Monday, August 8, 2016

TODAY'S NUGGET: Night Falls on Manhattan (1996) - Dealing With Moral Grey Areas

[Quick Summary: A new assistant D.A. is about to win a big case in which his father, a narcotics cop, is wounded while apprehending a dope dealer, but it all falls apart.]

Recently, I saw a comment on Twitter that the increased online outrage over films was because audiences today do not know how to deal with negative emotions.

This thought intrigued me.

How do we write stories that deal with negative emotions? Grey areas?

Can't we just have happy, happy stories? (NO. It's unrealistic, and worse, it's boring.)

For me, Sidney Lumet was a master of delving into moral grey areas. 

He didn't shy away from taking you through the fire and seeing the bleakest of human behavior, yet his films always ended on a hopeful note.

This script is exceptionally grey, complicated, and human.

I think there are two keys to this script:

1) Everyone is shown with BOTH heroic and selfish traits.
2) No one can escape the tough decision(s).  Good men do the wrong thing for the right reasons.

ex. "MORGENSTERN: Sean, when we capture Jordan, and we will, he's going to be tried. It's the easiest case this office will ever have. He left one empty gun behind. His prints are on it. And I'll bet you whatever you want ballistics to find bullets in one of those four cops that came from that gun. He's the worst dope dealer in Harlem, a murderer of his own people, a monster. As I said: easiest case to ever come in this office. I hope they get him alive. Because I want him put on trial by this office. And you know who the prosecutor is gonna be?

Elihu smiles.

MORGENSTERN (cont): You, Sean. You're gonna try him.

Elihu's smile freezes on his face. Sean looks pole-axed.

MORGENSTERN (cont): That's right. You Sean. (to Elihu) You're looking at me like I'm crazy.

ELIHU: Well - Morgy - with apologies to you, Sean - Morgy, it's a giant case. Sean has never tried anything this close to this, in size, in importance.

SEAN: Mr. Morgenstern -

Morgy starts to cut in.

SEAN (cont): Morgy - Mr. Harrison's right. I'm too inexperienced - A mistake could -

MORGENSTERN: There's no problem here. My son would win this case and he's not out of high school. And he's stupid. This case is not complicated....

He eases Sean out of the room, crosses to his desk, pops a pill. Elihu is sitting in stoney silence.

ELIHU: Why are you doing this?

MORGENSTERN: He's at the top of the class. It's a simple case. I got a feeling about him.

ELIHU (after a pause): You mean it?

MORGENSTERN: You bet your goy ass I do.

ELIHU: You realize I'll have to resign.

MORGENSTERN: So, resign.

ELIHU: Morgy, I'm senior trial counsel. Turning this over to anybody but me is an insult that's incredibly damaging to me.  To my career. But to turn it over to an ADA with eight months experience is more than insulting. It's shocking, humiliating. It's unacceptable.

MORGENSTERN: Listen to me, you prick. You think I don't know what's going on? The walls have ears, my friend. Those planted stories in the papers? Morgenstern is old, Morgenstern's got heart problems, Morgenstern's lost his touch. That's your work, Eli. You and that goddamn PR firm you hired. You though I didn't know? I got lots of friends, Eli. People owe me."


Night Falls on Manhattan (1996)
Based on the book by Robert Daley, "Tainted Evidence"

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