Tuesday, May 26, 2009


Genre: Thriller
Premise: A father takes a man he beleives is his daughter's abductor for a little ride.
About: Snatched is a 2008 Nicholl winner.
Writer: Lee Patterson

I’ve covered a lot of scripts here on Scriptshadow. I’ve given you million dollar sales. I’ve given you Black List scripts. I’ve given you adaptations and reviews where I haven't even read the script (click here for reference). But one script I haven’t given you is a Nicholl winner. For writers millions of miles away from Hollywood, winning a screenplay competition is their best bet at getting noticed. So I thought I’d show you exactly what a Nicholl-winning script looks like. Here is my review of Snatched.

You know Snatched has it going on after only a few pages. We learn that a young girl has gone missing. Her grade school teacher, Lewis, is devastated, as is everyone in the community. They all fear the worst. At the end of the school day a mysterious man, Jack, introduces himself to Lewis. Jack is the father of the missing girl and he’d simply like to talk to Lewis for a few minutes. For 15 pages, the two walk through the school, through Lewis’s classroom, vaguely discussing their personal ways of dealing with this horrible tragedy. But the genius of this scene is that everything that’s being said is secondary to everything that’s not being said.

Remember the scene in The Fugitive when Ford starts to realize that the cops aren’t asking him what he knows? They're accusing him of killing his wife. Lewis realizes that there's something similar going on here. So he makes up an excuse for having to leave early and ends the meeting with Jack. But when Lewis gets to his car, his tire is mysteriously flat. How convenient it is then, that he's offered a ride by the passing Jack? Of course Lewis is hesitant, but Jack gives him a poor sob story that makes Lewis question whether he misread their earlier conversation. So he gets in the car. And Snatched begins.

We find out that Jack's done his own investigation and he already knows who the kidnapper is. But there are still a lot of unanswered questions. Is Lewis, the most mild-mannered teacher in the history of grade school, the kidnapper? And if he is, is Jack's daughter still alive? Can she be saved? It's a smart decision by Patterson because it keeps Jack from wasting Lewis right then and there. Whether Lewis is the kidnapper/killer or not, he knows that that question is the only thing keeping him alive.

We've seen these vigalante justice scripts before. The damn things are becoming their own genre for Christ's sake. But this one gets it right. If you enjoyed Prisoners (sadly, no longer in my Top 25), I can pretty much guarantee you'll like Snatched.

There are a few areas I took issue with. There's a scene where Lewis gets away and Jack must drive through a mall parking lot to find him in a high stakes game of hide-and-seek. I understand that in theory this might work. But you ask the audience to make a huge leap of faith when your “protagonist” gets into a heavily populated area and your “bad guy” throws all logical thinking out the window and chases him anyway. Obviously, you gotta change things up when 80% of your script takes place in a car. But this was a moment where I thought, even a crazy person would’ve cut his losses and left.

The biggest issue I had with the script, however, was that in end, we’re subjected to the old tape recorder trick. The one where the good guy is secretly recording the killer’s confession and then proudly shows him that "AH-HA! I WAS RECORDING YOU ALL ALONG!" I’m actually kind of baffled that writers still use this as it’s literally been used 10 billion times - 9 billion of those on 90210 and Melrose Place. Then again, what do I know? The Inside Man, one of the biggest heist flicks of all time, and Michael Clayton, a movie that was nominated for an academy award, both used the “tape recorder trick”. Maybe it's me who's the dummy for not using it.

Both of these were minor issues compared to what was otherwise a solid script. I think you guys will like this one. Check it out.

[ ] trash
[ ] barely kept my interest
[ ] worth the read
[x] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: The power of subtext! Conversations are always more interesting when what people say and what they actually mean are two different things. The first fifteen pages of Snatched are a mastercourse in this technique. Pay attention to how the most innocent line can have a multitude of meanings when you realize that Jack is probing Lewis for information.