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Dont Let Meat Loaf

Patient: Focus

Profile: A man named Newman puts on a pair of glasses and is misidentified as Jewish in a time and place—'40s Brooklyn—where that is not a good thing. To make matters worse, Meat Loaf lives next door. Well-intentioned cautionary tale about bigotry that bogs down when it becomes more about the bigots and less about the quiet people who appease them. Think Gentleman's Agreement meets Watermelon Man meets All in the Family.
Script Doctor Symptoms: The first half of this movie is good, concentrating on the debilitating effect mollifying hate has on a person, so that 45 minutes into the film, the little man is practically imploding under its weight. He's helpless to save himself, since he's been trained—by bullies, institutional racism and his own comfort—to say nothing. But just as Focus has built to a claustrophobic pitch, it suddenly kicks into neutral. A love interest is introduced, and the movie becomes more about the sinister outside forces at work on the couple. Those forces become increasingly two-dimensional until they amount to a bunch of comfortably identifiable—and hateable—brownshirts murdering, raping and generally terrorizing (Mr. Loaf actually starts to look and sound like Archie Bunker). The film becomes increasingly shrill, playing more and more to the back rows with its long shadows and longer speeches until the whole thing looks so much like a WPA project that you expect to see Clifford Odets mentioned in the credits. Diagnosis: Bloated villains make for flabby drama. Odets, where is thy sting? Prescription: This ends up being a very easy movie—downtrodden people over here, mean people over there—and it shouldn't be. By making the villains so cartoonishly evil, you make Newman's predicament simple—it only becomes a matter of when he'll speak up. Keep the racism subtle, hidden behind quiet stares, patronizing nods and code words ("law and order" and "national security" are usually effective). Instead of broadening the story with more players, keep the cast small, the issue ever tightening around poor Newman. Don't make it so simple for him; make him have to actually risk something instead of being backed into doing the right thing. For that matter, don't make it so easy for us to point a finger at the bad men on the screen as being different from us; don't allow us to dismiss their attitudes as being from another place and time. After all, last week a man named Michael Bloomberg, who had only recently resigned from several mostly white clubs, was elected mayor of New York. The fault, dear Newman, is not in our Meat Loaf, but in ourselves.


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