Posted by: Greg | February 21, 2010

Good vs. Evil and lots of Spoilers!

Warning: This post contains spoilers to movies! If you have not seen The Departed, Law Abiding Citizen, any Die Hard or Lethal Weapon films, Hot Fuzz, and any other action movie for the last twenty years stop reading this post and go watch some, mostly the first two since they pissed me off the most!

I’m a balance and equality type of guy when it comes to life. I think this is because I am a Libra and proud of it. Go Scales! This desire for balance is even more pronounced when I watch films. Besides looking to be entertained and taken from reality for 80-120+ minutes I want to have a balance when the credits roll. I want the good guy, or at least the protagonist, to succeed against the evil guy. (This does not hold true for The Usual Suspects, I wanted Verbal Kent / Keyser Souza to win.) Whatever evil befalls the hero throughout their journey this must strengthen and produce the opposite in terms of triumph. I’m not asking for a lot from the film.

Wait, yes I am…alright, fine! I want to see a happy ending. I want to see good triumph over evil. Sorry, I’m Dudley Fucking Do-Right.  But The Departed and Law Abiding Citizen left me without balance and a poor movie experience! And here’s why.

First on my list of no balance is The Departed.

Hey, folks this was a great film till there were ten minutes left! I was cool with Melvin Udall and President Bartlett dying. I kind of expected that. What I did not expect was the elevator door opening and BLAMMO there goes your lead character!!! Are you fucking serious?!? I just watched two hours of this guy mentally struggling to stay sane during his undercover work! I’m invested. Highly invested. This dude has gone through a ton and this is how the audience is left! Will Hunting should get an earful and some serious behind bars time for all the crap he did. I wanted to jump through the screen and throttle his neck for being so sleazy. But NO, we had to kill our hero right as he gets his man. Yessiree, we had to watch Frank Abignale Jr.’s brains redecorate an elevator car! If it weren’t for Charlie Croker and his long shlong weapon Jason Bourne would have gotten away.

There was no resolution for the hero. He never sees justice. If your going to write something like this follow it through and make sure the bad guy wins. Let Tom Ripley get away. Have him kill Dirk Diggler. Then we know that all persons with knowledge of his wrong doings are dead. Evil wins. Do it that way! I would have been happier with that ending. Sometimes I’m okay with the bad guys winning. Not really, but the movie built up to a coin flip of who will win anyway. My brain could handle the baddies winning.

That whole movie was ruined in the last ten minutes for me. My hero was killed and so was my balance. Kind of screwed with me for a week. Even though the evil sleazy Boston accented mofo died the hero did not do it. Sorry, this is a poor ending and poor resolution. Please, tell me I am not the only one that thinks this way?

Think back on Die Hard, can you imagine how you would feel about that movie if Hans shot John McClane in the last scene? Can you wrap your brain around the possibility that right before McClane reaches the gun taped on his back Hans shoots him after repeating the infamous line “Yippee-Ki-Yay-Motherfucker”? I could probably write a whole post about the wonderful balance in this film! McClane – Hans, Powell – Karl, and Argyle – Theo. Ah, the sweet sweet symmetry of it all.

Well, let’s look at one of my favorite action movies of all time a bit closer. (It really pains me to do this too, but I still rank it #1 for Xmas movies!) How about Lethal Weapon, what if Gary Busey beat the snot out of Mel Gibson? Oh, wait…he did.  Gibson’s character doesn’t get even with anyone. Then again his big problem is more internal and in that sense Gibson does balance out. He has someone new to love in Danny Glover’s family and is no longer a loner. He fights Gary Busey because they are both the Vietnam veteran bad asses of the movie. But it takes Glover and Gibson to kill him in the end. WTF? NOOOOOO. No, it should be Gibson and his smiley-face-making gun, a Beretta I believe.

Danny Glover does complete a balanced hero journey. His family is molested and in the line of fire the whole film. The head man of the drug running world tussles with the head man of the Murtaugh world. Chalk one up for Mr. Murtaugh.

See that’s how the hero’s journey should have ended and balanced. Head Drug man and Head family man fight…family man wins! Head Evil Badass and Head Good Badass fight…Good badass wins. Mano a Mano.

Here’s the another one where the balance fell apart and I am irate over the ending, Law Abiding Citizen.

I just saw this with my Dad about four hours ago and I am not thrilled with it. Basically Ray Charles and Phantom of the Opera duke it out. Cool. Who will win? The good guy or the other good guy?

I’m sorry did that confuse you? Yeah, screwed me up too!

The problem of the movie is two good guys duke it out. It really gets into the psychological aspects of morals and right versus wrong. Oh, and the law as well. Can’t forget about the law! Ugh. The only way for me to give this movie any semblance of balance is if I choose Law as the hero. Law starts out broken and flawed and ends up being redeemed in the end. But I would be stretching my movie watching reality meter too far!

So, the journey for Phantom is kill all people dealing with the death of his family, this includes lawyers, law clerks, and a judge. I’ll simplify it even more, the legal system itself is under attack by Phantom. Honestly, he does a great job. Overall, I was not impressed with all the killing. The actual guys that broke in and killed his family yes, they needed to die. But when it came to the law clerks that assisted in the decision from ten years earlier I lost respect for the Phantom’s troubles.

I’ll be upfront and honest about something. If anyone ever did anything to my family or friends I will go Keyser Souza on them, or what the Phantom did in the above movie. I liked Taken and Commando for a reason. (Taken was much better! Liam Neeson got my vote for Dad of the Year! Daddy got his little girl back.) Horrific evil visits those that attempt to harm family members. I tell you this in hopes of conveying the message that I would do lots of nasty evil things to make sure my family and friends are alive and well. Should anything less than alive and well occur to my family and friends, I’m creative and confident enough that my problem solving and balance oriented mind would find something. I’ll let that rattle around upstairs for a second while you ponder what I mean.

So, for Ray the journey is…stop the other guy. Yes, I wrote that. That was all Ray did in the film and he couldn’t even do that very well. He is really a do nothing character. He’s like Tom Cruise from A Few Good Men, early in the film Tom Cruise, not later. In the beginning Cruise is known more for plea-bargaining than actual trial work and when he’s pushed and realizes why he got the “Code Red” case he changes attitude and becomes a real lawyer.

In the movie Ray never got that. He never realized what he was doing was cheapening (Is that a word?)  the death of Phantom’s wife and daughter with a plea. As the decade went by he was still the same slick-ass-persian-style-manner of lawyer. (For those of you that get the reference you’re eyesight is crystal!!!) Basically it was him repeating this line through 90 minutes,”I don’t believe you can do it”. Um, after the first three…maybe four murders his tune should have changed. By the third murder I was quite positive that Phantom CAN and WOULD do everything he says he will do.

Nope, in the last twenty minutes his attitude changed after his two best buds died after saying the same thing to him, “Did we bring this upon ourselves?” Of course you did you moronic twits! And even at the end I am not sure that Ray really understood all that Phantom put him through. We have a dead Phantom and the same Ray…no, no, NO! There is no balance if the character is flat. Boring. Phantom did all these amazing things and Ray just kind of dealt with the punches as they flew all around him. Show some emotions and not just a blank stare Ray! Damnit, believe in something after the first few murders. Hell, believe in anything!

Ray reminded me of Scully from X-Files. Only thing is that whatever Scully didn’t believe in that episode happened in that episode. And guess what…she believed for the last fifteen minutes. And what do you know by the next episode she didn’t believe again!!! HELLO, you just saw an alien, a guy that can shot lightning from his body, and *fill in your own X-Files character here* and you still don’t believe!

For me, as an aspiring screenwriter, this is how the journey should have gone.

Phantom in the script should be like the Count of Monte Cristo. (My favorite book ever! The movie was okay.) He was wronged and spends the next decade working on his revenge. Figure out how involved people were with the legal decision and dish out revenge based on that. His final revenge should be a learning experience for Ray. If you see the movie you will understand how I came to my Count comparison. Dude, is a brainiac and very VERY methodical.

Ray should show some legal improvements from his early days to being the big dog in the D.A’s office. There should be improvements in his family life. And Hell should follow him constantly until he understands what law and being a lawyer for the people means. Give him a major character arc. There really needs to be an “Ah-Ha” moment for this guy something on the order of does he want to stay in the legal system and improve it from the inside or does he want to leave completely and start a new life somewhere else.

So, fellow screenwriters when you are working on that fantastic movie coming soon to a theater near us, make sure the hero’s goal is resolved. Make sure that the hero vanquishes all baddies that thwarted their chance to reach the goal in the first place. Make sure that which ever bad guy pushes the hardest gets pushed back just as hard. Remember your early Newtonian physics lessons the Third Law: For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.The bigger the setback or obstacle the bigger the reward for the hero.

Please, and I mean “Pretty, please with sugar on top” don’t get us invested in a hero and then kill them. Halfway through the film, maybe, and the rest of the film better explain why. But never in the last ten minutes! The only time this pays off for us, the audience, is when they die doing their job, like Kurt Russell in Backdraft. Or like Jake Gyllenhaal’s character from Donnie Darko, have the death mean something.

Give your script balance, you know, like The Force.

And I totally went there!!!

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Responses

  1. Hey buddy,
    I both agree and disagree. I think that a filmmaker has a right to mess with a viewer’s expectations. So times it works, sometimes it doesn’t. I don’t think The Departed needed a Damon/DeCaprio confrontation because there were so many threads there from so many different characters. That being said, it still felt like a sloppy film from a director, I think of as anything but sloppy. Didn’t see Law Abiding Citizen, because it looked like a crap movie. However, I have no problem when a story gives the villain a noble cause. In fact, it’s the reason I adore Lex Luthor when he’s written well. However, you need to give the protagonist a good reason to oppose him and hopefully challenge his own opposition at the same time. I love internal conflict in a hero. But LAC just sounds like a half-assed attempt to do so. I like both Die Hard and Lethal Weapon, but they are the type of movie that needs that final confrontation, but not all films do. Waterworld needed and didn’t and the Matrix had too many. It’s very subjective, in my opinion.


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