Genre: Drama, War, Thriller
Premise: Three ex-mercenaries stumble upon information concerning the whereabouts of the world's most wanted terrorist. They journey into Kashmir, the dangerous and disputed territory between two nuclear powers in order to claim the $50 million bounty on the terrorist's head.
About: D.B. Weiss' "Kashmir" was on the 2005 Black List with 2 votes. In 2008 it was acquired by Relativity Media with Jean-Jacques Annaud (Seven Years in Tibet) attached to direct. Weiss is a graduate of the Iowa Writer's Workshop and is the author of the videogame-themed novel, Lucky Wander Boy. Back in February, I reviewed a draft of Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game adapted by Weiss. Weiss has also penned drafts of the I am Legend prequel for Warner Bros., Halo and an adaptation of George R.R. Martin's A Game of Thrones for HBO with David Benioff.
Writer: D.B. Weiss
This is a tale of three men.
One is motivated by desperation.
One is motivated by greed.
One is motivated by guilt.
This is the story of what happens to these men when they venture into volatile territory occupied by Jihadis, separatists and murderous native tribes in order to capture the world's most dangerous man and claim the fifty million dollar bounty on his head.
Who is the man motivated by desperation?
Frank Pierce is former Marine Recon now working a boring high-tech menial labor job where he spends his hours soldering connections on circuit boards at International Navigational Technologies. He's lorded over by MBAs fifteen years his junior and his soul seems to be slowly dying because he's living a life that doesn't call for his unique set of talents and expertise.
See, Pierce is really good at tracking things, specifically, other human beings. He's a hunter. It's a pretty specialized talent (huh, kinda like screenwriting?), and when he was in Marine Recon, or even the independent merc contractor, Executive Armor, he was able to use this talent. His official title? Full Service Independent Operator.
As an operator that could do the one thing he was good at every day, he thrived. Pierce was truly alive then.
But then, he met a girl, and realized, "I'd rather spend my life with her than with a bunch of sweaty guys in a South American jungle." And together, with his wife, Linda, they had a daughter named Emma.
When the story opens, little Emma is watching a news broadcast that shows the aftermath of a terrorist bombing at the American Airlines Center, home of the Dallas Mavericks, in Texas.
Over two thousand people have been killed and Emma asks, "Dad, where's Dallas?"
And this simple question from his five year-old daughter plants a seed of unease in Pierce, something that he'll hold onto and try to convince himself is his true motivation.
Who is the man motivated by greed?
Carl Serra is a mad dog living the ex-private military man's existence in the Philippines. He seems to spend a lot of his time gambling, which is what he's doing when we meet him. A typical wise-ass, he beats some Filipino men at a hand of poker and says, "I thank you, Texas thanks you. And Uri thanks you, for giving me money I will no doubt piss away right here at this bar."
We'll get to Uri in a minute, but Serra drunkenly ambles home to his low-rent guesthouse, but is immediately accosted by Smiley, the Filipino man he pissed off, and his thugs. "You take my money, Funny Man. We need my money. We need it for important things."
"So why'd you gamble with it?"
A reasonable question, but one Smiley doesn't bother to answer. As he takes his pesos back from Serra, his thugs debate in Tagalog whether they should use a gun or a knife. They opt to use a knife, to which Serra replies in their own language, "Wrong choice."
Serra Jason Bourne's the knife out of their hands and quickly kills everyone in the room with it, even gutting a man like a trout. He strangles Smiley to death and goes through his possessions.
He finds a handwritten list of phone numbers that piques his curiosity.
Who is the man motivated by guilt?
Uri Tzur is the Israeli proprietor of the bar Serra operates out of, a former Israel Defense Forces soldier who can speak fluent Arabic. Actually, he went AWOL from the IDF, and it's not something we think about much until a breathless sequence at the mid-point of this tale reveals his tragic back-story.
Compared to the other two soldiers, Uri thinks he's dead weight, but the fact that he can speak Arabic makes him the fail safe for their plan. And as such, he's at the center of one of the most intense scenes in this script. I mean, can you imagine the terror of being Israeli and having to infiltrate a network of caves by pretending to be an Arab jihadi? It's a tense trial and the pure drama drawing off the historical context of the bigger conflict is staggering.
So who is the most wanted man on the planet?
His name is Sayim al-Bakr and he's the man who has assumed leadership of al-Qaeda. He's also the man responsible for bombing the American Airlines Center in Dallas.
Yep, he's pretty much a narrative analog for Osama bin Laden.
OK. So that list of numbers Serra finds. They have to do something with Sayim's location, right?
Smiley was a terrorist bomber in league with Sayim. The numbers are a list of one day satellite telephone numbers that Sayim's men are using to communicate with the rest of al-Qaeda.
Serra phones Pierce, and Pierce uses his resources at International Navigational Technologies to trace the numbers. Serra and Pierce worked together, a long time ago, on a security detail for an Iranian dissident when they worked for the Halliburton suits.
Pierce calls the CIA and tries to inform them that Sayim is in Kashmir, a territory US troops haven't set foot in for quite some time. But America is looking in Afghanistan or Iran, a thousand miles in the opposite direction, and they have a hard time believing Pierce because they don't know who he is. And the CIA is reluctant to check the coordinates, because they would have to go to their supervisors, who would have to put in a request to Naval Intelligence and it's all too much red tape for them to deal with.
With each passing day, they lose a number, and when Pierce sees that there are only seven numbers left, he finally decides to team up with Serra and take matters into his own hands, "We've got seven days."
"We're talking about hunting the worst man on Earth –-"
"-- three guys, setting out to do a job the whole free world is crapping out on."
So they go to Kashmir. But are they going to bring in Sayim al-Bakr dead or alive?
So, armed with the numbers and days as their ticking clock, a GPS device, cover as journalists for Outdoor magazine, and weapons, they trek through fifty miles of hostile terrain into the mountains of Kashmir. Their plan is to nab Sayim, bypass the Indian Army Base on the border and take him to the CNN field office at Srinagar where they collect their fifty million bounty and their names go down in the history books as heroes.
But this is where it gets interesting. Because Serra and Pierce have different motivations, they disagree. Pierce convinces himself that he's doing this to protect his daughter, his wife, the citizens of his country. Sayim has war plans in his head that can surely be extracted. Serra just wants the bounty, and to him, he'd rather bring in Sayim dead than alive. It's less problematic that way. And Uri is caught in the middle of this struggle, a conflict that gets heated with every obstacle that gets thrown in the way of their mission.
What about the action?
The second act involves double crosses by native drivers, a grueling march through wilderness, infiltrating a cave system that's heavily guarded by terrorists and a snatch and grab that tests the physical endurance and psychological well-being of our heroes. It's a tense adventure, a pressure cooker that frays loyalties and plants paranoia.
The third act explodes into all sorts of fucked-up fun when the arrival of someone who may or may not be a rival bounty hunter, Saint Nick Howard, causes our heroes to finally team-up as a unit or all-out compete against each other. Will they put their warring ideologies aside to work together or will their mission end in tragic circumstances by their own hands?
There's a firefight on a treacherous mountain pass, a pretty awesome bridge battle with rocket launchers and derring-do, and a race through a mine field that's probably as suspenseful as anything in The Hurt Locker.
Just for fun, let's see how "Kashmir" measures up to Carson's 13 Qualities of a Great Script:
1)AN ORIGINAL AND EXCITING CONCEPT – I'm sure many of us have thought, man, why haven't they caught Osama bin Laden? Well, here's a concept that fantasizes about that question and runs with it, with pretty riveting results.
2)A MAIN CHARACTER WHO WANTS SOMETHING (AKA "A GOAL") – They want to capture Sayim and collect the fifty million dollar bounty. And everyone has a different reason for doing it.
3)A MAIN CHARACTER WE WANT TO ROOT FOR – Pierce is a family man who not only wants to protect his family, he wants to live a life where he can use his talent and feel valuable. We can all relate to that in some way, I think. Serra is an asshole, but he's a funny and likeable asshole who can dispatch the bad guys in impressive ways. Uri has a sad back story that makes us sympathize with this mysterious character.
4)GET TO YOUR STORY QUICKLY – Page 15. Our main story goal is capture Sayim. Every scene before that even hints at it in some way, letting us know what this is about. And on page 15 the characters start talking about it, even if they were thinking about it for 14 pages before that.
5)STAY UNDER 110 PAGES – Nope. This is 123. But this is epic storytelling, and I was never bored once by it. It was so suspenseful I didn't mind spending extra time absorbed with it. It's a page turner.
6)CONFLICT – Characters on a mission who disagree with each other. All the other characters in the script are either trying to kill them or steal their bounty. Yep. Loads.
7)OBSTACLES – I think this script explores everything that can go wrong when entering hostile territory to capture the world's most wanted man.
8)SURPRISE – Uri and Saint Nick Howard are characters that hide surprising secrets. Every fifteen pages has something that spins the plot in an interesting direction. The resolution is a big What If?
9)TICKING TIME BOMB – 7 Satellite Phone Numbers. 7 Days to find Sayim.
10)STAKES – Everyone's life is on the line. What starts out as about money becomes something else. Philosophies, ideologies and morality collide against each other. The personal stakes symbolize a bigger historical conflict.
11)HEART – Pierce wants something that's more than money, and he goes through hell to reach for it.
12)A GREAT ENDING – Sad, satisfying, thought-provoking. Doesn't feel false. It feels right, like this is the only way it could have ended. That's a good sign.
13)THE X-FACTOR – Look man, D.B. Weiss comes from the Iowa Writer's Workshop, a workshop that has produced 17 Pulitzer Prize winning writers and Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. Guy can writer. And it's not in that anorexic, breezy style that everyone else is so fond of. His language and voice is something that cannot be replicated. And the feel of this thing reminds me of something by John Milius or Walon Green. A script written with weight, machismo and command of the language.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] genius
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] genius
What I learned: The turn into the 3rd Act is something I think about a lot. Sure, this is usually a point where there's another twist in the story, but it's also a place where everything gets so bad for our heroes you wonder how the story can possibly resolve itself. Here, Serra and Pierce's arguments and motivations collide and lines are drawn and you think they're going to kill each other. And as they're fighting amongst themselves, the enemy capitalizes on the situation and tries to kill them. And the twist, or plot point here, is that another character crashes the party, someone revealing himself to be someone else. And although this character may save their lives, he's also compromising their goal because he wants to claim the bounty for himself. There are layers to the conflict. And worst of all, the terrorist they've captured escapes and then everyone gets separated. It's like the writer thought about everything that could possibly happen to the characters that they DON'T WANT TO HAPPEN. So, at this moment where the shit hits the fan, think of your character's worst fear involving their goal. Then hit them with that fear to see how they're going to hit back.