Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Screenplay Review - The Hitman's Bodyguard

The quality of screenplays this week is high. But the important question is, "Can The Hitman's Bodyguard bring us back to Manville?"

Genre: Action-Thriller
Premise: (from Black List) - The world’s best bodyguard must protect his arch nemesis, the world’s top assassin…so he can testify against a brutal dictator and save his wife.
About: Looks like the Austin Film Festival Screenplay Competition is becoming the place to get your script noticed. I remember a couple of years back it found the told-backwards tale, Shimmer Lake, one of my favorite scripts of that year. Today’s script, the newest Austin winner, was nabbed by Skydance Productions, the same company that did Mission Impossible: 4. Tom O’Connor, the writer, also wrote Fire with Fire, starring Josh Duhamel and Bruce Willis, which just wrapped. I heard they’re ordering reshoots though and adding more fire. The Hitman’s Bodyguard also finished on last year’s Black List, garnering 7 votes.
Writer: Tom O’Connor
Details: 118 pages – 2/7/11 draft (This is an early draft of the script. The situations, characters, and plot may change significantly by the time the film is released. This is not a definitive statement about the project, but rather an analysis of this unique draft as it pertains to the craft of screenwriting).

I definitely see Brad Pitt as Sean!

After Monday's screenplay sucked 43 percent of the testosterone out of my body, leaving me scouring Itunes for downloads of Ally McBeal, I knew I was gonna need a script to bring me back into balance. I'm not going to lie. It's been fun these last few days. I have a new appreciation for clothes shopping. Dishing gossip with friends is also a pastime I have severely undervalued. But at a certain point, you have to get back to reality. And for me, that meant Manville.

So take my hand fellow xy chromosoners. Follow me back to the other side. The grass may not be greener, but the credit card bills sure are lower.

Michael Bryce is what they call an executive protection agent. Which is a fancy way of saying he's a bodyguard who wears nice suits. Michael is a little anal, a little uptight. But that's because his job requires it. If you need to be protected from some of the most well-funded criminal organizations in the world, he's the guy you want to hire

On the other end of the spectrum is Irish bloke Sean Kiernan. Sean is one of, if not the, best assassin in the world. But right now, he's jailed in Europe. He's turned himself in in an attempt to save his wife, who's been jailed on bogus charges specifically so they could lure in Sean.

They tell Sean that if he testifies against his former boss, an Eastern European crime lord and one of the top terrorists in the world, that his wife will be set free. But in order for that to happen, they need to transfer Sean across the city to the courtroom, a task that’ll be near impossible with crime boss Alexander Demidov commandeering every thug in a 100 mile radius to make sure Sean is dead before he gets there. He’s already taken care of everyone else who can testify against him. Sean is the last name on the list.

True to his reputation, Sean’s van is attacked almost immediately. But while his entire police escort is massacred, Sean is able to get free and get guns. And when Sean has guns, it doesn't matter how many men you have. You lose. He's able to kill every last one of the thugs, but does get injured in the process. The lone Interpol agent who survives, a woman named Camelia, takes Sean to her apartment to dress the wound, and in the meantime, calls an old friend.

Michael Bryce.

When Sean and Michael see each other, the guns are up and the safeties are off. These two have been in just about every battle you can imagine between two people. They've nearly killed each other a dozen times. Now though, Camelia proposes her idea. They hire Michael to escort Sean to the courtroom. Of course both men balk at this idea, especially Sean, who’s never needed help in his life. But eventually he comes around, only because his wife’s freedom is his priority.

The rest of the movie is pretty much what you'd expect. The two go on the run together, encountering resistance from both Interpol and Demidov every step of the way. Yet they battle each other just as much as they battle everyone else. These alpha dogs can barely go five steps without insulting one another or bringing up some past event that they got the better of the other in. But they’ll have to keep their hatred in check if they’re going to make it to the finish line, because Demidov is dead set on a dead Sean.

If you're going to pair up two people who know each other, one of the most important things to do is give them some real history together. The more history you can create between the characters, the more conflict and drama you can mine for their present relationship.

I read this screenwriting article awhile back about how you should never bother with backstory. Audiences don’t care. All they care about is what’s happening right now. And to a large extent, that’s true. I read a lot of scripts where writers have their characters droning on about all these past events in their lives. And while it certainly adds more depth to the characters, it halts the CURRENT action of the story. So there’s a huge trade-off to including that depth.

I’ve found, however, that when the backstory has a DIRECT RESULT on the current story, it’s much more welcomed. So here, this relationship works so much better knowing how many dust-ups the two have had with each other. For example, the two keep arguing about this one job where Sean insists he killed one of Michael’s clients and Michael insists he did not. So not only do we get the backstory that adds depth to their relationship, but it fuels the conflict in their current dynamic, a key ingredient to the script being entertaining.

And the script was clever too. Whenever you write a movie about an expert in something, you have to give us scenes that convince us of that expertise. In other words, you can’t get away with someone saying, “That Michael, I heard he’s the best bodyguard in the world!” That isn’t good enough! WE need to SEE IT. You need to SHOW US.

So Hitman starts with Michael escorting a client into a car garage and asking him where his car is. His client points to a car across the way and Michael busts out his infrared vision and notices that there's a big red blob underneath the car. “Let’s take my car,” he says. “Why?” “Because they put a bomb on yours.” Once they get into Michael's car, Michael tells his client to put his head down. “Why?” “They put a bomb on my car, too.” And then BOOOOM! The car they’re in BLOWS UP. But when the dust settles, they're fine. The car is intact. Casually Michael proclaims, “Custom model.” He’d rigged the underside of his car to be bombproof. It was clever moments like this that really made the script stand out.

There are definitely some things you can pick apart though. Sean did take down 20 thugs without much of an effort when his van was attacked. So to think that he’d need a bodyguard, even with his injury…ehhh, is a bit of a stretch.

Then you have the villain, yet another Eastern European thug. These poor Third World Eastern European countries keep getting saddled with the villain roles. It’s getting cliché. Then there’s this iffy middle section of the screenplay where Sean all of a sudden decides he doesn't have enough evidence and they need to go to another city to get more. Why Demidov’s chief hitman needs more evidence is beyond me. And it turns out they don’t get the extra evidence anyway, confirming the pointlessness of the excursion.

So the script did have some blemishes but hardly enough to place an order for Proactiv. In the end, you don’t get scripts of this quality in this genre very often. So I’ll gladly take this one!

[ ] Wait for the rewrite
[ ] wasn’t for me
[xx] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: That car-bomb scene really taught me something. An easy way to make your character badass at his job is to have something done to him that would’ve tricked any other normal person, yet your character is ready for it. As soon as we see him outsmart the baddies on that car bomb, we know he’s a badass at his profession. And we love him as a result of it. And it isn’t hard to create this effect. Just have the bad guys do something really bad, and have our hero already prepared for it.