Ari Aster on ‘The Irishman’
Written by: Steve Zaillian (screenplay) and Charles Brandt (book)
Steve Zaillian’s remarkably expansive screenplay for “The Irishman” covers a dizzying amount of territory, providing a wealth of context while never once feeling expository. The information stacks quickly, and continues to mount until we’ve forgotten where we started or how we got here or ultimately why any of it matters.”
Read more of Aster’s thoughts on “The Irishman” here.
Jonah Hill on ‘Honey Boy’
Written by: Shia LaBeouf
Amongst an array of fantastic performances in “Honey Boy,” the star of the film is the writing. Shia [LaBeouf] has lived a unique life and decided to channel the pain of it into a screenplay. In the scenes with Noah Jupe, you witness an author reckoning with the complexities of a chaotic childhood with a complicated and damaged father. You watch him wrestle with the dynamic of being his father’s employer as a young boy, and see him balance the dichotomy of his light and goofy scenes at work followed by his darker and painfully real life at the motel. In the scenes with Lucas Hedges, you witness an author exposing the warts developed through that pain of his own youth as they explode to the surface and burst with an egoless pop.”
Read more of Hill’s thoughts on “Honey Boy” here.
Bret Easton Ellis on ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’
Written by: Quentin Tarantino
A fanciful memory movie about Tarantino’s childhood L.A., but without a stand-in for QT, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” instead follows an aging, insecure alcoholic actor and his cool, stoic stunt-double buddy interacting with various real-life Hollywood figures, members of the Manson family and Sharon Tate over three days in 1969 clocking in at a sprawling, consistently entertaining 160 minutes.”
Read more of Ellis’ thoughts on “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” here.
Patton Oswalt on ‘Jojo Rabbit’
Written by: Taika Waititi (screenplay) and Christine Leunens (original novel)
Sixty years from now people will look back at these grimy, poisonous years. They’ll say, “How weren’t people out in the streets every day demanding the impeachment and jailing of the most cartoonishly blatant criminal to ever plunk his carcass in the presidential chair?” The distance of years and narrowing of memory will make it seem like it was such an obvious choice. What could have been more important, day-to-day, than pulling reality itself back from the abyss?”
Read more of Oswalt’s thoughts on “Jojo Rabbit” here.
Malcolm Gladwell on ‘Bombshell’
Written by: Charles Randolph
There is a scene at the beginning of “Bombshell,” where the Fox correspondent Rudi Bakhtiar is being propositioned by one of her bosses. We see him hinting and suggesting and insinuating and then her thoughts, in voiceover, as she coaches herself through the impossibility of her predicament: Just look confused. Make it your fault. That scene could have been written as outrage or slapstick. Bakhtiar could have come back with a brilliant riposte. But when you skip to the speech, you skip the complexity — and one of the things I love about Charles Randolph’s screenwriting is that he never skips the complexity.”
Read more of Gladwell’s thoughts on “Bombshell” here.
Lynn Nottage on ‘Harriet’
Written by: Kasi Lemmons
Perhaps the first superhero I encountered as a child was Harriet Tubman, the courageous conductor on the underground railroad who, with little other than her wits and will, escaped bondage and went on to usher nearly 200 enslaved people to freedom during the 1840s and 1850s. There are boulevards, schools, coloring books, stamps and even coffee mugs bearing Harriet’s name and likeness; she’s an ubiquitous figure on our cultural landscape; and yet the real woman behind the legend remains somewhat elusive and virtually unknown to most of us.”
Read more of Nottage’s thoughts on “Harriet” here.
Jenny Zhang on ‘The Farewell’
Written by: Lulu Wang
Lulu Wang’s “The Farewell” opens with, “Based on an actual lie.” Billi, a broke artist in Brooklyn, played with precision and subtlety by Awkwafina, is the only one in her family who wants to tell her beloved nai nai (Chinese for paternal grandmother) the truth: she has stage-four cancer and her children and grandchildren, all of whom immigrated decades ago to America and Japan, are reuniting in Changchun under the pretense of a wedding so they can see her one last time.”
Read more of Zhang’s thoughts on “The Farewell” here.
Diane Warren on ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood’
Written by: Micah Fitzerman-Blue, Noah Harpster (screenplay) and Tom Junod (original article)
“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” is just what is needed right now, a movie reminding us of the power of kindness. There are no special effects, nothing blowing up, no superheroes, though in his own way Fred Rogers was a superhero, and his superpowers were love and kindness.”
Read more of Warren’s thoughts on “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” here.
Cameron Crowe on ‘Marriage Story’
Written by: Noah Baumbach
I was 12, and living in a basement apartment in San Diego. Our building was directly across the street from the Old Globe theater. Sometimes we’d see actors dutifully washing their clothes and rehearsing lines in the laundry room next door to us. I didn’t quite understand the lines they repeated, sometimes under their breath, words about love and loss and longing and hope. My life was all about racing plastic slot cars and raising hamsters. One night I stumbled onto a PBS special about a play, “Company” written by Stephen Sondheim. I fell in love with a song about a world way beyond our apartment. It was witty, heartbreaking and wise. I felt connected to those passionate actors pacing the laundry room.”
Read more of Crowe’s thoughts on “Marriage Story” here.
Emily V. Gordon on ‘Knives Out’
Written by: Rian Johnson
When I was a practicing family therapist, I was taught that every family has two things quietly written into their social and genealogical DNA: a culture and a legacy. The culture of a family is the set of understood rules of how to operate: who deserves attention, who is scapegoated in case of emergency, how chores are done, how birthdays are celebrated. The legacy is the collection of ideals that the family, if asked, would say are their core values. These are the qualities they want to pass on through the years, noble things like “hard work” or “bravery.” However, there is almost always a less lofty, never discussed, latent legacy that will be passed on in every family as well. This legacy is made up of the (usually maladaptive) emotional patterns that they have developed over generations — a style of arguing, abusive behavior, being withholding emotionally, a desperate wanting that will never be filled. A family may not be aware of their latent legacy, but it will continue to be passed on either way.”
Read more of Gordon’s thoughts on “Knives Out” here.
Stephen Rohde on ‘Clemency’
Written by: Chinonye Chukwu
The film begins and ends with a close-up of Warden Bernadine Williams, played with wrenching intensity by Alfre Woodard. There is an indelible weariness in her eyes — eyes that have witnessed far too many executions.”
Read more of Rohde’s thoughts on “Clemency” here.
Luke Davies on ‘The Lighthouse’
Written by: Max and Robert Eggers
Robert Eggers’ feature debut, “The Witch” (2018), was tight and suffocating, and its bare-bones minimalism allowed the simmering menace of its story to play out all the more starkly. Now Eggers has teamed up with his brother Max to co-write his second film, “The Lighthouse.” It’s minimalist too, but only really in the sense that it takes place in a single location, and that it’s a two-hander. Linguistically, it’s maximalist: relentless slabs of language laid on with a trowel. If “The Witch” could be said to be a film made in the “Puritan Gothic” style, the Eggers brothers have made a hard turn to a kind of full-tilt “Melville-esque-baroque” in “The Lighthouse.”
And a delightful hard turn it is. “The Lighthouse” is a bonkers film about two quite literally bonkers men. It’s written with a screw-loose, don’t-take-it-too-earnestly tongue-in-cheekness. I feel it perhaps works best when viewed as a light-hearted, over-the-top surreal comedy presented as a brooding fable. Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson) is on assignment to a lighthouse, where he is to labor under crotchety old lightkeeper Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe). Pattinson is the straight man — contained, a little servile — who we’ll expect naturally to become unhinged. Dafoe, already so obviously unhinged, is going to show us to just what new Olympian heights he can take that unhingedness. It’s a tale about power — ebbing, swaying, shifting, devouring and always keeping us the audience off-kilter. Its metastructure reminds me of Joseph Losey’s brilliant “The Servant” (1963, from a Harold Pinter screenplay; you feel Pinter in some of the absurd dialogue between Dafoe and Pattinson).
The film is rich in cinematic and literary references — “Nanook of the North,” “Waiting for Godot,” Tarkovsky. Dafoe has rich fun with his portrayal of Thomas Wake as a mad sea-captain type (touches of Captain Horatio McCallister from “The Simpsons!”), while Pattinson’s subtle physical comedy is a treat. The dialogue tumbles forth in a combat of words, while the film plays out cinematically as mystical art-house. There’s a mad, manic energy to the whole endeavor, which somehow becomes soothing in its utter loopiness.
Luke Davies is a poet (“Totem,” “Interferon Psalms”), novelist (“Candy,” “God of Speed”) and screenwriter (“Candy,” “Lion,” “Beautiful Boy”).
Tony Gilroy on ‘Uncut Gems’
Written by: Ronald Bronstein, Josh and Benny Safdie
I wasn’t prepared for this.
I’d seen “Daddy Longlegs” and “Good Time.” I thought I knew what these guys were about. I knew they were brave and loud and greedy and giddy with the improv Cassevetes of it all. I knew they had their fingers in the socket and could deliver the vérité-crazy, but…
I wasn’t prepared for “Uncut Gems.” Wasn’t ready for it to be so huge and ambitious. I wasn’t expecting something so precise and under control. Yes, it’s kinetic and disorienting; they haven’t shelved that superpower, it’s just that I never expected a film from these guys to have this kind of momentum and be so tight. I wasn’t expecting a story so intricate and painfully complete.
What screenwriter hasn’t walked down 47th Street and spent the next 10 blocks thinking about what to do with it. The Diamond District has had its movie moments, but it’s always been just that — a scene, a plot point, a bit. Not here. Research and giving-a-shit about getting it right don’t often get the kind of critical screenwriting respect they deserve. Ronald Bronstein and Josh and Benny Safdie aren’t doing a drive-by here, they’re not just pulling up the rock and watching the bugs run. They clearly took the time to fall immersively in love with this world and let it fully infect their imaginations.
The quiet genius of this script — and I know that “quiet” may not be the first word that comes to mind when you’re watching — but the thing that lets me know I’m in the hands of master storytellers is when you feel that they could turn the camera in any direction and show you something that’s alive and fascinating. This film lives off the frame and it’s all in the script.
You know when a movie starts and you’re loving it and you start rooting for it to not fuck up? You can relax. Not about anything else — you’ll definitely need a couple minutes when it’s over to collect yourself — but the writers here don’t ever let go and don’t ever lose the trail. It’s a New York classic.
Tony Gilroy is an Oscar-nominated screenwriter.
Franklin Leonard on ‘Parasite’
Written by: Bong Joon Ho and Han Jin Won (story and screenplay)
It is altogether appropriate that the movie is called “Parasite,” if only because it is very much an organism that has burrowed its way into my brain and will for the rest of my natural life benefit from living there, if only from the trickle of money that will inevitably come as I continue to tell, coax, cajole and bully everyone I know into seeing it with the additional caution that their experience will be better if I tell them nothing about the movie before they do (which is to say: you should pay to see the movie and your experience will be better if you know nothing about it ahead of time at all).
An original screenplay that goes in on class, security, parenthood, childhood, art, technology, and any number of other themes that I discover each day anew, because it just. will. not. leave. my. head. (It’s just all so metaphorical.) An original screenplay that treats these issues on a human level and a societal level — simultaneously, effortlessly, and — somehow — with extraordinary specificity and uncommon universality. An original screenplay that does all of these things with near constant humor, an always growing sense of foreboding, and then … again, you need to see the movie, and better that I don’t finish that sentence.
No film this intricately constructed has any right to have this much insight into the inherent messiness of being a human being at this time in human history. No film this invested in the inherent messiness of being a human being at this time in human history has any right to be this precisely constructed. It’s a magic trick.
Franklin Leonard is the founder of the Black List.
Phyllis Nagy on ‘Pain and Glory’
Written by: Pedro Almodóvar
There’s a scene between two old lovers of such surpassing delicacy near the end of [Pedro] Almodóvar’s “Pain and Glory” that I held my breath while watching it — which is how I generally watch his films, on the edge of either passing out or laughing out loud, full of admiration and wonder that such a masterful tonal balance could be struck between subtext and raw, gutsy humor.
As is often the case in Almodóvar’s carefully constructed narratives, coincidence plays a large part in his characters’ reunion. Federico, who now lives in South America, strolls past a Madrid theater where a play titled “Addiction” is playing. Drawn to it, he attends a performance, and is moved by seeing the circumstances of his own previous life in Madrid, his life with his former lover Salvador, a film director in creative and physical decline, re-created by an actor who starred in one of Salvador’s early films — who himself has only recently reconciled with Salvador after a brutal falling out over the actor’s performance … so it goes with Almodóvar. Concentric circles of relationships, interconnected, pushing the limits of plausibility — yet all miraculously grounded in emotional truth.
In the scene, Salvador is visited unexpectedly by Federico, whom he hasn’t seen in 30 years. In a few brief minutes, we glimpse the man and artist Salvador was, and still may be, emerge while he reminisces, drinks and flirts — not only with Federico but also with his own past. There’s not a moment of sentimentality. The fireworks, so often a feature of Almodóvar’s youthful work, are muted. But they are there, visceral as ever, as the scene crystalizes the true provocation of “Pain and Glory”— an artist grappling with mortality.
Phyllis Nagy is an Oscar- and Emmy-nominated screenwriter and director.
Gabriel Sherman on ‘The Report’
Written by: Scott Z. Burns
The paranoid cinema of the 1970s made me want to become a journalist. I loved films like “All the President’s Men” and “Three Days of the Condor.” These were movies about little men taking on vast systems of corruption and winning, which is why I identified so strongly with Scott Z. Burns’ “The Report,” a harrowing political thriller that evokes the best of the ’70s genre.
“The Report’s” little man is Daniel Jones, a crusading young staffer on the Senate Intelligence Committee, who is assigned by his boss, Dianne Feinstein, to produce the official history of the CIA’s post-9/11 torture program. The system of corruption is the government’s determination to keep this dark chapter of American history secret. Jones, played with righteous intensity by Adam Driver, takes the assignment as something of a religious calling, to the growing discomfort of Feinstein, a protean Annette Bening, who is concerned with more earthly matters, like getting reelected. It’s a testament to Burns’ storytelling that he turns the “The Report’s” biggest cinematic hurdle — much of the plot involves Jones reading CIA files in a windowless secure room — into a suspenseful visual representation of Jones’ increasing paranoia and isolation. In the end, Jones wins, although his hard-earned victory doesn’t feel triumphant. It’s another way “The Report” reminded me of my favorite movies from screenwriters like Bill Goldman and Lorenzo Semple Jr. Even when their heroes won, I felt like a bit of my innocence had been lost.
Gabriel Sherman is a special correspondent for Vanity Fair, author of the NYT best-selling biography of Fox News founder Roger Ailes, and a screenwriter.
Michael H. Weber on ‘Dolemite Is My Name’
Written by: Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski
Let me tell you about the nicest compliment I’ve been receiving lately. “‘Dolemite Is My Name’ reminded me of ‘The Disaster Artist.’” It’s a lovely thing to hear because “Dolemite Is My Name,” scripted by the team of Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, is not just riotously funny, but also inspiring and emotional, exalting the unlikely triumph of a fringe dreamer. But as compliments go it’s ludicrous because, as I keep telling everyone, “There’d be no ‘The Disaster Artist’ without ‘Ed Wood,’” also written by Scott and Larry.
They basically invented this type of gonzo biopic. You know, the kind of true story in which you can’t believe it’s true and you’re amazed they decided to tell the story in the first place.
The first conversation Scott Neustadter and I ever had was us geeking out over movies (“Ed Wood” a mutual favorite) and then we became friends by going to the movies (opening weekend for “Man on the Moon”). When we started thinking about writing together we knew the odds were against us. But Scott and Larry’s sustained success gave us the courage to give it a shot. After a quarter-century of subverting the biopic, lionizing off-beat American characters, “Dolemite Is My Name” is their crowning achievement.
Michael H. Weber is the Oscar-nominated screenwriter, along with Scott Neustadter, of “The Disaster Artist.”
Diablo Cody on ‘Hustlers’
Written by: Lorene Scafaria (screenplay) and Jessica Pressler (original magazine article)
“Hustlers” pulls a neat trick right off the bat — and by “neat” I mean “unprecedented, defiant and glorious.” I’m referring to the scene in which Destiny (Constance Wu) admires fellow stripper Ramona (Jennifer Lopez) from afar and later, approaches her on the club’s rooftop. As seasoned filmgoers, we expect Ramona — a cool queen in furs — to reject this supplicant, maybe even belittle her. But Ramona does the opposite; she draws Destiny into the literal warmth of her coat. “Climb in my fur,” she says, a generous lioness. Just like that, we’ve witnessed an authentic and heartfelt interaction between two characters whom a lesser writer would have pitted against each other. And the ensuing narrative sparks that fly are far more effective, far more dazzling, than any that could have been generated by conflict.
Sex workers in cinema have long been depicted as catty, calloused and damaged — and that’s if they’re actually assigned any dialogue in the first place. (Yes, Julia Roberts was lovable in “Pretty Woman,” but the film hinged on the implicit incredulity of the premise: A hooker who’s marriage material? Boy, she must be one of a kind!) In “Hustlers,” Lorene Scafaria changes the game simply by granting her leading characters humanity. The script is brilliant: hilarious, expertly paced and thoroughly satisfying.
Diablo Cody is the Oscar-winning screenwriter of “Juno.” She was also a stripper.
Simon Heffer on ‘Downton Abbey’
Written by: Julian Fellowes (screenplay and original TV series)
The past, for all its faults and injustices, is a rich place of escape. It is why gifted screenwriters such as Julian Fellowes create entertainments such as “Downton Abbey,” and why some of us less blessed with imagination write history books. Fellowes’ film is in the tradition of English comedies of manners, in a direct line from Noel Coward and the finest productions of Ealing Studios.
The British class system, in whose gradations and nuances Fellowes is an unparalleled authority, is the basis of his film. Because his story is about the visit of King George V and Queen Mary to Downton in 1927 we see the class system in its complete range; and Fellowes exploits differences not only between classes, but within them, to build his story.
And, in one of the key, non-comic scenes in the film, he reminds the audience that, whatever the class, everyone is human: it is when Branson, Lord Grantham’s risen-from-the-ranks Irish son-in-law, engages in a conversation about life with a woman he meets in Downton’s park and whom he does not recognise. She is a princess and the King’s daughter; he used to be a chauffeur. There are other such echoes.
As with the Ealing tradition, an amusing contrivance provides the climax of the film. The Downton staff, sidelined when the house is handed over to members of the royal household, resolve to prevail by tricking the royal servants to go back to London (and drugging one and locking one in his bedroom). Fellowes can concoct and weave such human dramas into diverting stories: that is why he is a superlative entertainer. It also helps that he has the perfect eye for period detail — even about the sort of gay speakeasy that popped up in an age when homosexuality was illegal. Above all, his gift is for taking us out of ourselves, and that is what “Downton Abbey”
is all about.
Simon Heffer is a columnist for London’s Telegraph newspaper, professor of modern British history at the University of Buckingham and author of several history books.
Akiva Goldsman on ‘The Two Popes’
Written by: Anthony McCarten (screenplay and stage play)
To call the script for Anthony McCarten’s “The Two Popes” a master class in how to write a feature screenplay runs the risk of diminishing its nature as art. Telling a story already known to a large part of the viewing audience, “The Two Popes” still manages to weave together threads of narrative past, present and future into a tapestry that is at once revelatory and provocative. McCarten relies on structure, yes, and he’s good at it.
He intercuts different actors playing the same role, even jumps narrative point of view. But this juggling act is in service of his greatest presenting gift: the deep study of character. By liberally doling out behavior first and backstory second, McCarten reveals his two subjects (played with exquisite nuance by Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce) as he charts a course that literally transforms the divine into the ordinary and then back again.
Patient naturalistic scenes unfold amidst meticulously composed images of pomp and circumstance, even news footage, allowing the arcane politics of faith to share the stage comfortably with human ambition, failing and forgiveness. McCarten has one thing in mind here, to make these two larger-than-life men utterly human (when else can you watch a pope’s first kiss or see two popes dance?). And in that most lofty of goals, the creation of empathy, he succeeds beautifully. “The Two Popes” is offering up something bold, the notion that forgiving the sins of the past may just be a necessary step on the path toward grace.
Akiva Goldsman won an Oscar for “A Beautiful Mind.”
Craig Mazin on ‘Joker’
Written by: Todd Phillips and Scott Silver (screenplay); Bob Kane, Bill Finger and Jerry Robinson (comic book creators)
When asked about “Apocalypse Now,” Francis Ford Coppola famously said, “My movie is not about Vietnam. My movie is Vietnam.”
Exactly 40 years later, another film — equally as chaotic, terrifying and true — came smashing into our culture. We were told it was dangerous. We were told it was genius. We were told it meant something profound. We were told it meant absolutely nothing at all.
If “Apocalypse Now” is Vietnam, then Todd Phillips’ and Scott Silver’s “Joker” … is the Joker.
The screenplay is gorgeous in its simplicity, unbound by all of the things that threaten to strangle conventional superhero stories to death. No mythology. No soap opera. The stakes? Nothing more than the pain of a tormented, sick, lonely human being.
And that is the brilliance of what Phillips and Silver put on paper. Go ahead and argue about whose fault the Joker is, says the movie. Blame it on his mother, or his father or society. It doesn’t matter. The Joker doesn’t exist because someone made him that way. The Joker exists because no one bothered to help.
If you want to understand why this relatively small film has made over $1 billion at the box office, just think about whom this movie was for. Phillips and Silver wrote a story for anyone who is in pain and needs help. Who among us doesn’t fit that description?
Craig Mazin is the two-time Emmy Award-winning writer and executive producer of the HBO limited series “Chernobyl.”
Anna Quindlen on ‘Little Women’
Written by: Greta Gerwig (screenplay) and Louisa May Alcott (original novel)
I never thought I would weep at the sight of book binding. But in the final scene of Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of “Little Women,” that process becomes a dream, a livelihood, a life. That book being assembled piece by piece is not so much a book as the symbol of a free woman: Jo March, become completely and independently herself.
There’s no reason to make again a film version of “Little Women” unless you are going to bring something new to the story. But reimagining a piece so known and so beloved is fraught. Jo and I have a long history, back to both our girlhoods, she the protagonist of the first great female coming-of-age story, me the aspiring writer seeing in her a model for my improbable hopes.
When, in the first few minutes of watching this recent film version, I realized that Gerwig was going to slice, dice and rearrange the novel’s timeline, it was all I could do not to say “humph.”
And as I watched that book of Jo’s be brought to life at the end, tears streaming down my face, it was all I could do not to say, “Oh, brava. Brava.”
Greta has excavated what was always there in the story but somehow went unremarked. She has taken a 19th century novel best known as a work about sisterhood and turned it into a story that feels of its time and place and yet utterly contemporary, about the yearning in all women to be able to chart their own course, in the world and at home.
For me, the very best movies are those that illuminate something within ourselves that we never quite understood was there. This is that movie.
Anna Quindlen is the author of nine novels, most recently “Alternate Side.” As a columnist at the New York Times she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for commentary.
Marjane Satrapi on ‘Avengers: Endgame’
Written by: Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (screenplay); Stan Lee and Jack Kirby (comic book creators)
As a debate rages over an existential crisis about the very definition of cinema, we can’t overlook the incredible work that has been the foundation for the very best of a genre. While I am not a super fan of superhero movies, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, from their screenplay for “Captain America: The First Avenger” to the culmination in “Avengers: Endgame,” have found their own cinematic language to adapt a huge base from comics into films. With the use of sarcasm and irony and a rhythm of their making they bring to the action film a beautiful light, humor and an intelligent scenario.
It is entertaining and spectacular. It never loses its coherence. And most importantly, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely respect the intelligence of the spectators, something that many films forget to do. As bizarre as it seems for an Iranian-French woman, I found myself identifying with Captain America. Certainly because of his shield and the pose he takes when he uses it. In this moment of disruption or transition or whatever we feel like calling it, we need to remember that the genre of a film has never determined its quality. There are lots of lousy independent films and lots of good ones too and lots of lousy blockbusters and a few good ones too.
Marjane Satrapi’s “Persepolis” has won several prestigious comic book awards and been translated into more than 40 languages. The animated film adaptation of “Persepolis” was nominated for an Academy Award in 2008. Her latest film, “Radioactive, ” will be released by Amazon next year.
Josh Singer on ‘Dark Waters’
Written by: Matthew Michael Carnahan, Mario Correa (screenplay) and Nathaniel Rich (original article)
It’s an odd and somewhat terrifying world in which screenwriters do a better job of putting forth truth than government officials (not to mention certain members of the “news” media). But it seems that’s the world we’re living in. Of course, I suppose this is the way it’s always been … when people in powerful positions start deferring to tyrants, it is left to artists to keep the candle of truth and morality burning.
There’s a moment towards the middle of “Dark Waters” when Mark Ruffalo’s Rob Bilott asks the partners at Taft Stettinius & Hollister, a firm that makes its bread and butter defending large chemical companies, to embark upon a class action suit against DuPont. After an unfortunate, if unsurprisingly, negative reaction from his colleagues, one of Bilott’s partners (Tim Robbins’ Tom Terp) stands up.
“Has anyone even read the evidence this man has collected? The willful negligence, the corruption? Read it! And then tell me we should be sitting on our asses.”
It’s a terrific moment. And it underscores what Mario Correa and Matthew Michael Carnahan have done here. They’ve laid out the evidence. Clearly. Compellingly. Emotionally. They’ve built a procedural that draws you along and makes you feel the anger and frustration of Tom Terp and Rob Bilott, the anger and frustration of people who find their colleagues and friends all too willing to help tyrants bury truth in darkness. In doing so, Correa and Carnahan have not only created a compelling piece of art, but they’ve also done something almost as important in dark times like these. They’ve reminded us that truth matters. And that in moments like this, we all have a responsibility to use the means at our disposal to keep its candle burning.
Josh Singer is the Oscar-winning co-screenwriter of “Spotlight.”
Writers on Writers: Scribes Weigh in on Their Favorite Films From 2019