You don’t need character names for this. Man 1 comes home to find Man 2 has broken in, and is waiting for him. Man 2 leaves. Later, Man 1 gets a phone call telling him that his friend has been shot dead. He realises that it was his gun that was used. He check his gun box, it’s empty. Man 2 had stolen and used it, framing Man 1 for the murder. There had been no mention of the gun previously, unless I missed it (which renders this whole thing pointless).
The question here, boys and girls, is what you rather have – use of a plot device never even hinted at previously, or one mentioned in an earlier scene, with the inherent risk that you would figure out why it’s there?
The general screenwriting method would be to mention the gun earlier in the script, framing it as a throwaway line or relatively innocent reference. A minor character would mention it in conversation, “Still holding onto your dad’s gun?” or similar. Other writers would approach it the way Lost writers often would. Mention the gun and something else at the same time, making thing #2 seem like it’s going to be the important one. Have us watching one hand while slipping the other into our metaphorical anus. Total misdirection.
But Lincoln Lawyer ignores these conventions (again, unless I missed something) and chooses to not even mention the gun until it’s necessary. Why? Is it bad writing, something dangerously close to a deus ex machina? Or is it careful and deliberate writing, an attempt to avoid the viewer guessing the outcome.
Film-goers are more astute than they’ve ever been. While the very existence of Big Momma’s House 3 suggests we’re subhumans, happy just to have images bounce off our retinas, we’re generally more versed in the structures of cinema than at any time before. Films are discussed, dissected and analysed on thousands of blogs and forums. Websites exist that are dedicated purely to the cliches, tropes and common plot devices of cinema. Movie critic Roger Ebert’s site even has its own film glossary, detailing standardised elements of cinema. Combined with increased, quicker and easier access to films, viewers in 2011 are more fluent in the language of film, and so more likely to notice things, like a supposedly off-hand mention of a gun, and realise that it’ll be important 10 scenes later.
Is the future of film to hide more and more from us? Will our condescending eyes scan every little detail, our ears pick up on every minor comment, and our brains try process all possible story-lines and endings? Will we end up as mere predictors, trying to best each other by being the first to correctly guess what the last scene will be? Will we excise enjoyment from cinema by dealing with films purely on an intellectual level. No, probably not. But we might start to demand a higher quality standard for our films. It costs £8.40 for a ticket at the Odeon now. £8.40. For that price I would want to watch a film that I can’t guess the slightest bit of, and one that fills me with a joy that lasts for at least 5 days, and makes my entire life seem like an awesome secret agent film.