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Screenwriting as a Second Language
February 7, 2012 - By: - In: In the News / Awards - Comments Off on Screenwriting as a Second Language

Rampart, starring Woody Harrelson and directed by Oren Moverman opens in major cities the weekend of February 10. Moverman, a screenwriter by trade,  took a sprawling  script by crime-fiction writer James Ellroy, adapting the story from the LAPD corruption scandal of the late 1990s into a vehicle for a searing performance by Woody Harrelson as a bad cop going badder. Also riveting performances by Ned Beatty, Signorey Weaver, Ben Foster, among a long list of amazing actors.

I saw an advance screening, and I promise the film will blow you away. Come back here to this post and flame me if it isn’t so. Full disclosure, Oren has asked all his friends (our daughters went to nursery school together) to help him plug with some authentic word of mouth, which I am doing here with great pleasure , as I love the story and the storyteller both.

Rampart is one of those archetypal American stories  –Los Angeles as sunburnt underbelly, where noir reigns in the name of the law. A corrupt cop brought down in a corrupt town, we’ve seen it on the screen so many times before, but this time its real, maybe even realer than real.

This dark American dream brilliantly realized is Oren’s signature. Two years ago, in his directorial debut, Moverman made the  The Messenger, the untold third act of Army Strong; from boot camp, to baptism by fire, to burial detail. Again starring Woody Harrelson, this time paired with Ben Foster, the two careen from door to door notifying next of kin that someone they love has fallen.

These stories, like all of Oren’s earlier work, grab at the heart of the American experience, and in extremis, bare its soul.

But Moverman was not born American, or speaking English. He grew up in Tel Aviv, speaking Hebrew, and got his Hollywood dose via dub and subtitle. It wasn’t until his father got transferred to NYC that Oren really nailed down his English while in high school.

Then after his military service in Lebanon in the Israel Defense Force, the bright lights drew him back, where he spent all his free time learning to write English, and he learned to write it really, really well.

So this big-shot Hollywood screenwriter is writing in his second language, in his second culture. There is a story he tells, of sitting on top of an armored personal carrier advancing through a desert where every bush was burning, and it was so wrong, that Oren deciding that he would do everything he could to get as far away from that place as he possibly could.

And now, via English, he has. Interesting that some of the greatest writers in the English language chose to express themselves in this their second language. Joseph Conrad and Vladimir Nabokov are an inspiration to any ESL student who aims to learn their language well. These giants master their second tongue so thoroughly that their prose becomes a mirror to their own language, and freshens that stem of story for us natives, who then take it as a story of their own.

Please check out this powerful new voice in American letters in Ramparts, opening this weekend.

But check out this trailer first.


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