Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Screenplay Review - The Envoy

Genre: Thriller
Premise: A diplomatic courier finds himself in possession of information way above his pay-grade. He will have to race across Europe and get to the U.S. Embassy in Munich if he has any hopes of surviving.
About: Warner Brothers bought this spec recently. Writer Lynn seems to love the thriller genre. To date he has written Adrenaline, Prisoner, and Deadbox. To my knowledge, this is the last draft written before it went into the studio, which is different from the draft floating around out there now.
Writer: Robert Archer Lynn
Details: (undated) 116 pages

Tom Hardy for Archer?

Ugh. Sorry it took me so long to get this up. Again, it's this meetings thing that's throwing me off. Boy do I miss the days where I could just chill out in a chair ALLLLL DAY without moving an inch. I found that, with a little bit of creativity, you could go weeks without ever leaving your place. They even deliver groceries to your house these days. Did you know that? Groceries and pizza come right to your doorstep? Sign me up!

Which is about as opposite a lifestyle as you can live to the characters in The Envoy. I'm not sure there's a single scene in Envoy where someone sits down. Everybody is moving ALL THE TIME. Even inanimate objects. The Envoy, in that sense, is sort of like getting caught in a tornado that's hell-bent on making it from one end of the state to the other in Olympic record time. That's probably the script's biggest strength AND its biggest weakness.

John Archer is a U.S. diplomatic courier. He delivers classified information from one country to the next for the United States. Problem is, John doesn't want to be a courier. Courier is for screenplays. He wants to be a CIA agent, a guy with a gun. A guy who actually does important things for his country. But poor Archer has been denied that job over a dozen times. In fact, the CIA even flies him to Langley so some low-level pencil pusher can tell him TO HIS FACE to stop gumming up their application system. He and his GED certificate are not welcome.

So Archer heads off to Europe to continue his lame courier job, which turns very un-lame when he comes across a courier load that is way above what he's used to carrying. All of a sudden, a lot of people want Archer dead. And they all converge on him at once. Archer's dream of doing something that matters has come true. But you start to look at dreams differently when bullets are flying over your head whenever you leave for work.

Eventually, Archer meets up with a mysterious special agent who specializes in damage control. Sort of like the government's version of The Wolf from Pulp Fiction. The two agree that the only way they're going to get out of this alive is to get to the U.S. Embassy in Germany. Which will not be easy, since seemingly every agent from every country in Europe has been ordered to turn them into wienerschnitzel.

Back at Langley, the CIA has turned their entire division into a command center to get Archer to Munich. It isn't entirely clear why, but you get the feeling that whatever information he's carrying is mucho-important-ay. Will Archer and his partner, Gant, get to Munich in time? Or will they be killed by the numerous assassins, helicopters, avalanches, and bullets continuously thrown at them? Jump on this bullet-train of a script to find out. But be prepared. This thing moves FAST.

The Envoy, at times, feels like it's stuck to the top of one of the cars Vin Diesel drives in his Fast And The Furious movies. It NEVER slows down and it NEVER lets up. This can be both a good thing and a bad thing.

The good is that it keeps the script moving. As someone already pointed out in the comments, the GSU is here. The goal is to get to the Embassy. The stakes are that whatever this information is, it's going to kill a lot of people, and the urgency is the ten million dudes chasing them and trying to kill them.

But man! There are times where I just wanted the script to slow down and breathe. A lot may be getting accomplished, but it's hard to see it with it all whizzing by so fast. The writing itself is great, but Lynn uses that staccato "just the facts ma'm" sentence structure that gets us across the page quickly, albeit without the requisite smooth-osity. So we get sentence fragments instead of nice flow-ey easy-to-read prose. And this took its toll on me. I just found myself repeatedly working to make sense of the paragraphs. But that's just me. Don't know how much that bothers other people.

From a story sense, The Envoy was fun, but lacked that one big twist or turn to really elevate it. It's important for these spy/espionage/thriller-type scripts to be clever. To have what you THINK is going on and then what's REALLY going on. I kind of felt like Envoy could've added a few more twists and turns to beef up the unpredictability factor. Then again, I felt the exact same way about Safe House, and people loved that script, so I'm not sure what that means.

I do like the courier subject matter though. If you're going to stand out with your espionage thriller, a great way to do so is to focus on a job that hasn't been explored in the genre before. Can't remember a movie focusing on a diplomatic courier, so that brought some freshness to the world. I also liked how Lynn gave Archer a dream - to become a CIA agent. It solidified his motivation for getting this package to the embassy. You believed he'd do anything to get this job, so it made sense he was going to the ends of the earth to deliver the package.

I just can't endorse this to "worth the read" status though. If it had some more twists and turns, some more unexpected things happening, and a more organic softer writing style to pull me in, I think I would've liked it more. However, it's important to remember that I'm not the biggest endorser of this genre, so I'm sure my personal taste got in the way. I will admit that this thing flew, and offers audience more of the same, but with the slightly different twist (via the job). Will be interesting to see what you guys think.

[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn't for me.
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: Be careful with the fragmented-sentences writing approach (i.e. Instead of saying "He checks out the light in the backyard," a fragmented sentence approach would look like: "Back Yard. Peeks out. Looks for light."). It does speed the script along and is complimentary to the thriller genre, but if everything in the script is a fragmented sentence, it can be a little disorienting and inorganic to the reader. I like this approach in moderation. Just not applied across the entire script.