Today’s script comes from writer Brad Ingelsby. His other work to make it to theaters is Out of the Furnace. This is the first script of his I’ve read. My draft is dated 1/3/12. Based on the IMDb plot summary, I hazard that [at least] the structure of the story remained the same through the development process.
I really did not like this script. The dissonance between my feelings for this script [it FEELS like its horrible] and my memory of the writing on the pages [it’s READS like it’s borderline above average] made me want to discover what caused this disconnect. As I read through my notes in preparation for the review, I found that the overwhelming majority of the negative things I noticed, concerned exposition. I could tell that the number one reason I didn’t like Run All Night is because it does a poor job handling this component of our process. However, this script [which I believe I am correct in labeling “bad”] led me to some new ideas about exposition. For that reason, I will spend this review talking only about that topic.
There are three backstories we need to know about for this script to function:
1. Jimmy’s feelings about being a hitman.
2. Jimmy’s relationship with his mobster boss Sean.
3. Jimmy’s relationship with his son Mike.
How do we learn about Jimmy’s guilt over being a hitman? The author gives us a dream sequence. From page 2:
And now he sees Jimmy and he knows Jimmy and he knows what
he’s come here for and he’s really fucking scared and:
Jimmy, J-Jimmy please, no —
Jimmy RAISES the pistol:
But, Jimmy, I-I’ve been good — I’ve
been so good, Jimmy — I’ve —
BLAM! Jimmy FIRES! Right between the eyes. Billy COLLAPSES to
the floor of the tub like he doesn’t have bones. But
strangely he doesn’t die. Instead, he feels at the hole
between his eyes and the river of blood racing down his face
and he begins to LAUGH.
I’ve gone on at great length about how newspapers, google, and breaking news alerts, are momentum killing pits of exposition, but I’ve never talked about dream sequences. Run All Night convinced me that alternate reality dreams characters have about themselves, are as much of an expositional cheat as breaking news alerts. Because of this script, I now see the dream sequence as a trope… and a tired one. It is as bad as the delusions of maggots trope which always indicates a character’s impending mental breakdown.
A huge clue that this dream is in here AS EXPOSITION is that it literally opens the script. Our author needs to let us know two things very fast. First, that Jimmy is a former hitman. Second, he needs us to know that Jimmy is troubled by his career choice. So, the author writes a quick alternate reality scene in which a man that Jimmy killed laughs at Jimmy while Jimmy shoots him in the head.
The dream sequence is followed up in the very next scene with this:
Jimmy wakes with a start. Breathless and flush. He takes a
moment to let his nightmare ebb away and then sits up in the
booth and reaches for a box of Marlboros. Lights one and
sucks in a long, soothing drag. There, that’s better.
And now we are aware of most of what we need to know about Jimmy to understand his story. Unfortunately, the knowledge wasn’t earned by the author.
As much as I think pronouncements are usually worthless, I’m sure this new one I’m about to give has value:
Avoid alternate reality dream sequences. Almost always, they will be expositional cheats.
The second thing we need to know about Jimmy are the terms of his relationship with his “boss”. In opposition to point one, I believe the script succeeds in getting these terms into the story fairly well. From pages 4-5:
Jimmy KNOCKS. Startled, Colin looks up:
Jesus Christ! Can I get one fuckin’
moment to myself? Whaddayou want?
I talked to your dad this mornin’. The
furnace blew over at my place. Told me
to see you about a loan.
A loan or a handout?
Colin shakes his head in disgust, pulls out a roll of cash.
You’re like a fuckin’ annuity, you
know that? Why my old man keeps you
around, I got no idea.
Maybe it’s got summin’ to do with us
bein’ friends goin’ on fifty years.
That type’a shit matters to some
Anyone can put up with you that long
oughta be canonized.
Uh, ‘bout eight hundred.
I don’t know what the fuck ‘about
eight hundred’ means. Gimme a number.
Colin offers Jimmy the cash. When Jimmy reaches for it, Colin
pulls it back… reconsidering… a smirk curling…
Actually I’m gonna make you earn this.
He points to a SANTA CLAUS COSTUME hanging on a closet door.
McCauley’s fat ass cancelled on me.
No. Fuck that. I gotta get home.
(pulls the cash away)
Fair enough. Get home and freeze your
Off Jimmy, looking at the suit, then the cash…
This passage, like the dream sequence, is caked in exposition. We learn how long Jimmy and Sean have been friends. We learn that Sean looks after Jimmy because of this long friendship. We also learn that Colin [Sean’s son] doesn’t share his father’s warm feelings toward Jimmy. The difference is that these lines feel real. These are the things the men in this situation would say to each other. The specific line about Jimmy and Sean being friends for “goin’ on fifty years” is inauthentic; it’s there just for the audience but, overall, this is a quality scene in which exposition is delivered without feeling like exposition.
The key element here is that the scene is set up by natural context. Jimmy needs 800 dollars to fix his furnace. Sean is the only person he knows who can, and will, give him the money. [The scene would be perfect, by the way, if there were a story-based reason for why Sean makes Jimmy go to Colin to get the money.]
Today’s author really struggles to get us into point three of his backstory setup. We need to know about Jimmy’s relationship with his son Mike. The first attempt at explication comes on page 15:
What’re you workin’ on?
It’s for the baby. Show him what our
lives were like before he came along.
Mike looks at the collage entitled ‘US BEFORE YOU’.
HIS POV: A picture of him and Sarah at a high school prom.
Another of him, Catelyn and Lily dressed up for Halloween.
And mixed in is a photo of MIKE AS A YOUNG BOY. His First
Holy Communion. Standing beside him is his father, JIMMY.
Sarah follows his gaze to the photo.
I can take it out.
No. We’ll just go like this.
He fits in another picture so it covers Jimmy completely.
There. Now I won’t have to see him for
another five years.
I think it’s pretty clear how this scene is just a variation on the “breaking news alert trope” I dislike so much. The author realizes he’s on page 15 and he hasn’t told us ANYTHING about the strained nature of Mike and Jimmy’s relationship. So he invents a situation which strains credulity. It’s possible that Sarah would make a collage for an unborn child, but not exactly standard operating procedure. Of course, the whole situation really exists solely so that Mike can blot Jimmy’s picture out. In half a page, the author has now told us everything we need to know about Jimmy and his father. When circumstances throw them together in another ten pages, we have the backstory tools necessary to understand their conflict.
This gives us the information we need, but the author hasn’t earned our knowledge. Once again [just like the dream sequence on 2] the placement in the script confirms my criticism. The author knows he has to get us this information or his story isn’t going to work. He reaches into the firmament of his story and decides that it’s not IMPOSSIBLE that a pregnant mother would make a collage for her unborn child. It’s also not impossible that she would paste a picture of Jimmy into this collage—even though she knows Mike can’t stand Jimmy and doesn’t acknowledge him as a father or grandfather.
In other words, the author has cheated again by playing games with possibility.
Today’s author created a complex story that requires three threads of backstory to make sense. He set himself a particularly intense challenge by selecting an idea with that degree of difficulty. The author chose wisely by introducing all three backstory components by page fifteen. I even agree with the order he chose for introducing them. First tell us our hitman is depressed, then tell us about the ironclad friendship between him and his mobster boss, before letting us in on his failure as a father… I just think the expositional cheats used to give us most of the information we need are symptomatic of a globally inferior screenplay.
Rating: Not Worth Your Time.