the edge of a table… The third man’s eye and the outline of a gun under his coat…

      And the fork.

      Weapons and targets disconnected from any sense of humanity.

      The eye measuring the distance between the objects and the time it will take him to kill everyone in the room.

      This has all happened…

      IN THE BLINK OF…

      McCall’s eye.

      MOUTH mumbling — almost inaudibly…

      “Forty-five seconds.”

      Wenk then provides a moment by moment breakdown of the violence that follows. McCall snapping a glass shelf in two and slicing a dude’s neck with the edge… stabbing another with the fork… plunging the shot glass into another guy’s eye, etc.

      FROM GOLDMAN’S NOVEL ‘HEAT':

      “You got a girl for Mr. DeMarco?”

      “I want to talk to him about a girl.”

      “Pretty? He likes ‘em pretty and he likes ‘em slim. If they’re not, forget it.”

      “You just described her.”

      (The hero, McCa– sorry, Escalante, is shown into a hotel room where he’s soon face to face with the Head Gangster, DeMarco, the conversation leading up to:)

      “Last night, Mr. DeMarco, a dear friend of mine was shown some disrespect and I thought that, you know, maybe something might be done about it.”

      (Escalante tries to keep bargaining but is verbally abused and quickly shown the door. Then:)

      Escalante let Tiel lead the way toward the door. He followed, giving Kinlaw — a step behind — a clear shot at him. They moved slowly. They had him just where he wanted them.

      The heat in his groin increased because if you knew violence, if you understood it and were as skilled as they all were, you knew it wasn’t like a Bruce Lee movie where lethal blows had the effect of drops of rain.

      Expert violence went fast because the body was infantlike in its vulnerability. If you were comfortable with the knowledge of where to attack, then all of what was about to happen — win or lose — shouldn’t take long. When he was in his prime it would end in half a minute, less on a good day.

      Now his reptile brain had him totally. The heat was intense. Violence was closing in but violence could be your friend, and Escalante couldn’t help it, some men drove fast cars brilliantly, some were good at money, he seemed most alive when pain was in the air.

      It began, the first second of it, with nothing unusual about it. In fact, no one knew, except Escalante, that it had begun at all. DeMarco, seated at the desk perhaps fifteen feet across the room, was watching with interest, his head cocked to the left. Kinlaw was reaching for his gun as he moved close in behind Escalante’s back. Tiel in the front was also reaching for his piece when he heard an unexpected sound — a grunt, surely from Kinlaw, a few feet behind him. The reason for the sound was this: Escalante had snap-kicked backward with his right lizard boot, aiming and hitting Kinlaw’s left kneecap. The boot was heavy but it also had a sharp metal heel covering. Escalante knew two things from the sound of the heel hitting: That Kinlaw would scream, but not ’til the third second, and that Kinlaw’s kneecap was gone.

      During second number two, DeMarco sat at the desk, hearing the grunt, not quite understanding the why of its existence. His head was still cocked to one side. If he did anything it was simply that he blinked several times in quick succession. Kinlaw, for his part, felt nothing much. His entire giant’s body was, for that second, numb. Tiel, in the lead, quickened the movement with his right hand for his weapon while at the same time commencing to turn his enormous body in order to catch sight of whatever was going on. Escalante did little, took a quick step forward, away from Kinlaw, toward Tiel.

      Not a great deal happening during the third second. Escalante continued his move, only now he took his right hand, brought it in front of his body and then to the right of it. DeMarco widened his eyes into a stare. Tiel, his gun half out, was almost finished with his turn. And the knowledge of what had happened to his kneecap reached Kinlaw’s brain and he began to scream and scream.

      The fourth second was terribly important. It was the first time DeMarco realized the need for movement and he began to stand. Kinlaw, deep in pain, began to fold. Escalante, his right hand out and to the right of his body, moved it toward Tiel’s face. The right hand held his credit cards (which Escalante had exhibited on a pretext in the previous chapter) and they were real, or had been, they were outdated now, and the edges had been whittled to a certain degree of sharpness so that as he slashed the cards with great quickness and power across Tiel’s forehead, they caused a quick curtain of blood to descend and Tiel was, at least for the moment, blind.

      The fifth second was crucial to Nick Escalante. He moved faster than he yet had, back toward Kinilaw, grabbing him, holding him upright, moving next to him so that the giant was behind him and he pulled Kinlaw’s arms tight around his own body. DeMarco was up now while Tiel tried, with absolute lack of success, to blink the blood away.

      IN the sixth second, Kinlaw, held upright, screamed again, while Escalante did very little, simply dropped his head to his chest. DeMarco shouted for the first time: ‘Stop him!’ was the best he could come up with as Tiel brought his hands up, the gun in one of them, and tried to make the blood stop streaming down into his stinging eyes.

      Second seven: Escalante, with all the strength he had, snapped his head back at a slight angle, his skull careening into several parts of Kinlaw’s face, most notably the nose and the cheekbone. DeMarco moved to open the desk drawer. Tiel began swearing in blind frustration.

      In the eighth second Escalante stepped away from Kinlaw, and the giant blond, his face shattered, began to slide to the floor. DeMarco got his hands on the desk drawer with the gun inside. Tiel continued, incoherently, to swear.

      Second nine was uneventful in the extreme. Tiel swiped out blindly with his pistol. Kinlaw made it, semiconscious, to the floor, DeMarco got the desk drawer open as Escalante made two quick steps toward Tiel.

      The tenth second was the end for Tiel as Escalante drove a short blow toward the bleeing mann’s Adam’s apple. Although the blow was short, it had a terrifying power and accuracy of delivery and the knuckles, edged, ended Tiel’s voice box and did little for his air-gathering capacities. DeMarco at last got his hands on his gun with the silencer.

      The eleventh second was when Nick Escalante launched into his dive. His body for a moment was parallel to the rug as he brought his right hand toward his chest. Tiel staggered back, trying to stay conscious. Kinlaw rolled on the floor, one hand to his kneecap, the other covering his face as DeMarco brought the gun up and got ready to fire.

      DeMarco fired in the twelfth second, the bullet passing where Escalante had been before he began his dive. Tiel staggered, holding his throat, the gun dropping from his hands. Kinlaw continued to roll on the floor as Escalante ripped, with his right hand, the heavy octagonal piece of gold jewelry from the breakaway clasp that held it to the thin gold chain (established earlier in the previous chapter).

      He landed on his left shoulder during the thirteenth second and began a quick roll up to one knee. DeMarco held the pistol as it recoiled in his hands. Tiel joined Kinlaw, both of them doing strange motions as they lay on the floor of the suite in the Crosesus Hotel.

      DeMarco fired his second shot during the fourteenth second. Again his aim was faulty, being behind his target. Tiel and Kinlaw were much as before. Escalante was up now on one knee, his right hand holding the heavy piece of octagonal shaped gold.

      In the fifteenth second Escalante realized that he was, without question, going to win. Certain moves had to be completed, yes, but he was so skilled at them that the chances of a third shot hitting him or even being fired were next to impossible. He was about a dozen feet from DeMarco when he backhanded the gold toward in his direction. He could have gone for the eyes or the nose, but because DeMarco was a talker, he decided, symbolically perhaps, that the mouth was the proper target. DeMarco stood still after his second shot, the pistol recoiling in his hands. There was nothing to report new in the movements of Kinlaw or Tiel. They were done.

      It took less than a second for the gold octagon to strike, so calling it second sixteen is not strictly accurate but will have to do. Escalante stayed on one knee as the heavy object struck DeMarco’s mouth, knocking out the two top front teeth, continuing on, wedging itself over his tongue, tearing both sides of his mouth, blood spurting as his balance was taken from him.

      Second seventeen: Escalante got to his feet. DeMarco was out of control, falling helplessly over the back of his chair.

      Final and eighteenth second: Escalante stood. DeMarco landed hard, his head slamming against the corner behind the desk where the wall and floor came together, out of it; Tiel and Kinlaw as before.

      Escalante then lets Holly, the abused prostitute, into the hotel room where she confronts the breathing-but-now-incapacitated gangster.

      It’s a wonderful scene, and no one’s gonna tell me that Wenk doesn’t think so too, and that he wasn’t using THIS IDENTICAL SCENE as a template when he was writing McCall’s initial confrontation with the gangsters in THE EQUALIZER.

      • brenkilco

        Bet you’re right. That was a great scene. And unique for it’s day. Sure Goldman would never have written it that way if he hadn’t also been a screenwriter. Heat’s a fun read. Turned into a really bad movie even with Goldman scripting. He always blamed the director. But the book is really a series of great scenes without all that much to glue them together. The scene where Escalante wins 100,000 and then blows it is also good.

        • filmklassik

          Yes!! Love the blackjack scene! Funny, taut, tense, and heartbreaking.

          You’re right, brenk, that novel’s basically one memorable scene after another. Here’s another one: ‘Member how Excalante proves to Baby (the top Mafioso in the city) that the evil slimeball DeMarco assaulted Escalante’s hooker girlfriend? Terrific.

          And you’re right, too, that as entertaining as HEAT is — and it is wildly entertaining — Goldman’s earlier MARATHON MAN had a much more cohesive story.

      • S_P_1

        The major difference is the action sequences in the book were written to entertain the imagination without regard to realism with a rhetorical monologue. The script is a functionary format with punctuated prose describing a sequence to be filmed. Your main point being the beat for beat similarity between the book and film. The only similarity is the takedown of multiple assailants in under a minute.

        The book passage I took as literal. Every second accounted for several physical movements in the same passage of time. The script scene I took as figurative. The protagonist mentally calculated a flowchart of yes/no probabilities.

        The book was entertaining without being believable. The script was serviceable while being conceivable.

        • filmklassik

          Not sure I agree that Wenk’s EQUALIZER is any more “conceivable” than Goldman’s HEAT.

          They are both, in their way, farfetched stories. But Goldman’s hero seemed to rate a little higher on the Believability Scale.

      • mulesandmud

        Sadly, not the most shameless rip I’ve ever seen. Pretty dead-on though, all the way down to the reptile references. Great catch.

        As for McCall’s superhero-ness, I don’t mind that’s he’s ultimately invincible, but I agree with you that the script make no effort to put him in any situation that truly tests his limits. Major problem.

        • filmklassik

          Ha! Yeah, I caught the reptile thing too. But that arguably — possibly — could have been a coincidence. As for the rest of it..

          The unassuming avenger walking in to a room full of mobsters on behalf of a battered hooker, and trying to negotiate with them, and being shot down, and figuring out the precise number of seconds it will take to dispatch them all, and using everyday found objects to do it with, and Goldman’s chapter being called “Eighteen Seconds” and Denzel calculating “Forty five seconds” to get the job done, etc.

          Nobody is going to convince me that Wenk wasn’t, shall we say, intimately acquainted with that scene from Goldman’s novel.

    • S_P_1

      Today’s article to me is a follow-up response to Midnight Luck’s AF response in regards to an easy read. I get the impression Carson ranked the script high because of generous white space with a concise brevity. This script also has an advantage of being made into a movie. This is another point M L brought up in ME vs. PRO. I haven’t read the script or seen the movie yet. I’m more interested in the movie at this point than reading the script. I never watched the original tv series so I’m coming in fresh in regards to the material.

      • Panos Tsapanidis

        Actually, you should be more interested in the script rather than the movie. The minimalistic prose is the most impressive thing about Equalizer; something that’s worth studying.

  • Scott Strybos

    I posted this about The Equalizer last week on a non-Equalizer board, but I am curious to get a few more insights on an Equalizer-specific comments section

    I didn’t see the film but read the script. I found one of its strength becomes its biggest flaw by the end. And that is Denzel’s character is TOO good. At the beginning of the story it is fun to watch him dominate. But the story starts to suffer because he is so skilled. There is no moment where I thought he was in trouble, outmanned, or not five moves ahead of the villains. The Equalizer had NO CONFLICT.

    And there are other films which follow this better-than-everyone formula, which I really like, like Taken. But for someone reason this wore on me when I was reading this script. Someone suggested it was the stakes. In Taken It was a daughter.

  • jw

    The box office success has much to do with so many things that have NOTHING to do with writing, that the “see this made money” argument doesn’t even hold water. Timing has so much to do with the box office game that you truly have no control over it. The Watch likely would have made a significant amount more if Zimmerman would have kept his hot hand in his pants where it belonged. This does well because 1. It’s Denzel teamed with his Training Day director (which is great marketing) and 2. The box office is horrid right now. There’s nothing really playing that anyone truly wants to see, thus, by default we have people going to the theaters and saying “fuck it” everything here is garbage, but Denzel is cool and he kicks ass, so whatever. This comes out 2 weeks after Guardians and it’s $17m opening easy. Like much of the entertainment industry it’s all a crap-shoot.

    • JakeMLB

      I’m not sure you’re right. This is one of those scripts that you read and instantly know it’s going to perform, particularly with Denzel attached. Does the film succeed without Denzel? Probably not. But then it was written for him so the script and the attachment go hand-in-hand. And let’s not overlook the film’s 7.7 on IMDB and 83% audience score on RT. Think about that for a second then try return to your argument that it’s all box office. It’s a blue collar film where the little guy sticks up for the little guy so in the social context, the timing couldn’t be better. But if you’re claiming that’s enough to drive the box office, you’re ignoring the reception of the film by audiences. Face it, what makes this film successful is NOT the story, the plot or the film’s timing or competition — it’s the character IMO. There is something about this character, and Denzel’s embodiment of it, that resonates with people at this time. And much of what made this character was on the page.

      • Casper Chris

        It was 8.6 on IMDB a few days ago. It’s dropping fast. Give it a little more time. It won’t settle on 7.7.

        • JakeMLB

          Even if it settles on a 7, so what? It’s being talked about as if it were a 5. Regardless of whether you like it or not, most people do, evidenced both by BO and audience scores. And I suspect it’s because they are responding to character not story.

          • Casper Chris

            A strong reaction sometimes creates a strong counter-reaction. The script was initially hailed as the second coming. Some of us didn’t agree and are just trying to bring some balance into things.

          • JakeMLB

            To be honest that’s a bit of a strawman. Carson gave it an impressive but his word isn’t gospel. Many were quick to point out the lack of originality and other flaws. But most still saw the script as professionaly written, slick and backed by a strong character. You can push back all you want but I’d rather focus on what elements of the script made it successful rather than simply pointing out how unoriginal it is.

          • Casper Chris

            Yes, it was a hailed as the second coming… by Carson. I just didn’t want to single him out (again) as I think he’s mostly a good analyzer and has been getting a lot of other things right.

            I’ve already focused on what worked, back when I read the script. Today was the day for seeing how the script fared in its final form. It’s getting panned by critics. Makes sense to ask, “why?”.

          • JakeMLB

            As I said above, who cares what critics think? They panned Citizen Kane. Audiences are responding to it. And ultimately they are your consumer and customer, not critics.

          • Casper Chris

            And like I said, it’s too early to judge audience reception. For reasons already stated.

          • JakeMLB

            It’s not too early. The preliminary BO numbers are huge as are the audience scores. There is no way they are going to drop to a point that this film would be considered a failure. There are 44,000 reviews on RT… Let’s Be Cops has been out for months and is only at 44,000 reviews.

          • Casper Chris

            You can’t use BO numbers as a metric for script quality or even movie quality. Denzel Washington always brings people out in droves.

      • jw

        Jake, I’m not sure if it’s as simplistic as you’re making it, but I think both yourself and Casper have solid points. If it was just the character then all a film would have to do is feature a middle class hero (played by an A-lister) who kicks people’s ass and voila. Like I said prior, with any additional “noise” at the box office around the time this film came out, I think it would sort of just come in for a soft landing and disappear in the fray.
        Again, like I said, timing has a lot to do with it, and it’s also timing of many different things, including societal timing, a-list timing, box office timing, character timing, etc… There are so many timing pieces to this, but rarely do they have to do with the actual writing. In the past the writing would largely impact what the industry referred to as “legs” but in this age of decreased attention span that is even fading away. Once that was gone then people said “legs” referred DVD sales and now while still more prominent than downloaded music, most are seeing that shift to OnDemand. Thus, from a studio’s perspective, outside of small indies or Oscar-chasers, it’s about commerciality to fill the seats in opening weekend. Studios know that’s where 80% of their revenue will come from, if they’re not selling action figures. What about an Equalizer action figure? ahahah They could even sell it at Home Depot! ahahah

    • Casper Chris

      Not to mention the anti-Russian rhetoric in the media right now due to the conflict in Ukraine. Perfect time for a movie about an American everyman beating up Russian thugs.

      • filmklassik

        Interesting theory, which raises a provocative question: While there’s a lot of “anti-Russian rhetoric in the media right now due to the conflict in the Ukraine” — there’s even MORE anti-ISIS rhetoric in the media right now due to the conflict (and beheadings) in the Middle East.

        So… following your postulate… do you think a script about an everyman taking on Middle Eastern Muslim extremists would work? And if not, why not?

        (And no, I am not thinking of writing one — at least not right away — I’m actually trying to plot a heist-movie at the moment — but I’m interested to hear your thoughts)

  • Rzwan Cabani

    Would love to get my eyes on this, if at all possible — r.cabani@hotmail.com. Thank you.

    • Marija ZombiGirl

      Sent !

      • Mike.H

        please send to MAY1MSG at gmail dot com. Thanks!

      • kidnapperfilms

        Could you also please send to kidnapperfilms @ gmail.com, thank you!

  • Guest

    If anyone has the script, I would greatly appreciate a copy. jason.c.nave@gmail.com
    Thanks!

    • Marija ZombiGirl

      Sent !

      • Javier Eliezer Otero

        Please, could you share it for me too? javierotero26 at hotmail. Thanks!

      • klmn

        Could you send it my way too?

        kenklmn AT yahoo dotcom

      • Kane

        me too please kalstonjr at gmail dot com Thanks!

      • sm

        please can i have a copy at smbg30@hotmail.co.uk. thanks

      • sm

        pls can i have a copy at smbg30 at hotmail dot co dot uk
        thanks

  • klmn

    I’ll share my own Russian gangster story. I was in a buffet line and I heard voices behind me, speaking Russian. I looked around and saw three tall guys, well-dressed. Gangsters, I figured.

    So I crop dusted ‘em.

    I guess they took the hint, because I haven’t seen ‘em since.

  • Eric

    I personally avoid “the c-word” when I’m providing thoughts and notes. I think it tells the writer so little about the element the reviewer is having an issue with and probably says more about the reviewer’s experience with movies than the writer’s execution of a story.

    I don’t equate it with elitism though. I don’t really get that comparison. To me it’s just kind of lazy.

  • andyjaxfl

    A great alternative to The Equalizer is A WALK AMONG TOMBSTONES. Very enjoyable thriller and Liam Neeson is tremendous. It’s not making a lot of money so a sequel is probably out of the question, but I’d love to see him continue to tackle the role.

    • charliesb

      I saw both this weekend as well, and think they both actually suffered from the same problem. None of the secondary characters were interesting enough and the villains were over the top without being memorable. Interestingly David Harbour played a villain in each film and was equally bland in both.

      Removing Teri from the Equalizer so early, in my opinion hurt the film. None of the other Home Depot employees were interesting (or on screen long enough) to connect with. I’m also not a fan of pop in characters that are only there to reinforce what we’ve already figured out about “our Hero”. I thought the scene in the middle with his old boss and Bill Pullman dragged. I would have liked it if Susan and Brian were more connected to the story.

      As for A Walk Among the Tombstones, I liked a lot of it. But the villains were cheesy sketches of characters we’ve seen done better. And the best two parts of the film (IMO) Scudder and Kenny were rarely on screen together. I also thought that the AA meetings with the voice over were a little heavy handed.

      I think both movies featured interesting main characters that deserved better stories. Both have the potential to have sequels, I’m curious to see if they both get them.

      • Malibo Jackk

        Hollywood doesn’t like to strain their brains.
        Yeah… more sequels.

  • Andrew Parker

    I would go with weak theme presented OK. This movie + Lucy prove that the average moviegoer doesn’t care about theme or any semblance of reality. They just want cool violence.

    If you want theme, you have to watch Mad Men or Breaking Bad or something else with a small but devoted audience. Movie studios can’t survive on small, devoted audiences. They need these type of movies. And that’s just life.

  • Kirk Diggler

    Her Scarjo was awesome.

    The problem with SNL is Lorne Michaels himself. He has no idea what funny is and he’s guiding the ship.

    Too many one note sketches. Too many sketches where it’s just about outrageous behavior (the family that tongue kisses each other springs to mind), and too many repeat sketches long after it stopped being funny (The Californians, anything with Keenan)

    There was one sketch that I thought was funny. This guy, Pete Davidson.

    He has potential, but it was less a sketch and more a stand up bit.

  • Casper Chris

    You’re right. I’m not too sorry. Was mostly a figure of speech, to prepare you for what I was about to write.

  • filmklassik

    I’d be curious to know how overtly theme is stated in GOLDFINGER. In JAWS. In THE STING. In THE TAKING OF PELHAM 1, 2, 3.

    My guess: Not even once.

    I’m not saying Theme is never relevant. Merely that there are many great and successful genre movies were it is never baldly stated.

    • brenkilco

      Theme Shmeme. Mopey Matthau dispensing gallows humor in grimy seventies Gotham. An ingenious crime. Gallery of great NY character actors. What more could anybody want?

      • filmklassik

        I screwed up. I stupidly — unthinkingly — came of age during a time when we were getting half a dozen first-rate genre movies a year, and 10 or 12 pretty good ones. In other words, yes, I was definitely spoiled rotten, because I believed that the grown-up characterizations, smart dialogue and well-engineered plotting in movies like PELHAM, VARRICK, CHINATOWN, MARATHON MAN, CONDOR, etc were the fucking norm! That genre movies were SUPPOSED to look that way!

        And, God help me, a part of me still does.

        • brenkilco

          My formative movie experiences as a kid were these same films. And the Godfathers and The French Connection and even The Sting. Even the second tier stuff was so much better. Anybody remember The Laughing Policeman? It was a time when something as oddball as Thunderbolt and Lightfoot was just another mainstream movie. Who knew we were being spoiled? Haven’t seen A Walk Among The Tombstones which sounds like it sits rather uncomfortably between a seventies piece and a typical Neeson bone cruncher- er, hipbreaker. Anyway it apparently bombed. The seventies, alas, are never coming back. And TV stuff like True Detective. while very good, just doesn’t quite fill the bill.

          • filmklassik

            Great point. Actually, all I see returning from the seventies is the fashion: Lots of beards, afros, sideburns, grunge, and crappy clothing. Oh, and maybe the attitude, too. But I think that’s a function of Policy: The beards, collars and agita all start growing when the country gets bogged down in an unpopular war, or two (see the USA from 1966-1975)

            But the good stuff from that era? Like for instance, the music? Gone. Lost and by the wind grieved.

            Ditto the movies. Sometimes someone (usually Clooney or Soderbergh) will try and make a “70s-type movie” which always ends up feeling rather derivative and artificial, like every scene and exchange of dialogue has been consciously passed through a “70’s filter” (see MICHAEL CLAYTON… or better yet, don’t).

            The last genre movie that, IMO, had an authentically retro feel to it… in other words, the last one that felt like it could’ve actually been produced in the 70s… was A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE.

          • brenkilco

            I thought Prisoners had potential. But it got so deep into existential, indie dread and at such inordinate length that I for one was surprised when the mystery actually got solved.

          • filmklassik

            Yeah, I agree that PRISONERS finally collapsed under the weight of its own self-importance (something its pulpy underpinnings were never designed to accommodate).

            Hollywood — or, more disturbingly, the audience — has decreed that EVERY genre movie now be freighted with a degree of pretension and solemnity that often rings false (see Nolan’s DARK KNIGHT movies… Singer’s X-MEN series… the BOURNE series, etc etc). In fact, when that kind of existential dread is hanging over a story about a guy wearing tights and a utility belt, it often seems ludicrous.

            Maybe I’m just old.

  • JakeBarnes12

    “His [McCall’s] storyline is directionless. Which can kill a script dead if it goes on for too long….So Wenk does something really clever, and something you should take a cue from. During that 20-25 minutes, he switches the goal over to the villain.”

    Brilliant. This is why I continue to read your posts; always something new to learn.

    Thanks for that insight, Carson.

  • Thunk24

    I wonder sometimes if cliches can be a good thing? You know the punchline to the joke but still enjoy it when you hear it. I read this script, it was tight and cliche ridden but I still enjoyed it. Like Carson, I’m a sucker for an underdog hero.

    • filmklassik

      Here’s where we disagree, Thunk. McCall may be someone people UNDERESTIMATE when they look at him, sure, but in no way can McCall be considered an underdog.

      Rocky Balboa is an underdog (Apollo Creed is a better fighter)

      Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese are underdogs (they’re battling a friggin’ robot!).

      Ah-nold in TERMINATOR 2 is an underdog (the T-1000’s a superior model).

      But Denzel’s Robert McCall an underdog? Against who, God?

      That’s where we disagree.

      • Thunk24

        An old dude that works at the local hardware store up against the Russian mafia. Sounds pretty underdog to me. Actually, one man up against the Russian mafia still sounds underdoggie. Woof!

        • filmklassik

          Forgive me, Thunk, but I think you’re only talking about appearances here. Because McCall isn’t REALLY an underdog.

          To illustrate what I mean, forget McCall for a second: What if it was Gandalf, of Lord of the Rings fame vs. the Russian mafia. That’s right: Gnarled, grey-bearded, 800 year old Gandalf… vs. the Russian mafia.

          Ask yourself: Would Gandalf REALLY be the underdog in that fight? I don’t think so. Because despite appearances, he is still a kickass fucking WIZARD who could kill everybody in the room with one wave of his walking stick. Boom! They’re dead.

          Same with McCall. He may look like an underdog, but he’s not.

          • Thunk24

            You’re right about Gandalf but…. McCall isn’t set up as kick ass CIA kung fu machine, that’s something we learn. So, he starts as underdog then slowly gets more ex-CIA. The diplomat in me would debate that I’m right until that reveal, then over to you. Not that any of this is going to make it a better movie.

          • filmklassik

            You’re 100% right. As far as we, the audience, are concerned, McCall is definitely an underdog — for about the first 35 minutes. Then we find out he’s Superman.

            As for me, I prefer a REAL underdog. A hero who is truly overmatched. Doesn’t mean he can’t be formidable. He can be. In fact, in a movie like this one, he should be. But for God’s sakes, people, just give him at least ONE adversary who is just as good if not — wait for it, gang — even better and tougher than he is!

            You know, the equivalent of a T-1000.

            That’s when things get scary.

          • Nate

            There’s one thing that I’ll always do when I’m writing an action film and that’s to show the protagonist getting injured. By having him/her pull a bullet out of their arm, it shows the audience that they’re not invincible. That they’re still human.
            I like protagonists who are like Jason Bourne. Someone who is tough, but vulnerable. Someone who can take out three guys in a matter of seconds, but suffers an injury during the fight. Someone you know is gonna win, but won’t come out of it unscathed.
            The Equalizer script painted McCall as a superhero. I enjoyed the script and didn’t really think much of it at the time, but looking back I can see where people would have a problem with that. I’m sure I’ll enjoy the film, but if I wanna see a superhero kicking arse, I’d rather just Cap 2 again, which ironically shows Cap getting his arse kicked on more than one occasion.

          • filmklassik

            What’s funny is, I tend to think of Jason Bourne as a superhero. He broods, yeah. He ‘s solemn and soulful. He whispers a lot. The camera shakes a little and the proceedings all have a realistic “look” to them. But don’t let that fool you: Those movies are basically comic books, and Bourne is as superhuman as any Marvel hero. Why do I say that? Because Bourne is perfect. No one can stop him. No one is as tough, as fast, as clever. No one ever gets the drop on him. And he is never, ever wrong about anything, ever.

            James Bond seems down to earth by comparison.

            Maybe in the next sequel, the screenwriters will finally give Bourne a worthy adversary to duke it out with him in Act 3. An assassin who is younger, faster, stronger, tougher and deadlier than Bourne.

            Then watch how scary things get, because Bourne will have to use all of his guts and ingenuity to prevail.

            Wouldn’t you love to see THAT kind of showdown in the next one?

          • Nate

            I disagree. Each film has that one adversary who manages to go the distance with Bourne. He wins each fight, but only just.
            The only fight he managed to win pretty easily was the apartment fight in Identity. The other Treadstone assassin wasn’t really a match. He kept on getting back up whenever Bourne put him down, but he never once hurt Bourne.
            Karl Urban in Supremacy was quite tough. He found him in Goa fairly easily and If I remember correctly, he did get the drop on him in Moscow towards the end. He shot him in the shoulder on the bridge.
            The only adversary that proved to be a challenge was the assassin Bourne strangled to death in Ultimatum. He gave Bourne a good kicking before he pulled his finger out.

          • filmklassik

            Yeah, but wouldn’t you love to see Bourne going up against the Treadstone equivalent of the T-1000 (not an actual robot, of course, but someone surpassing Jason the way the T-1000 surpassed Arnold)?

            Or the Treadstone equivalent of Oddjob from GOLDFINGER? (Remember how he was throwing Bond around like a rag doll?)

            Or Apollo Creed, or Clubber Lang, or Ivan Drago from the ROCKY series?

            Don’t you want to see an Act 3 where Jason has to go mano y mano with someone faster, tougher and deadlier than he is?

            And if not, why not?

          • Nate

            I think it would make for an exciting fight scene if Bourne was going up against someone who was faster, tougher and deadlier, and I would like to see one in the next film, but only if they really sell the idea that someone out there is better than Bourne. I’ll be honest and say that there’s no tension in the original trilogy fight scenes. Despite him getting his arse kicked in Ultimatum, we knew he was gonna win.
            We know about Bourne the Amnesiac Rogue Agent, but we don’t know much about Bourne the Cold Blooded Assassin. We don’t know how he operated back when he worked for Treadstone.
            I wanna see an antagonist pulling off hits that even Bourne would think are pretty good. If they sell the idea that the bad guy is leagues ahead of Bourne throughout the film, by the time the big fight scene comes, we’ll be wondering how the hell he’s gonna survive. Otherwise it’ll just be another fight scene. We have to feel like this guy can kill Bourne without breaking a sweat, long before they go toe to toe.

          • filmklassik

            Absolutely, categorically, 100% agree.

            There is a reason why the ending of TERMINATOR 2 was so nail-bitingly suspenseful: It was because Ah-nold knew, and we knew, that he was facing off against a superior android.

            He knew what that sonofabitch could do.

            But he fought him anyway.

            And found a way to win.

            So here’s hoping the BOURNE guys take a leaf out of the James Cameron playbook (well, early James Cameron, anyway).

            We’ll see…

          • Nate

            I watched T2 a few weeks ago and there’s one thing I noticed about the ending, that I’ve never seen anyone mention. I’ve seen people say that coincidences should only be used if it gets the protagonist into a bad situation, never out of one.
            The whole ending of T2 is one giant coincidence. The T-1000 hijacks a tanker containing liquid nitrogen. He crashes it and freezes himself inside a steel mill. Arnold shoots him, blowing him up. The heat causes him to melt and do a Humpty Dumpty. Arnold blows him up using his grenade launcher, causing him to fall into a pit of molten steel.
            If John never took the off-ramp they probably would’ve had died. It makes me wonder if Arnold knew the steel mill was there, because he told John to take the off ramp, and if he did, is still a coincidence?

  • brenkilco

    If every element in the movie is a cliche then the theme, to the extent there is one, is also going to be a cliche. It sure is in this thing. Wearied by violence our hero tries to escape the burden of his superpowers but takes them up again when those he cares about are threatened, accepting who he must be. Also the theme of Superman II.

    • filmklassik

      Well, not to trivialize the idea of Theme in movies, because I agree that Theme can be a very important element… sometimes… depending on the movie.

      But it seems to me that we are stretching the definition of “Theme” to the point where it can be retroactively applied to virtually any movie.

      One ridiculous example: The third James Bond movie, GOLDFINGER, was a huge success when it first hit screens in 1964. Theaters were showing it around the clock. The reason? Its theme, of course! The idea of Goodness triumphing over Greed is so universal that audiences were naturally eager to flock to a movie that addressed it!

      • brenkilco

        I don’t mean to denigrate theme. Great stories obviously have compelling themes but to think that Die Hard succeeded because it dealt with marital redemption is just silly. If the significant other in jeopardy had been a kid a mother or a dog the movie would have been just as good. It would probably have been just as good if the hero were simply doing his job. And we would have been spared Willis’ embarrassing, weepy soliloquy. I love North by Northwest. And I’m sure you could argue it has a theme. Frivolous Grant sobered by true love etc. But honestly, that’s not why I love it.

        • filmklassik

          Grant’s “arc” from incorrigible bachelor to lovestruck suitor is touched upon only lightly in the finished movie… and really only near the end.

          It’s a wonder Hollywood produced ANYTHING worthwhile before Field and McKee came along, Prometheus style, to bestow upon us lowly primitives the essential verities of Character Arcs and Theme.

          • brenkilco

            Thankfully we now live in an enlightened age of page twenty five act breaks, midpoint reversals and clearly defined character flaws.

          • filmklassik

            Exactly! We now have a more rigid set of rules and precepts to light the way, which is why storytelling has gotten so much better since the 1970s!

        • mulesandmud

          You’re not denigrating theme; you’re denigrating the idea of a tacked-on message, as well you should. Because that’s not theme.

          DIE HARD is thematically brilliant because it’s story emerges directly from its themes, rather than bending to service them. And not just the corporate-marital aspect; the film also presents a study of modern terrorist anxieties by showing us an inept LAPD forced to do things ‘by the terrorist handbook’ and a group of thieves who pose as terrorists to exploit that book. That’s not tacked-on messaging or subtextual analysis; those are the underpinnings of the story, a series of evolving ideas that inform the characters and plot points. It’s a worldview.

          NORTH BY NORTHWEST is the same, although in that case the love story is mostly tacked-on irrelevant bullshit. Make no mistake, though: the reasons you love the film are 100% thematic. The theme taps the very essence of the genre; it’s the definitive wrong man movie specifically because it elevates “wrong man” from a plot conceit to a thematic concern, making the entire movie a study in mistaken and unknown identity. Everyone loves to talk about the crop duster scene as though it’s pure Hitchcockian nonsense, but in fact, it’s pure theme, stripped of plot and character. Hitchcock and Lehman were brilliant storytellers because they never failed to build atop those layers, often instinctively I’m sure.

          It’s a shame that theme has been so brutalized by modern screenwriting discourse, and when it does come up it’s almost always bogged down by semantics. All that really matters is this: a story needs more than just characters and events, it needs ideas. A great story lets the latter inform the former.

          • brenkilco

            Agreed that this is too often a question of semantics. Every great movie, every great scene, resonates on some level, whether or not it’s reducible to an easily articulable theme. On a realistic level the crop duster scene in NBNW is nonsense. But it’s also cinema’s greatest evocation of agoraphobia; a perfect symbol of the complacent, modern, urban male stripped of every privilege, protection and advantage. Not to mention that it also happens to be one of the most perfectly shot and edited suspense/action sequences of all time. Aesthetically it screams perfection.

            If a writer crafts a satisfying story, it’s going to have themes. And a conscious concern with big themes is not going to elevate a cliched plot and dull characters. Better to worry about your text and let the subtext take care of itself.

  • davejc

    Carson said:

    “So Wenk does something really clever, and something you should take a cue from. During that 20-25 minutes, he switches the goal over to the villain.”

    Or the daughter. That sounds like something I would do.

  • fragglewriter

    I read some of this script and while I think the writing was good, the story had a ‘been there done that’ feel to it that simply got me bored and only kept on reading the script if I didn’t get a chance to download a new script on my iPhone that I can read while commuting to/from work.

    I like the flipping what doesn’t work in scripts to put a new spin on it and to get the story going, but to help a teenage prostitute and the and the cliche mob, is just so tired.

  • Buddy

    very interesting itw of the screenwriter Richard wenk : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DraXNcxUCF0

  • Malibo Jackk

    China recently stated that they only want movies with themes.
    (They’ve been making them for years.)

  • Magga

    Since there doesn’t appear to be an article today, maybe we should discuss this, the latest from the greatest

    • Kirk Diggler

      PT Anderson returning to the 1970’s can never be a bad thing.

      • Magga

        PTA returning to the screen is a victory for real movies. Hell, I’d watch another superhero movie if he directed it

  • Random Logline Generator

    Here’s a question I’ve been wondering for a while. How closely or loosely should a script be followed? As writers we want our words to be translated to the screen, but sometimes that isn’t the case. For example in ‘The Equalizer’ one of the characters was changed from a woman to a younger(ish) girl. The reason given was that the girl being abused would be more jarring to the protag rather than an (older) woman. How would you guys take that? Is it ok, or is it deviating from the story/script?

    • Meta5

      Check out the interview with screenwriter Richard Wenk that Buddy posted below.

      If a suggested change improves the story, I’m all for it. I don’t think they’re are many movies made these days where changes aren’t made.

  • Panos Tsapanidis

    Carson, which one you think is better? The Equalizer or Taken (the first one, of course)?

  • Malibo Jackk

    Not weird at all.
    It’s China’s way of saying that they want to have control over every movie’s theme.

    Don’t know whether you’ve heard
    — their new leader has been carrying out a program of tearing crosses
    from churches and in some cases closing churches.
    They don’t want the Christian religion to become more popular
    than communism.

  • JB

    Too generic? Not at all. It seemed so but it was really well written. ^^