Writing On Spec

An award caliber procrastinator discovers a new and dangerous pursuit to keep him from actually writing another script. Why another Blog? I love to talk screenwriting. I love to talk story. I live in Richmond, VA. It's almost easier to get produced than find another screenwriter here. We are the anti-LA.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Shooter and Moral Obligations

Warning -- spoilers abound:

Went to see Shooter last night. I enjoyed it, but...

Now, it's important for me to preface my comments by saying:

1) I did read the book just over a month ago
2) I really do enjoy reading books and then watching the movies. I have enjoyed many adaptations and am fully aware of the problems with adaptation for the screen.

With those in mind, here's some of what I liked and didn't like. Normally, I'm not up for film reviews in a blog, but this one had some interesting differences.

First of all, the story was taken out of Vietnam and stuck pretty much in the present day Africa. Considering the hero's age if he was in Vietnam, this is understood. However, what they take out is the sniper that took out Donny and took Bob Lee out of the military. Again, while not a big deal at first glimpe, it's a strong motivating factor in Bob's involvement in the whole story.

Another area weakened was the Nick Memphis line. There were some real positives about the adaptation. They made him younger, a newcomer to the FBI and so some of what happened in the book was able to be translated easily without any backstory. His screwup when meeting Bob (losing his gun and car), his inability to put the case away (he's determined to fix his mistake) played well. The downside is that it's Nick who uncovers the whole homicidal incident out of country. The way the information is revealed and handled is pretty weak comparatively.

The "other" sniper because a combined character which I understand, but then it didn't make much sense for him to be around at all with the rest of the team. Previously, he was the psychologist and that's how they were able to select and read Bob. The other sniper was just a tool. I thought the use of the precision machinery detracted from the human capabilities of the story. I'm not sure why that was changed, there was no real reason to remove it.

Some things removed completely were the opening with the deer - Bob's decision to not kill anything again. Also, his return to get his dog's body. While the adventure with the dog was obviously entertaining, it wasn't necessary for the story. The deer incident, I feel, was a really strong character scene. I imagine there just wasn't a place for it in the story line after it was re-written. A shame.

For once, I applaud the removal of the love scene. In the book, you're able to see Bob recover and grow closer to Sarah. There was more time to see the relationship develop from the flowers, the conversations with Donny to the final recovery and consummation of their relationship. In the movie, there was just no time, so I was grateful for the cutaway. It just didn't feel right.

There are some small areas which, unfortunately, don't play as strongly on film. The bringing in of the mercenary team, for instance. The plan is there, but there was no time to see the plan as in the book. So you see the plan in action and the suspense is really taken away. In the book, you know what's going to happen, you just need to see how Bob is going to get out of it. In the book, you don't realize Bob knows it's a setup until 30 seconds before the fighting begins. Again, not a bad handling, one would just wish for more.

My only real complaint about the movie is the ending. Here I believe it's just my morals when it comes to putting things on the screen. In the book, Bob is a patriot. He serves his country as he is instructed and his country doesn't screw him over. He's retired honorably due to an injury. He has no issues with the military, other than he was removed when I'd imagine he still felt he could serve. He has a proud military family history also. Bob kills only when threatened or when ordered. In this story, he is the tainted hero. At the end, he is out to save Sarah from cruelty at the hands of the war criminals. These men, while military, are not from the same military Bob served.

In the movie, we have a military that, at least first glance, abandons it's servicemen (while this is a fact, it's not true to the story and didn't have to be changed). In addition, while the story remains mostly true, at the end the main two bad guys are still alive. It's Bob who then comes after them to clean-up the mess so they can't do it again. This would have fit in a movie like Death Wish or so many Bond or Arnold films; however, in this film, it goes against the character. In the book, the colonel is shot point blank while going for a weapon. It's a duel and he loses, along with his "dog" (Jack Payne). The Senator dies from an aneurysm when the whole story of the village is blown open. This is God punishing the wicked, not Bob.

Lastly, Sarah kills Payne point blank. Unable to defend himself. This is just plain murder, she was not at risk at all - pure revenge. The problem I have with this is that it's not her character to take this type of action. By the end of the story, they have both become murderers, criminals against society. Killing when not in self-defense. While he certainly deserved to die, he needed to die at Bob's hand, while still a threat to Sarah (as in the book).

While the movie is still entertaining, I feel this ending diminishes the power of the story as a whole and demeans the integrity of the two characters. These actions undermine, to a large degree, the moral of the story - that bad deeds are punished. Now, Bob and Sarah need to be brought to justice as they are just as bad as the outlaws who hunted them.

When it comes to taking human lives, there's a fine line between when it's justified and when it's not. In real life, people land on both sides of the issue, but in film we aren't really prone to the same issues as real life - we have the time to think our story through. Think of the stakes and how it affects out story and characters. Essentially, what kind of message are we sending to our viewers about the right to take a life?