Thursday, June 18, 2009


Genre: Action/Heist (sort of)
Premise: A bank robber must go undercover to sell out his old partner.
About: For those of you with sharp memories, Herman wrote the impressive Rites of Men, which I reviewed a couple of weeks ago. Loved that script. But it was Conviction, his bank heist screenplay, that was his first sale. The second I finished Rites, I went searching for this one.
Writer: Johnathan Herman

It should be mentioned that no one actually wears a ski mask in Conviction

Herman is such a good writer that he almost saves this. Almost. But instead of a tight thriller in the vein of Rites Of Men, we get an unfocused bank heist film that doesn't quite know what it wants to be.

Patrick is the king of all bank robbers. He's got a special system down, one that doesn't even require a gun, which allows him to steal a good chunk of that Federal stimulus package all the banks seem to be hoarding. His partner in crime (literally) is "Bomb," a 20 year old kid who Patrick plucked from the ghetto when he was 15, and spent the following years mentoring and training to be the best bank robber without a gun evvvverrr. After a little make-up action, the two calmly walk into a bank, threaten one of the customer service reps using pictures and details of the their family, and get a special escort right into the vault.

But today's heist does not go well. That's because their over-caffeinated dimwitted driver freaks out at the site of a guard and blasts him to pieces. Retaliatory shots are fired, people start dying, and poor Patrick is hit bad enough that he's on the street lying in a pool of his own blood. Bomb tries to grab him but the sirens are in the distance and Patrick tells him to go. "Go!" Bomb's loyal to the end but he's not stupid. Taking his cue from GTA, he steps on the gas and leaves poor Patrick to the sharks.

Flash forward a few weeks and Patrick is in the hospital, then in court, then in jail. It's not all bad though. He's eligible for parole when he turns 110. Five years go by (in the form of a fadeout) and Special Agent Plant pays Patrick a visit. Apparently, Bomb's become a Heist superstar, the P. Diddy of robbing banks. He's perfected Patrick's methods and even added a few twists of his own. Intel says Bomb's gearing up for something big. 'Explosion' big. And there's only one man in the world who can stop him - the man who knows him best. Plant offers Patrick freedom if he'll go undercover and take down Bomb - his best friend. Duh-duh-duhhhhhhhhhh. There's nothing worse than selling out your BFF, but Patrick can't resist the opportunity to be with his baby girl again. He accepts.

I don't know about you but this all felt a little....B-Movie to me. Like something Ice-T or Common would play the lead in. The choices aren't bad. They're just uninspired. I have something called "The Straighten Up." It's when something happens in a script that's so cool or so interesting that I straighten up before I continue reading. An "impressive" usually gets at least 2 Straighten Ups. And a "worth the read" usually has 1. But I was slogged down in my couch for the entirety of Conviction. And that's too bad cause I was really looking forward to this.

Where are the problems? Well I knew the script was in trouble when I had to post a genre and I couldn't figure out what to put. Is it a drama? A thriller? An action film? A heist film? It could be any one of those, and yet at one point or another it's all of them. My biggest frustration was figuring out where Herman was going with all this. We get these weird flashbacks where Patrick first meets Bomb and we see him teaching him and helping him and they're just so...unnecessary. Even Herman seems to think they don't work cause he stops using them halfway through the script. And it's not like the great Lawrence Fishburne movie, Deep Cover, since Patrick really doesn't spend a lot of time "undercover" at all. We never really feel like we're inside Bomb's world. And maybe that's because it never was Bomb's world. It was Patrick's. So it's hard to believe that Bomb's the one now in control. /Sigh...

I love Herman as a writer but this one fell flat for me. It needed direction. It needed an identity. I'm hoping the rewrites accomplish this.

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

WHAT I LEARNED: Conviction was a good reminder to flesh out all your characters, even the supporting ones. Agent Plant is so obsessed with work, his private life is non-existent. He's forced to pay for hookers just to experience human interaction. Another one of the agents has a father with Alzheimer's, and we can see how much this weighs on her. These are bit players and although Herman doesn't spend too much time on them, he gives us just enough to show that they're real people. I've been discussing this with a lot of writers lately because it's an area that's easily overlooked. But in almost all of the professional screenplays I read, the characters from top to bottom are packed with depth. I don't think that's an accident.