Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Screenplay Review - The Driver (Guest Review)

Is recent screenplay sale "The Driver" the driving movie that confused "Drive" moviegoers were desperately expecting?

So my book is finished. The problem is, editing takes a lot longer when you’re dealing with a book than when you’re dealing with a script! But we’re still on target for a late March release. I was going to make it April 1st, but I figured I’d be opening myself up to WAAAAY too many jokes, heh heh. And since I’m planning for this book to be the most helpful screenwriting book ever written, I couldn’t risk that. So late March it is! For those wondering about Twit-Pitch, we’re still working on it, but I’m thinking it could happen within the next 2-3 weeks. So finish those scripts! In the meantime, because this stuff is keeping me busy, the Tuesday guest reviews will continue. Today we have Aussie Gary Murphy taking a crack at a recent spec sale, The Driver. Enjoy!

Genre: Mystery/Thriller
Premise: David Weaver is on his way to work when he finds a stranger tied up in the trunk of his car, along with a bomb and a cellphone. What started out as a simple commute to the office ends up as a fight to save his own life and that of his family.
About: This script was picked up in December by Voltage films (The Hurt Locker) and according to IMDB is in pre-production. Spenser Cohen, one of the writers, is slated to direct what appears to be his first feature.
Writers: Zach Luna and Spenser Cohen
Details: This review is based on the July 2011 draft.  Since it was written I have read a later draft dated January 2012.  Very little has changed in that draft other than changing city locations.

The last script I read was Origin Of A Species, a script where absolutely nothing happens for 50 pages, so it was fairly weird to then pick up a script where the action does not stop - I mean literally it does not stop - for a single beat. I honestly cannot remember the last script I read that never had a single moment to pause, especially like this one where the lead character is in every single scene.

I decided to read The Driver because I knew absolutely nothing about it, not even a log-line. Not knowing what the script is about is a rare enough treat that I thought I would give it a go and see where it took me. For an idea of where it did take me, if you imagine a mash-up between ‘Phone Booth’ and ‘Collateral’, with a little bit of Reservoir Dogs and The Usual Suspects thrown in, then you would not be far off.

It begins with our hero, David Weaver, a guy about to give the most important presentation of his career and desperate to get to work on time. We first meet him at breakfast with wife, Samantha, and two young daughters. He drops his kids off at school and then continues on his way to work. But on the way he hears a strange noise coming from his trunk. When he pulls over and opens the trunk, he is slightly surprised to find a guy tied up in there. Not just a guy though, because attached to his jacket is a cellphone. Mega-confusion. And not just from David either. The guy in the trunk seems just as confused.

The phone rings and a “Woman’s voice” informs David that he is not just carrying an extra passenger but also a rather large bomb - David checks it out , he sees wires and stuff - its true! - this is getting serious.

David’s told he has thirty minutes to drive to an address and wait for further instructions. No police, no funny business, or the bomb will detonate and kill them both. David’s obviously seen these kinds of films before because he doesn’t need to be told twice.

Anyway, after an eventful drive that includes the obligatory traffic cop stop scene (which sees David get a ticket for running a red light) he finally makes it to his first destination. As soon as he pulls over, a guy dressed in a suit (called “Suit”) climbs into the back of the car and gives David the next address. He too has a phone and appears to be getting his instructions by text message.

We then have another drive across L.A. with some brief chitter chatter as more of the mystery unfolds before us. Next they pick up a Russian guy (called “Russian”) followed by another drive across L.A. and the pick-up of a guy named “Duffle Bag” (I’ll let you guess what he’s carrying).

None of these guys seem to know each other, and although little is actually said, it’s clear that they are all like David, following instructions on their cellphones. What follows is a script full of twists and turns and while the direction it takes is not always a huge surprise, it is fresh and different enough to be an enjoyable and quick read.

I loved both Phone Booth and Collateral.  I remember both times I read the scripts before I saw the films and thought both were among the best scripts I’d ever read. Mainly because they were exactly what I have been trying to come up with myself - a simple edge-of-your-seat thriller with limited characters and locations.

From a screenwriting point of view, while the script has its faults, it has an awful lot going for it as well. A stand out and something I know is close to Carson’s heart is that every scene had a sense of urgency - literally the clock was always ticking, to the point where it was impossible to put the script down. Something was always happening.

Also, 90% of this script takes place in a single location, David’s car, and it meant that the writers really had to nail the characters. I think they did a pretty decent job of it. We got a fairly good understanding of David, who has a crappy job and obviously cares a lot about his family. The Driver never pretends to be a character study, but enough time is put into the characters to keep us involved.

What I really loved, though, was the three supporting characters, I thought they were brilliantly written and really made the difference between an average script and one worth the read. All three stood out as completely different, so much so that their very character traits were the source for much of the drama.

I loved how they were named, and it certainly goes back to last week’s script, ‘Run all Night,’ where one of my issues (and I know many others too) was keeping track of who was who. While there was nowhere near the number of characters here, it was still a stroke of genius to not give them real names. I guess this only works when your characters don’t have real names in the dialogue, so it’s not very often you’d get to do it, but here it worked brilliantly and I think really played a part in how easily and naturally the action kept flowing.

I did notice one potential plot hole in The Driver, and something that bugged me a bit. What would have happened had David been playing music in the car and not heard the banging in the trunk? Surely he would have just driven to work? That did confuse me and I thought the final twist explained it, but looking back again, I’m not sure that it does.

Anyway, questions aside, this was a very good script which I enjoyed reading.

[ ] Wait for the rewrite
[ ] wasn’t for me
[xx] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: If your characters don’t need names then don’t give them names. Calling them something that alludes to a key character trait or physical feature makes so much more sense. This script has a good flow and stopping to remember which one was “Anthony” only serves to pull me out of the script.