Review of: Private Eye 

reviewed by Rfordyce on 03/05/2012
Credited Review
Rfordyce
Solid sleuthing Credited Review
‘Private Eye’ is part of a long-lived cinema genre; the moody, whisky-swilling sleuth who skirts uneasily around the edges of a fragmented society, inevitably becoming tangled up in the passions and deviances of those who hire his services.

Joe Quinn is no exception, and you’ve done a great job here in filling out the portrait of a man who has a lot of love to give, but is constantly fighting his own inclinations towards violence and excess. I like the way that you slowly build our understanding of his character. Indeed all the main players are memorable; Elizabeth’s voyage between normality and mental instability; Morgan’s suave cruelty and manipulation; Red as the loyal sidekick. Your characterisations, together with the dialogue, are I reckon the main strengths of this script. The speech fits naturally in each character’s mouth. I especially like the urbane cadences of Morgan (he just had to be a Brit, didn’t he? – but I don’t hold it against you)!

The gradual peeling away of the layers of the story is also nicely done. More than a few echoes of ‘Chinatown’. I like the way we begin with a peripheral character, Willard (good opening scenes); and in fact Elizabeth doesn’t appear onscreen until page 27. You’ll probably get slammed for that by other reviewers, but it works for me. Up to that point, there’s more than enough to hold our interest.

There’s no doubt about the strength of your writing, and I certainly enjoyed the read. It held my interest right to the end. But I think there are some issues to be addressed. Please feel free to disagree (you probably will!) And please don’t take these to heart; your skills are more than enough to cope with all of them.

The story itself I think leaves some important questions unanswered – perhaps deliberately, but I’m not a big fan of unanswered questions unless they’re organic to the script. It’s never made clear exactly what Morgan’s interest in Samantha is. Presumably it’s either sexual or sadistic or both. But when we finally get to see her, there are no signs of physical abuse. She’s certainly portrayed as being in a state of fear, but it’s not clear what she’s been subjected to. Indeed she seems quite feisty considering she’s been under lock and key for two months. And I don’t understand the ending. It appears that Elizabeth hasn’t finished playing her double-dealing games, but what exactly is she up to? Is she trying to bring Stacey under her perverted spell? And if so, to what purpose, given that Morgan is no longer around to play with her in this great game of deception and abuse?

I’m not sure that you’ve got things quite right for your protagonist. You follow a well-worn trail in his brawls with strangers who just all happen to be unsavoury characters – the man in the elevator, the pimp, the morgue attendant. This runs the risk of appearing clichéd. Personally I think you’d make the point more effectively through just one of these – the pimp, probably. Joe’s penchant for violence is one thing, which in itself is almost obligatory in our modern-day Hollywood hero. But more importantly, Joe shows himself to be a thoroughly unpleasant character when he kills Willard in a needless frenzy of anger. Not only that, but he then uses some of the money he’s stolen from Willard (that’s what we infer) to pay Harry. At this point you cross a line where the audience loses sympathy for him. Maybe that’s your intention, but I don’t believe so, since you continually focus on his desire to win back his daughter. That leaves you with a bit of a problem, in that your story is likely to be seen merely as a vehicle for gratuitous violence.

Joe’s relationship with Stacey also needs some work, I think. I like the angle that Stacey is just a voice on the phone to begin with. It reflects what Joe’s role as a parent has been in her life. But she’s such an important part of his make-up that I think your story loses by not bringing her onscreen; we need at least to meet her in the flesh and underline how important she is to Joe. Your premise that she believes that her father never wanted to ‘fight for her’ doesn’t quite square with the opening scenes, where we discover that Joe is running a legal custody battle for her. And I’m really not convinced that Stacey would just pack her bags and abscond from her mother to run back to her father – at the whim of a total stranger on the phone who claims to be his girlfriend. Especially as we’ve just heard her telling Joe to take a hike. It doesn’t add up.

The last point I’d like to make is that you rely rather heavily on Red to be the agent for moving the story forward. Much of Act 2 seems to consist of Red reporting on his investigations to Joe, who then gets into a fight, has another briefing from Red, gets into another fight, has another briefing from Red, and so on… I know it’s difficult to come up with variations on a theme but I suppose that’s the challenge we all struggle with.

Other reading notes:

1 (she just looks at him; he gestures toward the beach).
Quite frequent use of parentheses which should really be separate action lines. I do this quite a bit myself, mainly to avoid eating up page space, but if it’s more than five or six words it should really have a line of its own. Also you tend to use ‘beat’ quite a lot. It becomes a bit jaded.

35 You're old girlfriend seems to think so. Do you mean ‘his old girlfriend’?

75 Joe’s assault on Tony’s car and his effortless conquest over four hoodlum guys is a little too far-fetched for me!

77 I’m not sure what the backstory about Elizabeth’s sister being an identical twin brings to the story. Is it supposed to have some Freudian bearing on her mental state?

88 He decides to use the severed arm as a weapon. Now this is veering towards unintentional comedy!! Unless of course that’s what you intend… but it doesn’t fit the tone of the script.

Typos, punctuation and boring stuff:

1 You sure your friend won't mind?
2 Ripped a guy’s face off in a fight.
14 You think you're helping her out?
17 … in Willard’s face.
17 Willard's hand finds a glass…
19 No Samanthas, no Grimes.
22 Joe drops a thick envelope…
23 I believe her name's Elizabeth.
23 …her agent’s number…
24 You’re so full of yourself.
24 This is you, isn't it?
33 …seems to waver a bit…
34 The buzzer rings, round’s over…
34 …a dozen speeding tickets. Big ones.
35 A mansion off Mulholland…
35 Your old girlfriend seems to think so.
47 I see what you’re doing here…
48 And is that champagne she's holding, a minor?
49 …no dirt, no scandals…
53 Unsportsmanlike conduct…
59 The knuckles of her hands go pure white…
67 Why the devil should I care what those two do together?
76 What do you know about the girl?
83 …then, Stacy answers-- Suddenly you’re spelling her name without an ‘e’.
88 doesn't want to let go of its grip on his wrist.
88 Joe arrives at the main entry; it is huge…
91 That's where we always went to hide.
91 …don't you, Elizabeth?
93 Morgan takes out a cigarette; lights up.
97 WHY DID HE PUT YOU IN HERE? WHO ARE YOU???
WHAT DO YOU WANT???

That’s all from me, Chris. Hope it helps. As I say, with a few focused chunks of re-writing I reckon this could be a really solid script. Good luck with it.

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