Flawless Heroes Make for Lame Stories, Except in the New Testament
In the fall of 2018, I had a conversation that revealed a core problem with conservatives bent in entering the film industry. They are not interested in flawed protagonists. But flawed protagonists often make for the best, and most enduring stories.
Those on the right storming the gates of Hollywood need to learn how to paint with a full palette, not just crayons. Shut-In, the forthcoming film from Ben Shapiro’s new production company, seems to be drawn in crayon. That’s true of far too many right-leaning movies.
I’ll get back to Shut-In, but first, the conversation from 2018. That was the year I was targeted during the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court nomination. I was dragged into the fight when a woman named Christine Blasey Ford accused Brett of sexual assault as teenagers in the 1980s. She claimed that I was in the room when the attack took place. The media went full-on Stasi. They and their DNC masters used opposition research, extortion threats and an attempted honey trap. Our Stasi media charged that I’d presided over ten gang rapes and bought and sold cocaine. They used as sources people I’ve never met.
“We Can Reboot You”
During the height of it, I got a call from a high-level public relations firm in Washington, D.C. Its staff was willing to rehabilitate me. There were publishers and even filmmakers interested in me. However, I would need to be rebooted. As they informed me, “You are not a sympathetic character right now.”
I never claimed to be a saint, but something in me chafed at the idea that there was nothing sympathetic about my plight. A former drunk who got sober and survived a cancer diagnosis, I’m a sinner who I think has a conscience and a pretty decent heart. Furthermore, my lawyer at the time would frequently play me messages from callers. The majority of whom were sympathetic to me. Example: “Hi, this is Nancy from Nebraska. I am praying for Mark Judge. My husband is a truck driver and he has been in recovery for ten years. I can’t believe what they are doing to this man.”
Meeting a Real Artist
It was shortly after that that I had another conversation with a genuine Hollywood veteran. His name is Greg Ellis. He has done quite a bit, as Wikipedia attests:
Greg Ellis is a British author, television director, voice artist, and actor who has appeared in Oscar-winning movies, directed Hollywood superstars, produced and written television shows. He has starred in Broadway musicals, voiced animated characters for movies, television series, cartoons, and over 120 video games.
Ellis is also the author of a great new book: The Respondent: Exposing the Cartel of Family Law.
It took about thirty seconds for Ellis and I to like each other. He mentioned that the entire story would make a great movie. I told him what I had been told: I was not a sympathetic character.
Ellis was appalled. “Why, that’s insane,” he said in his British accent. “You’re almost the definition of a sympathetic character. Your flaws are at the core of what makes you sympathetic.” Then he said what a Hollywood veteran and expert performer knows: “Conservatives would want to make this a black-and-white morality tale. There is good and evil at play here, but at its heart this is a psychological drama.”
Exactly. Ellis, an experienced, pro, knows what he is talking about. He even tossed out a budget for production. A high school friend of mine and I are working on a script. We know that liberal Hollywood won’t touch it. It’s more depressing that conservative Hollywood won’t, either. I do know one thing: Nancy from Nebraska, and millions like her, would want to see such a film.
Broken Characters Are Eligible for Redemption
Next year will mark the 40th anniversary of The Verdict, one of my favorite movies and one of the best from the 1980s. One of the reasons The Verdict is still so memorable is that it’s protagonist is so flawed … and so human. Paul Newman plays Boston lawyer Frank Galvin, a broken-down alcoholic who takes on a medical negligence case against powerful attorney Edward Concannon. Galvin is emotionally volatile, addicted to booze, in his fifties, and legally outgunned. The opposition even lures Galvin in with a honey trap.
Like so many characters from films at the time, Galvin is memorable. Not only for his moral conscience, but also for his self-doubt. His type was once common in Hollywood before kids took over the script writing. Even a square, stand-up character like Eliot Ness in the 1987 film The Untouchables stumbles. “I have foresworn myself,” Ness, played by Kevin Costner, says. “I have broken every law I have sworn to uphold, I have become what I beheld and I am content that I have done right.” Bruce Willis kicks butt in Die Hard (1988), but then breaks down weeping because he is a failed husband.
We Must Make More Than Cartoons
It’s unlikely that such subtlety will be featured in Shut-In, the first film from Ben Shapiro’s movie production new studio. The plot involves a young single mom named Jessica (Rainey Qualley) who has to save her kids after she is barricaded inside a pantry by her violent ex-boyfriend. D.J. Caruso, the director, has helmed a number of mainstream movies, including the 2000s Shia LaBeouf thriller films Disturbia and Eagle Eye, the 2011 young adult action sci-fi flick I Am Number Four, and 2017’s xXx: Return of Xander Cage. The movie was written by debut writer Melanie Toast.
Shut-In sounds like raw, primal stuff — a mom scratches her way out of confinement to save her kids — and such stuff can make great movies. Still if the right is going to produce not just pulp, but art, it requires something more.
Mark Judge is a writer and filmmaker in Washington, D.C.