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UPDATED!! CORRECTED!! Moriarty Reviews Stephen Gaghan's ABANDON Script!!

Published at: June 14, 2001, 4:44 a.m. CST by staff

Hey, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab.

Winning an Oscar does all sorts of things for you. It validates the work you've done, capping off what should be a career-high experience. It drives your price up and makes it possible for you to get jobs that you may not have gotten before. And sometimes, it even opens doors to new career possibilities, as seems to be the case with Stephen Gaghan, who is directing his debut feature ABANDON right now on the strength of his win for Best Adapted Screenplay for TRAFFIC.

It's a big deal, too. Originally, I wrote about how Paramount hadn't let a first-timer helm a movie in 12 years. That was something that came from someone high up at Paramount and inside, and was totally, completely inaccurate. Greg Hoblitt directed PRIMAL FEAR for the company. Barry Sonnenfeld directed THE ADDAMS FAMILY for them. They've made negative pickups of a number of films by first-timers like THE VIRGIN SUICIDES. I was inaccurate when I said that, although there's no doubt it's still an act of pure belief on the part of any studio handing over a film to a first-time helmer. They made Andrew Niccols shoot a test sequence for THE TRUMAN SHOW, and he ended up not getting the job. The leap of faith they're taking with Gaghan is due in large part to the way he handled himself during awards season, and also due to the strength of the material he's chosen to shoot.

The 2.2.01 draft of ABANDON I read is credited entirely to Gaghan, based on the book ADAM FALLS by Sean Desmond. Never read the book. Never even heard of the book until I picked this script up. I'm not sure what sort of adaptation work Gaghan's done, but he's managed to craft something that has great promise, even if I'm not convinced he's got the right cast to pull it off.

Katie Holmes has done very good work so far in films like THE ICE STORM, THE GIFT, and WONDER BOYS, and they've been small roles, well chosen, in ensemble dramas where she was able to focus on a few moments and not worry about carrying a movie. This time, however, ABANDON either works or doesn't based on the strength of her performance. If this is done right, it's a smart, adult thriller about letting go of the past. If done wrong, this could rival AMERICAN PSYCHO, TOO for unintentional camp value.

And, yes, it's that fine a line. A script like ABANDON depends entirely on the tone of how it's played. It's a movie in which the lead character's POV isn't to be trusted entirely, and we can't be sure if what we're seeing is really what we're seeing, or if we're having the wool pulled over our eyes. If Holmes manages to reveal the genuine vulnerable side of KATIE BURKE, then we'll willingly go on this journey with her. She's at Harvard, in her final semester, and the pressure is really starting to get to her. Two years ago, her perfect genius boyfriend EMBRY LANGER just vanished, and she's never really been the same. Now, as everyone else on campus including her roommate SAMANTHA (BRING IT ON's preposterously beautiful Gabrielle Union) and her quasi-boyfriend Harrison are freaking out about what they're going to do after school and where they're going to work, Katie finds herself on precarious emotional ground, overwhelmed by her thesis and sure she's cracking up.

Enter ALVIN HANDLER (Benjamin Bratt), the other crucial link here. He's a local police detective who is just coming up for air after a long dark stretch of wrestling with his own alcoholism. This is a role that could easily be written as a cliche, but it's not. There's something really sad about Handler, about the way his own liver is turning on him, deteriorating quickly, about the way he has to blow into a tube and pass a breathalyzer test before he can start his car. He's given the task of looking into the Embry Langer case, just procedure to start the paperwork on declaring him dead, a job that should be easy. Instead, Handler finds that he is still fragile, and the Langer case brings him into contact with Katie, who sets him off on a downward spiral all over again.

The best thing about this script is the way Gaghan draws the struggle to recover, whether its from emotional wounds like Katie's or physical addiction like Handler's. Gaghan's story of recovery was well-publicized during the Oscar race for TRAFFIC, something that always struck me as slightly tacky, but it's apparent on every page of this script. He knows what it's like to struggle for sobriety, and he perfectly captures the siren song of depression that threatens to derail Katie even as the companies that everyone wants to work for pursue her above all her classmates. She can barely get out of bed, and the whole world is being set at her feet.

Then things take a turn for the strange when Embry shows up and admits to Katie where he's been. He begins to torment her, and as graduation looms, Katie begins to wonder if she's going to make it to the end of the semester alive, much less intact. Only Handler believes in her, and considering how broken he is, the two of them might not add up to someone strong enough to survive the ride.

I liked a good deal of ABANDON, and it's got a strong, sad ending, even if the coda feels like overkill. Chances are, Gaghan's going to find this film's proper ending in the editing phase, and it might be earlier than it is in the script. He should also pay close attention to Ron Howard's A BEAUTIFUL MIND, since there's a SIXTH SENSE/STIR OF ECHOES thing going on here. Both ABANDON and A BEAUTIFUL MIND play by the same set of rules, and they both handle certain reveals of certain information in the same ways. The difference is, obviously, that one plays as a thriller, and the other is a character drama. I'm talking around certain things because only an asshole would ruin the twists the film takes, and I'd like to leave Gaghan room to surprise viewers with the film. He's done such a strong job building the piece that undermining him would be a crime.

Gaghan is definitely an intelligent writer with a sensitive nature who has proven himself able to write about people on the edge. If he's got skills as a director, then maybe we're in for a treat with his debut. Here's hoping it pans out, since it could pave the way for Paramount to more receptive to the next neophyte to come along, even if they don't have an Oscar tucked under one arm.

"Moriarty" out.





Readers Talkback

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  • June 14, 2001, 5:05 a.m. CST

    Sounds interesting

    by Imokliel

    Wonder if Holmes can pull off a feature on her own... I'll check this out when it comes time.

  • June 14, 2001, 5:06 a.m. CST

    Also...

    by Imokliel

    Notice how I didn't use a particular 5 letter f word so prevalent in these talkbacks, even though I could have twice now. Setting an example for others to follow...

  • June 14, 2001, 5:27 a.m. CST

    Apparently, no one else is interested, but

    by Mister_Pink

    The review was insightful, and the scrip sounds promising. I hope they handle it well.

  • June 14, 2001, 6:25 a.m. CST

    about that 5 letter f word

    by peterpumkineater

    is it FORTH??

  • June 14, 2001, 6:27 a.m. CST

    Thanks

    by chazman2000

    Thanks for the script review. Sounds interesting.

  • June 14, 2001, 6:50 a.m. CST

    Traffic shoulda won BP

    by No. 41

    Gaghan's script went for the easy play a few times, when a tougher dramatic choice would've been better and more rewarding (too convenient that Douglas' daughter is an addict) and was heavy-handed at times (the fourth time we see Douglas drinking the first five minutes, WE GET IT ALREADY...don't know how much of that was Soderbergh tho), it was still well deserving...it's b/c of a smart script that was willing to take chances and be somewhat complex that this movie will at least earn $7 - $8 from me. Hollywood, TAKE NOTE...

  • June 14, 2001, 7:43 a.m. CST

    This will be excellent

    by Twig

    I have faith in Katie and Gaghan. No one's gonna be referring to Katie as a "WB actress" after this.

  • June 14, 2001, 7:47 a.m. CST

    Ever go back, read your own post and realize you look like an id

    by Mister_Pink

    It's script. With a T. I know this.

  • June 14, 2001, 9:08 a.m. CST

    Sounds promising... however...

    by L.B. Jefferies

    I just recently picked up the script for Traffic, which is great, don't get me wrong. But to read it in light of the movie (Gladiator only won best picture because there were more crew members who worked on it that were eligible to vote for best picture), it pales. Gaghan can definitely write but I feel like maybe a seasoned director might be able to bring more to this one... but then on the other hand, I'm all about the auteur theory. Definitely seeing this one, though.

  • June 14, 2001, 11:09 a.m. CST

    Lightweight Syndrome

    by MagnoliaMan

    How ironic that a website run by fat guys is so fucking lightweight. Moriarty takes himself very seriously. We've all heard about his "studying" of various films. Nonetheless, this guy dismisses anything with ambitions beyond conventional filmmaking. He mocks American Psycho and claims it has camp value and still takes shit by Adam Sandler and Ridley Scott seriously. Disliking a film is one thing but condemning a film is quite another. His and Harry's continuing condemnation of "American Psycho" has been inadequately explained and implies some kind of all-knowing intelligence. I'm not saying it's a masterpiece or anything but to behave as if its universally reviled is just inaccurate. Its reviled by shallow, stupid people who gush when a film has a simple-minded Shrek-like message ("it's okay to be fat and ugly!"--no wonder they like it), that's easily summarized in a sentence or two. Artisitc ambition, without ingratiating emotion is frowned upon by the leave-the-theatre-smiling, Star Wars generation. What a bunch of pussies. American Psycho is a direct descendant of alienation classics like The Shining, The Tenant, and Taxi Driver. Of course, satire never goes over well with self-described "academics." Just lay off American Psycho.

  • June 14, 2001, 1:55 p.m. CST

    I'll take this one -- Magnoliaman, Mori was referring to "Americ

    by Drive! Kowalski

    Not that I don't dig on Kirk, cuz I do. But a sequel to AP? Non.

  • June 14, 2001, 3:53 p.m. CST

    "It's the first time in 12 years that Paramount has handed the r

    by MartinBlank

    What was the last time? okay, 1989 Paramount film that had a first-time director...what was it? Racking my brain here...this question plagues me. I didn't know Paramount had any such policy against newcomers. Weird.

  • June 14, 2001, 3:58 p.m. CST

    oh, DUH...

    by MartinBlank

    Shatner, 'Star Trek V.' Right? Do I get a No-Prize? I didn't think of him right away because (A) he's not who you'd think of as a struggling first-time director and (B) he ain't directed shit since. (Well, he did direct shit in 1989, but that's another story.) Oh, and I'm also trying to figure out who the dead actor who might be in 'Deeds' is. Moriarty is quite the Riddler today. My guess is Jason Robards because of the Sandler/PTA connection and because Robards has an acting son.

  • June 14, 2001, 4:34 p.m. CST

    Shatner's pegged for the role of a college proffesor, apparently

    by Drive! Kowalski

    Not to actually direct it. Although, after "Tek War," I don't understand why he wasn't tapped for Schindler's List.

  • June 14, 2001, 4:45 p.m. CST

    Oh, damn. I misconstrued!

    by Drive! Kowalski

    sorry 'bout that, Blank. That's what happens when you try and correct more than one person in a talkback. One's actions come back to bite one in the ass, like a drunken Boomerang wrangler (If Boomerangs had teeth). It's all William Shatner's fault. My name is Drive! Kowalski and I am a Misconstruer!

  • June 14, 2001, 11:45 p.m. CST

    Katie Homes....excellent

    by WolffmanJack

    I'm a Huge KAtie Holmes fan and this sounds like an interesting script to jump into the big time starring roles with. I've got a couple friends who went to school with her and I just love the fact that she's not just sitting around doing Dawson's Creek. I wonder if she's been back to Toledo lately...? Anyways I'll be looking forward to this and Benjamin Bratt has been great as a detective on Law and Order. ADIOS

  • June 15, 2001, 12:41 a.m. CST

    12 years

    by Baker'sDozen

    I know it was probably and indie first that was picked up by Paramount, but "The Virgin Suicides" was Sofia Coppola's debut - and a Paramount film.