Friday, March 20, 2009

Breaking Irish

Genre: Drama
Synopsis: Goodfellas meets 21.
About: Don't know much about this one other than it's damn good writing.
Writer: Steven Feder

Behold......the passive hero. In screenwriting, to even mention the words "passive" and "hero" in the same sentence can get you blacklisted (and not in the good way). Development execs have been known to kill screenwriters who turn in screenplays with passive heroes. And yet here we are with Charlie, the hero of Breaking Irish, who's about as passive as they come. Somehow, it all works. What??? Blasphemy you say!!! That's impossible. All scripts with passive heroes suck. Yes. Usually that's true. But not here.

First of all, I should probably explain what a passive hero is. No, actually, let me explain what an active hero is. A well-known screenwriter once said, "a great hero is one where when he turns left, the movie turns left." In other words, he's driving the action. He's determining the outcome of the film. How is this achieved? It can be boiled down rather simply: Give your main character a clear goal and have him try to achieve it. By that very definition he has to be active (since he's *trying* to achieve it).

A passive or "reactive" hero reacts to everything around him. You usually find these in big conspiracy movies. Like Eagle Eye for instance, where someone's chasing our hero. Obviously, since he's being chased, he has to "react". How did I "react" when I saw that movie? I reacted by throwing my drink at the screen. See? That makes me a "reactive" hero.

How does this all relate to Breaking Irish? Well Charlie's grown up with a gift, a gift to "see" the odds. He's a number-cruncher with a photographic memory who can always find that one stat to sway the odds in his favor. Charlie wins at poker, he wins at horse races, he wins at blackjack, he wins on basketball games. 70% of any bet Charlie enters into, he wins. But Charlie is reluctant to use his talent for anything other than making it through the day. He's not interested in the cars and the bling. He just wants to get by, marry his sweetheart (AVERY) and have a normal life. Ahh, but if he had a normal life, we wouldn't have a movie now would we? Soooo... JACKIE, the local Italian mobster, discovers Charlie's talent, and ropes him into predicting games for him. Charlie decides to take the job to pay his and Avery's way through college. But when the money is no longer needed, getting out isn't as easy as Charlie thought it would be (is it ever?). Jackie has the Super Bowl of meal tickets and an endless appetite. He's not letting Charlie go anywhere.

As a result, Charlie's only "active"goal is giving the bets to Jackie and staying out of trouble. He's as passive as can be. Yet we still like him. Why? There are people out there who will tell you that your hero can be passive AS LONG AS at some point he becomes active. Even if it's within the last 20 minutes of the film (and Charlie does eventually become active). But I don't buy into this theory for this reason: You're saying that for 90 minutes (3/4 of the movie) we can hate our lazy ass hero, then the second he comes up with a plan, we forgive him and think he's the coolest cat on the block? Surely, if we're still invested in the screenplay at the 90 minute mark, we had to have already liked our main character, right? My opinion is that nobody knows why passive characters work (Forrest Gump being the most famous of them all) and so they try to justify them by throwing a bunch of screenwriting mumbo-jumbo at you. I personally believe that if a character is interesting, people will want to watch him no matter what. And Charli is interesting. Breaking Irish is a very well-constructed screenplay, and a great addition to your digital library, if only to study how to create a successful passive hero.

[ ] trash
[ ] barely readable
[ ] worth the read
[x] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned from Breaking Irish: The passive hero *can* work, but it's still very hard to pull off. I would recommend staying away from them if you can. But if you must, offer us someone that we like. An easy way to make people like your character is to have him be great at something. People like people who are good at things. I don't know why. They just do. It's probably for the same reasosn that we don't like people who aren't good at anything. Charlie is so awesome at betting, we can't help but root for him.