Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Red Circle

Genre: Crime Thriller
Premise: After being double-crossed during a bank heist, a safe-cracker teams up with the hitman hired to kill him to take down the double-crosser.
About: Knight is one of the top-dollar assignment dogs in Hollywood. I don’t know what his fee is but I’m pretty sure it’s close to a million bucks an assignment? Maybe more? Someone want to confirm or deny this? Before Knight hit the big-time, he, well, hit the big time, being one of the co-creators of the original British version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. After writing Dirty Pretty Things and Eastern Promises, he became one of the more sought after screenwriters for weightier fare. He’s claimed that he wants to write screenplays for another year or two and then go write novels. Of course, when they’re UPS’ing you bags of money, that decision becomes considerably harder. The Red Circle is an adaptation for a remake of a French thriller.
Writer: Steven Knight
Details: 106 pages – 2nd Polish – Feb 6 2009 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).

As you may have noticed, Steven Knight is the writer of my second favorite unproduced script, Untitled Chef Project, which I’m begging someone to get off their ass and make. But Knight is also in charge of Pawn Sacrifice, which I found decidedly underwhelming (it was too straightforward for me). So I was more than happy to take a look at a third Knight script to see where my loyalties lie with the man.

It’s Hong Kong, and brothers (friends?) Sean and Corey are on the eve of a huge job. All they have to do is sneak into a lightly guarded building, crack a safe, and walk away with a ton of dough. Everything goes according to plan until they get back to their car, where they pop the trunk to find peculiar sociopath and hitman Vogel waiting for them. We’ll find out later that the nasty crime boss Santi, who’s friends with Corey, hired Vogel to double-cross them.

But this double-cross is about to get triple….crossed? Two Hong Kong cops, the stylish and confident Mai and her by-the-books partner Junji, spot our trio in the alley and decide to enter the equation. A wild three-way shootout follows, and when it’s all said and done, Mai and Sean are dead.

Five years later Corey gets out of jail and wants only one thing - to kill Santi. But before he does that, he’s going to steal all his money (actually, I guess that's two things). That won’t be easy so he’ll need help. And who better to help than the man who got the jump on him and the cop who lost his partner. So Corey goes back and recruits Vogel, who signs on for a 25 million dollar payday, and Junjie, whose alcoholism has become worse than a bad David Hasslehoff home video.

During the workup to the heist (and murder), Corey reconnects with his lover, An. Suddenly, a more complicated picture materializes. We realize that An is married to Santi, who found out about her and Corey’s affair, and THAT’S why he double-crossed him. With Santi and An being around each other all the time, Corey institutes a stipulation that they can’t hurt her in the raid, which angers Vogel, who thought Corey was doing this for the revenge. But now it’s clear he’s doing it for love.

To make things even more complicated, Officer Mattei, who took Junji’s spot on the force after that fateful night, is looking to make a big move to expedite his career. He wants to take down Santi as well as Corey and Vogel, all in one fell swoop. So he befriends Junji to give him eyes and ears into the operation, with plans on being there when the shit goes down.

In the end, Corey will need to decide what’s most important. The revenge? The money? Or the love?

You know what Red Circle reminded me of? It reminded me of a Hong Kong version of The Town. Like that film, it creates some exciting multiple character relationships at the center of the story, and like that film, it doesn’t quite come together at the end. The ultimate difference is, though, that it’s not as good of a script. Red Circle has so much double-crossing and such an intricately woven set of storylines that you’re not always sure what’s going on, or if it all makes sense.

Still, there’s a lot to like here. First of all, I love stories where two people who don’t trust each other are forced to work together. I understand it’s cliché, but it’s also one of those things where if you set it up right (so that we believe in the pairing), your script will be dripping with conflict from start to finish. Which is important. Because lack of conflict is where a lot of scripts falter. They’ll have too many pages where there isn’t anything going on underneath the surface. This solves that issue definitively.

As for the characters, I wouldn’t say they were perfectly drawn, but they were all pretty interesting. Corey’s motivation was strong, with both the loss of his friend and the love for Santi’s wife. Vogel was a little over the top at times (playing PSP in the trunk while he waited to execute his hit?) but his weirdness and sociopathic behavior kept him interesting. And while Junji was the weakest of the bunch, I thought making him a drunk who mourned the loss of his partner and having his loyalties tugged at by the police force he left, gave him plenty to work with.

I thought the Hong Kong setting was fresh as well. This would’ve felt too generic, for example, if it had been set in LA. And there were a handful of scenes that really stuck out. My favorite was the pet shop scene and the throwing of the snake. Added an interesting wrinkle that’s a lot more fun than two dudes pointing guns at each other.

I did want to bring something up about Red Circle though, and I want the opinion of the advanced writers out there, as it’s my understanding that after you figure out structure, after you figure out character, after you figure out theme, that a lot of writers become orgasmically obsessed with visual motifs.

I’ll never forget the interview with the writer of Spielberg’s TV mini-series “Into The West.” The writer explained that the reason he got the job was because he pitched this idea about the WHEEL as a visual motif throughout the series. That we would constantly see images that evoked the image of a wheel moving. And as soon as Spielberg heard that, he gave him the job. And I remember thinking at the time, “What a dumb reason to give a writer a job.” And still today, I think, “What a dumb reason to give a writer a job.” I guess I’m not sold on why something like this would matter.

I bring it up because in The Red Circle, we’re constantly seeing red circles in the script. A red stop light. The red blood outline of a bullet hole. A red bullseye. Whatever. That seems to be a big visual motif in the script. And I don’t know. To me it just screams “on the nose.” Like, “It’s called The Red Circle and now we’re actually seeing ALL THESE RED CIRCLES! Cooooooool.” Does anybody else feel like this is too obvious?

Anyway, I thought The Red Circle was a pretty good script that went about things just differently enough to make it fresh. The reason I didn’t rate it higher is because there’s something murky about it, sort of the way you only remember certain aspects about a dream . If this could be jammed into a pencil sharpener until it’s sharp as a tac, it could be awesome. As long as you don’t then prick yourself and create…another red circle.

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

What I learned: Here’s a great technical tip. When your characters speak in another language, instead of wasting a whole parenthetical saying, “in Spanish,” whenever they speak, just note in the description that they’re speaking Spanish and from that point on, put parenthesis around their dialogue. i.e. -- Joe: (We need to go find Hank). – Some writers will use italics to convey this as well, but either one is fine.