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SimplyScripts Screenwriting Discussion Board  /  Script Reviews  /  Gangster Squad
Posted by: leitskev, July 25th, 2012, 6:35am
First: wow. I've only read part of this script, but wow. THIS is what screenwriting should be. Tells the story in a vivid way that entertains. The dialogue is spot on. I mean spot.

Now, for the hard line rules people, approach with caution. This is a character description copied from the script:

SGT. JOHN O’MARA (30s): A thousand yard stare shaded by
his fedora. Military brush cut. A square jaw you’d break
your knuckles on. When George S Patton said “A hasty plan
violently executed is better than a perfect plan next
week,” he was talking about O’Mara. He gets it done. He
lives in a bicameral world where there is good and there
is evil. Killed his share of Krauts. Didn’t enjoy it.
Didn’t lose sleep over it. Doesn’t give his word lightly.
But he’ll die to keep it. A trained commando who fights
like a Viking bezerker. Fuck with him at your peril.

Don't worry, not every description is like that. But everything is certainly much more descriptive than most folks are used to. Not saying anyone should emulate it either, because if you can't write like this guy, you're asking for trouble. But writing in the first act of this has blown me away. Best script I've opened in a long time. I actually can't think of a better one, and I've opened a lot of scripts in the last year. Wow.
Posted by: Eoin, July 25th, 2012, 7:00am; Reply: 1
Haven't read the script. Ignorant question, is it by a spec writer or an industry pro? Reason I ask is that if this was a commissioned script by a studio, the rules are a little different.

That aside, it's a very vivid description. You know exactly who this guy is. I imagine this is our hero/protagonist.
Posted by: nawazm11, July 25th, 2012, 7:23am; Reply: 2
I read this quite awhile ago and maaannn, was this a slow read. I have got to say it took me a solid 4 hours to finish this, longest time that it's ever taken to read a script... I'm not sure if it was just his style or those (mostly) overwritten descriptions. I sometimes just zoned out in some bits resulting in me reading the last few pages again. :-/

Despite that, it was a nice read. Sean Penn absolutely nails the antagonist in the trailer. Which is another big point because the trailer is very misleading. It makes it seem as if Ryan Gosling is the main character or even Sean Penn. Definitely not Brolin but maybe it was just me.
Posted by: leitskev, July 25th, 2012, 7:26am; Reply: 3
Only info I know is from IMDB. He wrote for the TV show Castle. The Gangster Squad script is based on a book, so I would guess it's not a spec.

All I can say is that even if this were a spec, this guy would get noticed right away. It's that good. And not only is the writing that good, but everything about it screams blockbuster movie. Every scene. I finished the first act so far, will pick up the rest tonight. Let me know if you need the script.

As I said, I don't recommend emulating this. But not because of the rules. Because few people that write scripts can write this well. This guy's a real writer. It's hard to put this script down, and I don't think that about a lot of scripts, even ones that might make great movies.
Posted by: Eoin, July 25th, 2012, 7:35am; Reply: 4
I have your new draft of 'Capone and Co' pencils in for a read this week. I'll post comments when I'm finished. It's been a while since I read the first draft, so it will be interesting to see this one. First 5 pages are very crisp.
Posted by: Pale Yellow, July 25th, 2012, 7:43am; Reply: 5
I read the first 17 pages. It read super fast for me. The structure is spot on, and it flows organically imo. Seems even STCish for all the STC fanatics ;) I will read on when I have more time, but under time restraints in my household this week! :) As far as the writing--I like it. It is far from the old school ways though as far as descriptions and such....

I don't even like gangsters, but I'm def. gonna see this when it comes out! ;) I always have a hard decision though whether to finish reading the script OR just wait and go see the movie!
Posted by: leitskev, July 25th, 2012, 7:51am; Reply: 6
Hey Nawazm

It's possible I have a more updated draft. Or maybe it just hit me different. One thing that balances off the longish character descriptions is the crisp, economical dialogue. It's so nice reading pro scripts like this, too, because everything is clear. There's no confusion, no need to go back to figure stuff out. I really recommend people reading this for the learning experience.

Thanks, Eoin. I hope you can check out Gangster Squad too. I think you'll appreciate the writing.
Posted by: alffy, July 25th, 2012, 9:06am; Reply: 7
I saw a trailer for this a while ago and since then one scene has been removed, so I hear.  Tommy guns in a cinema are a touchy subject at the moment, and rightly so.
Posted by: Reef Dreamer, July 25th, 2012, 9:23am; Reply: 8
Hey Kevin,

Thanks for this thread as it rasies an interesting question I have never really resolved. You see, we are told to write what you can see etc yet there is no doubt in my mind that this style breaks that rule. It informs the reader what the character is like without seeing anything happen. Ok he could look mean and possibly this is just an elaborate way of describing that, but it seems to go much further by suggesting how he would react, yet it seems fine to do?

I think my own writing needs to be a little more creative, embellish descriptions/characters etc but this also contrasts with being crisp, keeping white paper etc I suppose we all developed our prefered style after a while but there's no harm in challenging it every now and then.

A copy of the script would be fab.


Posted by: leitskev, July 25th, 2012, 9:40am; Reply: 9
Sent the script, Bill.

I don't presume to advise, Bill. I can only tell you my amateur opinion. I think an unbelievable amount of people in this industry, mostly people trying to break in, have taken rules of thumb and turned them into hard rules. The thing that has to be remembered is that what we're trying do is write something that someone will read and think it would make a great film. Over time, a screenplay has evolved to look a certain way. If we don't conform to those standards, we risk looking amateur and not getting read for that reason. But there's a pretty wide range of styles within which a screenplay looks and smells like a screenplay. We're not writing computer code.

If it looks and smells like a screenplay, then you have to decide what approach will convey things best to the reader and keep him reading. Too many long descriptions can destroy the read. But long descriptions in the hands of a pro come off different usually, because they know how to write. Where to draw the line on one's own work only the writer can say, but don't go by rules. Go by what works best for the reader.

When I read this script, the descriptions do a great job of establishing the tone, of painting a picture, of fleshing out the characters. You read this and right away you know you are in capable hands. You surrender to the script and trust the story will take you places. You write a script like this, and while writers are debating your style and format, you'll be working in the industry.
Posted by: Electric Dreamer, July 25th, 2012, 11:56am; Reply: 10
I suspected this might happen to the project.
This is hot off the internet presses.
Kiss that September release date goodbye...

Posted by: leitskev, July 25th, 2012, 12:09pm; Reply: 11
Posted by: Reef Dreamer, July 25th, 2012, 3:34pm; Reply: 12
Thanks Kevin.

You keep stressing your amateur status and of course thats true, but still you are clearly reading a lot  and working hard on what it takes to break through. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and i wish you well.

In terms on this type of "embellished" writing what i have learn't is;

1] if you go off lean/crisp you better be good, or right to use, OR..

2] Learn to use it at exactly the right time. Like using an aside.

3] Only use it to further the story, rather be seen to be a good writer. This may not be true to others but i get the feeling that if you try and be a clever writer, rather than the writer you are (which may be clever as it happens) then it may not work as well.

I am much lower down on the learning curve but i increasingly get this feeling that you have to find your style, then nail it, really nail it.

Thanks for the script. I will try and read soon and post my thoughts.


Posted by: leitskev, July 26th, 2012, 1:51pm; Reply: 13
Read further into the script today. Problems appearing. Don't they always?

Our hero is a cop in a town(post war LA) run by the gangsters, and where the cops and judges are corrupt. The chief charges him with creating a secret police unit that will engage in guerrilla warfare against the gangs. Five men, who will act in secret, and take all precaution to make sure their identities remain unknown.

So who's the first guy they pick for the squad? The precinct's first and only black cop! I kid you not. Yeah, no one will figure out who HE is. This kind of thing drives me crazy. Nothing wrong with having a black cop, except it makes no sense in this situation.

Also, the dialogue is starting to get a bit over the top. And didn't Nick Nolte do a movie like this 10 years ago? It's still a good script, but less impressive as I got further into it.
Posted by: Electric Dreamer, July 31st, 2012, 3:41pm; Reply: 14
The script was reviewed on Scriptshadow today.
Compare and contrast with Mr. Reeves thoughts?


P.S. Maybe I should read the script. ;D
Posted by: leitskev, July 31st, 2012, 4:23pm; Reply: 15
I've disagreed with Carson on scripts before. Is this one of those times?

Kind of. I read half this script, and the wheels started coming off for me in the second act, but for different reasons then Carson's. I mentioned a few above. Basically the choices the writer was making with the story began to not make much sense to me.

But unlike Carson, I had absolutely no problem following the number of characters here. And there are a lot. But they are all introduced in very memorable circumstances, so unless you're reading several scripts a day, I don't think you'll forget them.

Like all of us, Carson has his pet peeves. He likes a very simple narrative. Stories like Taken, where we always know the goal and the stakes, and we mostly stay with the main character. That's how a lot of people feel about story.

Myself, when I watch a movie I actually really like seeing a large cast of colorful characters. Dark Knight's problem is that the characters are NOT colorful. Some of them are, but often I'm left with the sense that a character, played by a great actor and one filled with potential, still manages to not be interesting. It's not because there are necessarily too many characters, it's just they're not interesting. So the story becomes all unfocused plot.

Another interesting thing for me about this script was the dialogue. For the most part it was very distinct and colorful, a real strength. But at some point it starts to seem over the top, and that's the problem with trying to maintain dialogue like that over a whole script.

I will say this about Gangster Squad, and I think this is something Carson needs to start incorporating into his analysis of scripts: when you start reading this script, you know within a few pages this is a blockbuster. You may not like the script for personal reasons, but if you're a producer, you have to recognize its strengths. Script reviews are not movie reviews. When someone is reading scripts, they need to make commercial viability one of the main components of their analysis. With a movie review, you can knock a script for being to similar to something filmed in 1977, for bringing nothing new, etc. But producers want to know if the script will make them money.
Posted by: Reef Dreamer, August 26th, 2012, 9:52am; Reply: 16
Started to read this today.  My thoughts, as a more than amateur reader, are;


1) in terms of what "we are told" this is over written, but very well over written. BUT...I wonder if it would feel a little better if part of this was leaner and therefore leaving the remainder to light up in a clearer fashion

2) the protag is given the most awesome Kevin as outlined above, has one very big fight, then becomes passive and likes to get all soft and cosy at home. Up to P39 and so far can't find much of a conflict, other than a token spat with his wife, over a massive risk. Then to recruit his team hs basically has some pleasant chats - where's the tough, aggressive guy gone? He is described as one blunt instrument.

Think back to LA Confidential, not too,dissimilar, and Russell crows character. Constantly riven with conflict over agression, sensitivity, right versus wrong, options etc

3) core idea - an undercover, off the radar, doing illegal things! squad. Now, I haven't read the whole thing but already one this screams out, time will tell whether this proves to be right, that they will be "hung out to dry" as soon as pressure is applied and they are discovered to be dong illegal things. The protag hasn't asked for assurances, anything, or has the others - surely that's weak?

Time to carry on..
Posted by: slabstaa (Guest), December 27th, 2012, 4:01pm; Reply: 17
Can I get the script somewhere? please.
Posted by: Felipe, January 11th, 2013, 2:10pm; Reply: 18
This movie started off good and then went down the drain. Sean Penn was awful.
Posted by: Guest, August 15th, 2013, 6:30pm; Reply: 19
Can someone e-mail this to me, if they have it?  Please.

Been looking for it for a while.
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