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Understanding Screenwriting #99: The Bourne Legacy, Farewell, My Queen, Hope Springs, & More

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Understanding Screenwriting #99: <em>The Bourne Legacy</em>, <em>Farewell, My Queen</em>, <em>Hope Springs</em>, & More

Coming Up In This Column: The Bourne Legacy; Farewell, My Queen; Hope Springs; 2 Days in New York; Seven Men From Now, but first…

Fan Mail: David Ehrenstein and I agreed yet again, this time on Political Animals. Who’d a thunk it?

“Snarpo” thinks Fincher “directed the shit” out of Dragon Tatoo. He sees that as a good thing. I see that as a bad thing. He and I agree on The Newsroom, although he joins several critics who don’t like Olivia Munn’s acting. I think she’s got great deadpan comic chops, which people think means she unexpressive. She’s not, and she has crack comic timing.

“Areasonableperson” accuses me of setting up straw men in my comments on critics of The Newsroom, and he’s not entirely wrong. I was talking about the general reaction to the show. I am also surprised that, as he mentions, the critics have whacked the female characters. I think they are very well drawn, especially Mackenzie. She’s not perfect, but interesting. And Fonda’s Leona is terrific. In the season ender she had what I has asked for in the review, another great scene with Sam Waterston.

“eyesprocket” brought up an issue that others have before. He feels that this column is not helping him understand screenwriting. Part of the problem may be that he is used to the standard self-help approaches of the screenwriting gurus. I am coming more and more to the opinion that those gurus have helped trivialize our ideas of what screenwriting can be. I tend to go for much more complex and nuanced views of what screenwriting is all about. Here, for eyesprocket and others having problems getting what the column delivers, are some suggestions of stuff about screenwriting you can learn from this particular column. The item on The Bourne Legacy deals with Gilroy’s writing problem in creating a character to replace Bourne. The item on Farewell, My Queen discusses the characterization the writers use, plus the writing problem in the ending of the film. Hope Springs shows the difficulties of writing about therapy and focusing only on two characters. 2 Days in New York compares Delpy’s screenplay to her earlier one for 2 Days in Paris. And Seven Men From Now connects, sometimes in strange ways, with the other scripts Burt Kennedy wrote for Randolph Scott and Budd Boetticher. Read and understand.

The Bourne Legacy (2012. Screenplay by Tony Gilroy & Dan Gilroy, story by Tony Gilroy, inspired by the Bourne novels by Robert Ludlum. 135 minutes.)

No, Jeremy Renner is not Matt Damon. Get over it.: I was a big fan of The Bourne Identity (2002), the first film in the first Bourne trilogy, mainly because Robert Ludlum came up with a great idea: A guy is pulled out of the ocean with no idea who he is. But he comes to realize a) he is great at beating up and killing people and has many other skills as well, and b) those skills are going to be very helpful because people are trying to kill him. It is about as sure-fire a premise as you can get, and Tony Gilroy and William Blake Herron adapted it into a terrific script. I never saw the 1988 TV miniseries, adapted by Carol Sobieski, but it ran 185 minutes and I doubt if longer was better.

Jason Bourne gets a “civilian” named Marie to help him out and at the end of Identity Bourne and Marie go off to the far ends of the earth to live happily ever after. Unfortunately, in the 2004 sequel, The Bourne Supremacy, adapted by Tony Gilroy alone, Marie is killed off early on and for me the film never entirely recovered. Bourne is framed for a C.I.A. op gone wrong and has to get up to his old tricks. For The Bourne Ultimatum (2007), Gilroy did the screen story from the Ludlum novel, but was only one of three credited screenwriters, the other two being Scott Z. Burns and George Nolfi. In the articles about Legacy, the disagreements between Gilroy and Supremacy and Ultimatum’s director and star, Paul Greengrass and Matt Damon, respectively, became public. Gilroy hated the way Greengrass kept ignoring the dialogue, and Damon felt Gilroy’s writing was too confusing. Neither Greengrass nor Damon wanted to come back to the series, but it made so much money that Universal was determined to continue it. Gilroy was willing, and since he is also a director (Michael Clayton in 2007, Duplicity in 2009), he signed on to direct as well. As with most movies directed by their screenwriters, the sound is recorded and mixed so the audience can hear what is being said. (I am not the only one who complains about this: Anthony Lane in his review of The Dark Knight Rises in the July 30th New Yorker spends half a paragraph talking about the bad sound mix. He calls it the “sound balance”; you’d think a critic would know the terminology, and no, I am not going to bother with a New York joke here.)

So Gilroy’s job, on the screenwriting level, was to figure out how to extend the Bourne series without Bourne. I have no idea how long it took him to develop the elegantly simple solution he did, but he came up with not only a good idea for the script, but the basis for the great ad line for the film: “There was never just one.” Of course the government would have redundant programs.

Treadstone, which Bourne took down in the first three films, was C.I.A.. Outcome, the program here, is Department of Defense. We see a few of the leftover bureaucrats from the first three films, although Joan Allen who plays Pam Landy in the first three, is collecting unemployment insurance for all she has to do in this one. Mostly we have a new set of bureaucrats, headed by Retired Air Force Colonel Byers, played in a wonderfully cold way by Edward Norton. Maybe villains should be Norton’s forte. The heads of Outcome are determined to close it down, and being ruthless, they decide to kill off all their agents.

So when we first meet the new guy, Aaron Cross, he knows who he is. He is off in Alaska doing some kind of individual training exercise. He is very efficient, and tough, and Jeremy Renner is perfect for this character in the way Matt Damon was perfect for Jason Bourne. When Damon started beating people up, we were as surprised as his character was. Here neither we nor Cross are surprised. Well, this is the fourth film in the series so we would have to be pretty stupid to be surprised. We get some nice intercutting with Cross in the wilderness and bits of the end of Ultimatum, including a shot or two from easily the best action scene is all four films, the cat-and-mouse in Waterloo Station. And intercut with those are new scenes with Byers and his people figuring out how Outcome can be protected from the fallout of the collapse of Treadmill. So by the time Cross comes to a cabin and to his surprise finds Outcome #3, we don’t know if #3 is there to help him and just hasn’t got the word, or has got the word and is going to kill him. It is a tense scene, which Gilroy is better at directing than Greengrass was. Greengrass was all action, all the time, and I found his jittery camera increasingly annoying. The cinematographer here is the great Robert Elswit and his work will not give you motion sickness. Except when he and Gilroy want to, as in the final motorcycle chase.

The cabin is blown up by a drone, the choice murder weapon of our government these days, but Cross escapes. He cuts out the tracking device embedded in his own leg, captures a live wolf, stuffs the tracker in the wolf’s mouth, and then hangs the still-wriggling wolf on a tree so the drone will home in on it instead of him. Did I mention Cross is tough? Then the Gilroys go to a new character, Dr. Marta Shearing, who works in a lab on the meds Outcome gives to its agents. We get another scene that is as much suspense as action as Shearing manages to survive a researcher in the lab going a little wacko and shooting people. Later she is at home and F.B.I. agents come to talk to her about the shootout. We don’t know if they are really there to help her or kill her, and here is where smart casting helps the script. None of the agents are actors we recognize, which means they are going to get killed fairly quickly, which they are. But are they good guys taken out by bad guys, or are they bad guys taken out by good guys? The casting gives you no help at all. Another of Gilroy’s terrific suspense scenes.

Cross and Shearing get together and she gives us a lot of technobabble about the pills Cross has been taking. The green pills increase his physical performance, the blue ones his mental performance. And he’s running out of pills. The technobabble makes it clear that Cross does not need one of the pills and probably not the other one, since Shearing has been working on a “viral” solution. One injection gives the subject those traits without having to take the pills. So where does Cross get the injection? Manila, of course. Well, we haven’t been there before in this series, nor I think in the Bond films, so why not? And here is where Shearing becomes an equal to Cross, not in physical or mental skills, but in her knowledge and ability to get into the secure lab to get the serum and to inject it into Cross. Marie in Identity was just along for the ride, which was part of the fun, but Shearing is an equal part of the story. Especially when the serum makes Cross ill. Oops; you don’t want to get sick when baddies are after you, especially now that Byers and his friends have activated the one superkiller they haven’t killed off. So we get the extended motorcycle chase and Gilroy the director shows he can do what Doug Liman and Greengrass did on the first and the other two films, respectively. Even though Bourne and the Bond films have not been in Manila, I was in the ’60s, and while it is nice to see the city again, we don’t get to see a lot of it as we all whiz by on motorcycles.

Since obviously Universal is hoping for more films, the ending of the bureaucrats vs. Cross story seems less like an ending than a mere pause in the action, but this film is hardly alone in doing that. I am not sure I buy the final twist in the Cross-Shearing relationship, since I am not convinced it has been prepared for as well as it might. On the other hand the final shot of the film is so gorgeous that when the credits began toward the end of it, only one person in the audience I saw it with got up to leave. The rest stayed until the fade-to-black for the long credit roll.

Farewell, My Queen (2012. Screenplay by Benoît Jacquot and Gilles Taurand, based on the novel by Chantal Thomas. 100 minutes.)

Farewell, My Queen

Not your typical love triangle: Sidonie, a young woman, works for an older rich woman, Marie, in Marie’s very large house. She is Marie’s reader, since Marie generally can’t be bothered to read stuff for herself. Sidonie has a crush on Marie. But Marie, who is married, has a crush on her good friend, Gabrielle, who is also married. Being oblivious to Sidonie’s feelings, Marie does some of her canoodling with Gabrielle in the presence of Sidonie. Well, that could be interesting. And it is. But it’s not the nice, small-scale drama you might expect from that description.

I guess I didn’t mention that the big house they all hang out in is Versailles. And Marie is Marie Antoinette, the Queen. And the film starts on July 14. 1789.

By the way, this film should not be confused with the great new documentary Queen of Versailles, about a nouveau riche American family trying to build their own version of Versailles. I haven’t written about that one in this column because all I can say is that it is yet another example of there being more interesting characters in documentaries than in many fiction films. But the character writing in Farewell, My Queen is on a par with that documentary.

We meet Sidonie first as she prepares to go read to the Queen. When she gets to the Queen’s chambers, the writers give us a great, longish scene to introduce us to Marie. She is beautiful, willful, warm, dense, spoiled, and completely narcissistic. Diane Kruger, who played Helen of Troy in Troy (2004), is much better here since the writers give her a character to play; see my discussion of the 1955 Helen of Troy in US#75 on the difficulty of writing Helen. The writing and the acting make Marie a much more interesting character than she was in both the 1938 and 2006 Marie Antoinette films. So we are going to want to watch her and see what happens. And we are going to want to watch Sidonie as she watches Marie and Gabrielle. And Gabrielle is such a self-satisfied twit that we want to watch her to see her get her comeuppance. Both Virginie Ledoyen as Gabrielle and especially Léa Seydoux as Sidonie are as good as Kruger.

And meanwhile, on July 14th the Bastille has been stormed. The news arrives at Versailles, and nobody quite knows what it means. Over the next couple of days we watch as the Court begins to fall apart. Some get out quick, including one of the servant girls who is a friend of Sidonie’s; it’s not only the upper class that are the cowards. Those loyal to the King and Queen stay. The observation and the detail in these scenes are terrific, and I suspect a lot of it comes from the novel. Unfortunately there is so much of it the last ten minutes or so that the picture gets shortchanged. In the novel we can luxuriate in the detail even more than we do in the film, but in the film we are more heavily invested in the characters, so when Marie makes Sidonie an offer she can’t refuse, we want to know how it plays out. The final ten minutes are the most compelling in the picture, but so much so we wish that sequence were much longer. I am really tempted to discuss that sequence in detail, but you really ought to see it for yourself. It may be enough for you.

Hope Springs (2012. Written by Vanessa Taylor. 100 minutes.)

Hope Springs

Rub a little therapy on it: Since this is so clearly aimed at my geezer demographic (Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones starring in age-appropriate roles) and has received several very good reviews, you may be surprised to learn I didn’t like it very much. My wife, in the same demographic, liked it a little more than I did.

The story could not be simpler. Kay and Arnold have been married for 31 years and have fallen into a rut. Kay reads a book on marriage by Dr. Feld and impulsively signs up for a one-week marriage counseling session with the doctor for her and Arnold. Arnold reluctantly goes, grumbling all the while (well, he is Tommy Lee Jones, who gives great grump), and they talk to the doctor. Who gives them “exercises” to do, some of which they do, some of which end up badly, and some of which end up well. Kay and Arnold go home, briefly resume their old ways, then fuck like bunnies and are happy again. I’m a great believer in the therapeutic powers of a good schtup, but there is more to marriage than that.

This is Taylor’s first produced script for a theatrical film, but she had done a lot producing and writing for television on such series as Alias, Everwood, and Game of Thrones. The key series that may have led her to this was the 2007 HBO series Tell Me You Love Me, about three couples and the therapist they share. One of the couples was a middle-aged couple, who may have been the forerunners of Kay and Arnold. I never saw the show, but it only lasted ten episodes, and I suspect it ran into some of the problems Hope Springs does. The main problem is that therapy is awfully dull to watch. One character spills his or her guts, the therapist nods and, in this case, suggests exercises. Taylor does have an advantage here that she has a couple in counseling, so we can watch one person reacting to what the other person says. But the scenes are still long and very, very talky. And repetitive. David Frankel, the director, cannot do much to make those scenes visually interesting, although he and his cinematographer make each session take place at a different time of day so they can vary the lighting. Streep and Jones are wonderful, but it all becomes an acting exercise more than a film. And poor Steve Carell doesn’t even get to exercise his acting skills. The doctor is, like a lot of shrinks and therapists, a block of wood in their sessions. Carell’s best bit is in the scenes alongside the closing credits, although we have had no reason before to believe that character was that inventive.

We get a lot of detail about Kay and Arnold’s intimacy problems, but very little suggestion of anything else in their lives. Kay has a friend she works with, as does Arnold, but we get nothing about them. They have children, but we learn little about them. There are people in the town where the therapy takes place that they meet, but none of them get more than a scene or two. It’s all focused on Kay and Arnold.

Needless to say, the counseling works, as it nearly always does on film. In talking about the series Necessary Roughness, I mentioned that one thing I liked about it was that T.K. was not completely cured by Dr. Dani the first time out, and he continues to have a lot of problems. As I mentioned elsewhere, the general attitude in American films and television is that with any sort of problem, you can, as Rita Mae Brown put it, rub a little therapy on it and make it go away. Necessary Roughness shows us that is not true, but this film buys into it. Yes, Kay and Arnold do fall into the old patterns when they get home, but they quickly get over that. I think Taylor would have been better off if they had gotten through the therapy by half way through the movie, and then in the second half, instead of watching them talk some more, we could watch them struggle to apply the stuff to their own lives. Then they would have been doing something, rather than just talking about it.

2 Days in New York (2012. Screenplay by Julie Delpy and Alexia Landeau, additional dialogue by Alexandre Nahon, story by Alexia Landeau and Alexandre Nahon, based on characters created by Julie Delpy. 96 minutes.)

2 Days in New York

She’s ba-a-a-ck: In 1995 Julie Delpy starred as Celine in a small, charming film Before Sunrise. Celine has a brief one-night affair with Jesse, a young American, in Vienna. They agree to meet in six months. In 2004, Delpy played Celine again in Before Sunset, in which she and Jesse meet up nine years later. On that film she worked on the script with her co-star Ethan Hawke, as well as her director, Richard Linklater, and co-writer of Before Sunrise, Kim Krizan. To me it was an even better film than the first one, since the characters were older and wiser in the ways of the world. I wrote about Sunset in the book Understanding Screenwriting and ended with “And let’s all get together and force Linklater, Hawke, and Delpy to do another one in ten years.” Well, nine years seems to be their average, and they are at work on a new now. Yeah.

In the meantime, Delpy wrote and directed 2 Days in Paris in 2007. She plays Marion, a French woman who brings Jack, her American boyfriend, to Paris to try to rekindle their relationship. They run into her family and some of her old boy friends. OK, a lot of her old boyfriends. I was not as taken with this one as I was with the Before films. First of all, Jack is a rather obnoxious character, not helped in Adam Goldberg’s performance. The second problem was that Delpy laid on the jerky-cam a lot, which made it annoying on the big screen. 2 Days in New York is the sequel to Paris, and it scores points right away by a) not having Jack in the picture, and b) not using a jerky-cam style. And it is altogether a better picture in other ways as well. Marion is a photographer now living in New York. She and Jack had a child, Lulu, a boy who is now three. And she is in a steady relationship with Mingus, who does three radio shows. He is twice divorced and has a daughter Willow, who loves serial killers. OK, that’s the situation. What makes it a movie? Marion is about to have a big gallery opening, and her father Jeannot and her sister Rose are coming over. And staying in Marion and Mingus’s very small apartment. And Rose brings her current boyfriend uninvited. Boy, is he uninvited. Manu was one of those ex-boyfriends of Marion’s, and goes around proclaiming he gave Marion her first orgasm. Talk about out-of-town visitors from Hell. Delpy and the other writers (Landeau also plays Rose and Nahon plays Manu) get a lot out of the culture clash between the French and Mingus, who is not only a New Yorker, but black, which leads to a whole pile of cringe-worthy comments by the French. Which in turn leads a great payoff when we finally meet Mingus’s parents, who have a surprising amount in common with Jeannot.

Mingus, both as a character and in Chris Rock’s wonderful performance, is a great counterbalance to the relatives. If you have only seen Rock either as a standup or in his comedies, he will pleasantly surprise you, as does the script. We get a scene early in which we learn that Mingus has a standup, life-sized photo of Obama. At first it just seems like a one-off joke, but then Mingus has a whole monologue to Obama that goes into some very interesting territories. The writing in this film seems a lot sharper than in Paris (I did not remember Rose and Manu from the first film, but they really pop off the screen here), and Delpy’s direction is much better. She is good at both writing the character of Marion (she is not as adorkable as somebody else might make her; sometimes you just want to slap her upside the head) and her direction of herself in the part. So we should get Delpy and the others together for a third film in…I guess five years is hiatus time on this series.

Seven Men From Now (1956. Screenplay and original story by Burt Kennedy. 78 minutes.)

Seven Men From Now

Haunted landscapes: This is sort of one of the Ranown cycle of westerns (see US#17 and 18), but it’s not. Burt Kennedy was working for John Wayne’s company Batjac, and was trying to come up with a script for Wayne. He had this title and developed into a story and script. Jack Warner liked the script and wanted Wayne to do it, but Wayne was busy with The Searchers (1956). So they tried Joel McCrea, who turned it down, as did Robert Preston. Eventually it got down to Randolph Scott, who loved it, and brought on Budd Boetticher to direct it. It was produced by Andrew V. McLaglen (later a director) and Robert E. Morrison for Wayne’s company. It is was not until the next Scott-Boetticher western that Harry Joe Brown came on as producer, but Seven Men From Now is a Ranown film in all but name.

Ben Stride comes across two guys taking shelter in a cave from the rain. He has a cup of coffee with them. They talk laconically about a robbery in Silver Springs, which both men insist they have never been to. One gets antsy and draws, but Stride, off-screen, kills them both. His horse having been taken by the Indians, he takes their two (one of which, a dark brown horse with a yellow main and tail, is the horse Scott rode in nearly all his westerns in the ’50s) and rides off. He befriends a couple in a covered wagon, the Greers, who are headed to Flora Vista. They pick up along the way Masters and Clete, two unsavory characters Stride knows.

Masters and Clete assure him they did not do the robbery, but figure Stride is going to track down the robbers, and if they follow along, they can kill Stride and get the lot. Kennedy is at his usual laconic storytelling pace here, and it is 26 minutes before we learn that Stride is a former sheriff whose wife was killed in the robbery. She was working for Wells Fargo because he lost his job as sheriff. Stride tracks down the robbers (the two he killed in the opening scene were two of them, and there was another that attacked him along the way). Lots of shooting, and Stride faces off Masters. And draws first to kill him! Boy, we are not in the traditional western at this point.

The one plot element that makes this less one of the Ranown series is the attention paid to Mrs. Greer, both by the characters (Lee Marvin’s Masters almost drools over her; his partner, using a line Kennedy later used in Ride Lonesome (1959), says, “She ain’t ugly”) and by Kennedy. At the end she is going off on the stage to California, then after Stride rides off saying he is going back to Silver Springs, she tells the stage driver to take her baggage off. In The Tall T, as I mentioned in US#18, there is also the suggestion of a romance, but not as much as here, and pretty soon Kennedy and Boetticher dropped it altogether.

One other element that makes this seem like a Ranown film is the use of the Alabama Hills near Lone Pine, California, for most of the exteriors. All four of the Kennedy-written films are filmed there. In previous columns I referred to the locations generally as the Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains, but locations are specifically the Alabama Hills, just west of Lone Pine. Filmmakers have been coming to Lone Pine, which is 200 miles north of Los Angeles, since the 1910’s. Mostly they were making B-westerns there, and you can see why. The rocky scenery is different from the San Fernando Valley, and you have the majestic Sierras, including Mount Whitney, in the background. The Hills block the view of Lone Pine itself, so you can shoot in any direction. The locations give you a much more a spectacular look than you get with most B-westerns. B-pictures were not the only ones shot here. A-pictures include Gunga Din (1939), not the first nor the last time the Sierras stood in for the Himalayas in India. In the Scott films Budd Boetticher uses the harshness of the rocky landscape as an expression of his and Kennedy’s harsh, almost existential view of the old west. (It is not surprising that the French picked up on the Boetticher westerns; André Bazin reviewed this film in 1957 and thought it better than the bigger westerns of the times, like 1953’s Shane.)

I have always wanted to visit the Alabama Hills, and so for my summer vacation this year I did. When Elaine Lennon, my Irish friend, heard I was going there, she asked me to look for anyplace that was used in Seven Men From Now. I had never seen the film, but got it from Netflix. The DVD includes a featurette about Lone Pine and it gets mentioned that the final shootout occurs in a location called the Cattle Pocket. When B-movie producers were going to shoot in Lone Pine, they called up Russ Spainhower, their go-to guy in Lone Pine, and he arranged for cattle to be herded into Cattle Pocket, a canyon with a narrow entrance. The cattle stayed there until they were needed in the film. So when I got to the Visitor’s Center I picked up a guided tour brochure, which had other locations but not the Pocket. At the Beverly and Jim Rogers Museum of Lone Pine Film History, I got a book by Dave Holland called On Location in Lone Pine. One of its maps shows the Pocket, but the map is so imprecise I was not sure I could find it. So I just went out to see what I could see. I happened to be at a couple of locations where there was a man discussing in detail some of the locations with his colleague, and I asked the man if he were a tour guide or just knowledgeable about the area. He turned out to be Chris Langley, a former teacher who now is involved with the museum, and he and his partner were working out details for a Gunga Din tour. I mentioned the Cattle Pocket, and it turned out Chris was the guy interviewed in the featurette. He was nice enough to guide me over to the Pocket and explain who did what where in the final scenes of Seven Men From Now. The photograph that accompanies this item is not a still from the film, but a picture I took of the canyon, from the south end looking north to where the final shootouts took place.

Filmmakers continue to use the Hills. They showed up in the first Iron Man (2008), and Quentin Tarantino shot some of his upcoming Django Unchained there. The Museum now has the dentist’s wagon Christopher Waltz’s character drives in that film, complete with a large gold tooth on top of it that seems to have come out of Greed (1924). The Alabama Hills are very much a haunted landscape, part of film history in general, as well as part of my own personal film history. They are where the movies I grew up watching were made, and the movies I continue to watch, both old and new.

The Alabama Hills are not the only haunted landscapes I got to in my travels. One hundred fifty mills north of Lone Pine, up in the Inyo Mountains, is Bodie, one of the best-known ghost towns from the gold mining days. From the late 1870s to the 1930s, the Standard Mining Company took over $100,000,000 out of the hills. The town is now in what is called “arrested decay.” That means the surviving buildings are not being restored, but treated so they will not decay further. Most of the buildings are closed, but you can look in the windows at the dusty remains: books, toys, bottles, clothes among other things. Bodie is not haunted by movie ghosts, but real ones.

Closer to Lone Pine is Manzanar, the site of the one of the internment camps for Japanese-Americans during World War II. When I first drove past there in 1978, there was very little left, but it has now become a National Historic Site, with reconstructions of the barracks people lived in. The old high school auditorium is now the interpretive center, and against one wall, they have a list of all those who were interned here. I looked up the name and family of the late mother-in-law of a colleague of mine. She passed away earlier this year.

In my History of Documentary Film class, I often showed the 1970 NBC documentary Guilty by Reason of Race, the first major documentary about the camps. I mentioned to my students at the end of the discussion that if they were looking for a great subject to write a script about, Manzanar was it. While Manzanar has been mentioned in a few fiction films, the only theatrical film to deal with it was the execrable 1990 Come See the Paradise, written and directed by Alan Parker. It is the usual dopey love story between a white guy and a Japanese woman whose family gets sent to the camp. What the subject needs is a writer who understands the moral and political ironies of Manzanar. Our country, with its belief in both the rule of law and the Constitution, violated both out of racism and fear. And the story needs a director who understands the visual ironies of Manzanar. The camp is located in the Owens Valley, with the purple-mountained majesties of the Easter Sierras mocking the internees’ lack of freedom. It needs a director who understands the emotional power of landscape. Like Ford, Lean, or Henry King. Or Budd Boetticher.

Tom Stempel is the author of several books on film. His most recent is Understanding Screenwriting: Learning From Good, Not-Quite-So Good, and Bad Screenplays.