Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Details

Tonight, we watched The Exorcism of Emily Rose. Let me begin by saying that the concept is interesting, the actors were great, and some of the shots were incredible. There are a few images from the movie that will haunt me.

But the writing was terrible. The locket thing tried so hard to work, but it didn't. I never thought it was a sign from God; I thought she was kinda strange to pick it up and put it on. And so much of the dialogue felt scripted. The actors said their lines with gusto, but you just can't say a bad line well enough. I thought about Michael Scott during Erin Bruner's (Laura Linney) closing argument when she asks the jury, "Are we all alone? Or are we not alone?" I would say "great concept, terrible execution," but it had both a great concept and great execution by the actors, etc. Something messed up between the concept and the execution.

The worst part of the writing was the egregious inaccuracy of the details of the trial. If you want to make a movie with a trial as the backdrop against which everything takes place, please consult a trial lawyer about how things work. You can keep those details straight without sacrificing too much drama. One example will show you exactly what I'm talking about.

Father Moore (Tom Wilkinson) is on the stand. He has just been cross-examined, rather effectively, by prosecutor Ethan Thomas (Campbell Scott). Bruner stands for re-direct examination and pulls out a tape that we know is a recording of the attempted exorcism of Emily Rose. Thomas jumps to his feet and objects strenuously. He tells the judge that the prosecution had only received a copy of the tape the night before. Bruner brilliantly parries his thrust by stating that she had only gotten a copy of the tape the night before as well and provided the prosecution with a copy as quickly as practicable. Names are called, accusations are made, and, eventually, Thomas embarrassingly loses the objection fight. He sits down humiliated.

But if Mr. Thomas had gone to law school, he would have known that the scope of re-direct examination is generally limited to the scope of the immediately preceding cross-examination. If he had known that, he would have stood and simply said, "Objection---beyond the scope of cross." The judge probably would have sustained the scope objection, the tape would not be in evidence, and Mr. Thomas would have accomplished his goal without embarrassing himself. (Of course, a good trial lawyer could beat that objection, but it's much stronger than his crybaby one. Especially because the judge could properly sustain the scope objection, but couldn't properly sustain the unfair surprise objection.) But apparently, Mr. Thomas did not go to law school, or else he went to one that didn't teach the rules of evidence.

They say in the Federal Republic of Germany that the devil is in the details. There was so much to like about this movie, and I can swallow a lot of inaccuracies in the name of story. But some brilliant science fiction writer once said that, if you tell the truth about the little things---the details---then your audience will believe even the biggest lies you throw their way. The writers ignored so many trees, that I could hardly focus on the forest.

1 comment:

rebeccagriffin said...

He went to, as Trail would have told us, a pinhead lawschool!

I enjoyed the movie and I was able to gloss over most of the courtroom shenanigans, but an objection based on "we only got this last night," and a response of "well that's when I got it" kind of made me like I'd run into a brick wall. So it was a fake response to a fake objection that got a bogus ruling. Awesome.