By F Scott Frasier
Two thousand and eleven was a good year for screenwriter F Scott Frasier. He started it off by selling the thriller Line Of Sight to Warners last February for which the studio has lined Ben Affleck up to star in and direct. His CIA thriller The Numbers Station started shooting in the fall with John Cusack and Malin Akerman. And in November he sold a third thriller, Autobahn, to the British production company Between The Eyes for a reported “mid-six figures” sum. All three films were written “on spec,” that is without a studio assignment and no guarantee that they would sell. And of the three, Autobahn may perhaps be the most riskiest of the three in terms of how it tells its story, but it may also be the one with the chance to offer the biggest thrills.
The first page of Autobahn simply states “This movie is fast. This movie is relentless.” That’s a bold boast to make, especially with a title taken from the name of the German highway system known for its lack of speed limits. But Frasier manages to live up to that promise, delivering a solid and exciting exploitation script that could be described as Crank by way of 1971’s Vanishing Point minus the latter’s existential ending.
Autobahn starts off with a deceptive moment of quiet with the script seating its reader in a BWM parked in a large garage filled with high end automobiles. The calm is shattered by gunshots. The film’s hero, Casey Stein, comes charging in carrying a duffel-bag and being chased by gun-tooting goons. Casey dives into the BWM and thanks to the keys being in the ignition, revs the motor and tears out of the garage to reveal his escaping from a rather ornate home in the German Alps. With an army of armed goons in black SUVs pursuing him, Casey heads for the surest means of escape – the speed-limitless German highway system known as the Autobahn.
Through a series of cell phone calls, we learn that Casey and his friend Jeff have double-crossed a rather bad man by the name of Argrest. Their plan is to slip out of the country by catching a train out of Innsbruck, but when Argrest calls and threatens his girlfriend Juliette, Casey heads to Munich to save her from Argrest’s killers. But can he elude the killers that are on his own tail in order to make it there in time?
Like the titular motorway, Autobahn moves along at an accelerated pace, barely giving one a chance to catch their breath as it charges pell-mell for 84 pages towards its final Fade To Black.
But rather than letting this be just a straight-up car chase film, Frasier makes a couple of stylistic choices that help make the script feel more visceral and vital. Right away he tells us that we will never leave the BMW that Casey steals and indeed we stay in it until he crashes it on page 42. And while he doesn’t state it implicitly, it is hard not read those 42 pages as one long, continuous shot. On top of that, the entire script reads as if Frasier telling his story in real time. There are no cuts to “later on” during Casey’s race to save Juliette. We are with him every second of the script and we can’t help but feel his sense of urgency. And with that sense of urgency, every delay and obstacle placed in Casey’s way only serves to ratchet up the tension even further.
Now the danger to such a storytelling choice is that it might be limiting when it comes to characterization. Frasier manages to avoid that trap, though, doling out information about Casey, his relationships with Jeff and Juliette as well as the events leading up to the script’s opening moments.
I only have one real complaint about the screenplay and it is with the motive it gives a character in its last section. Throughout the script, Casey is barely able to keep one step ahead of the bad guys and at the beginning of the third act we learn that this is because someone has betrayed him. Due to the limited number of characters in the story, it was pretty easy to figure out before Casey does who that person is. I never like to feel smarter than a movie’s hero, but in this instance it comes off as an unfortunate but probably unavoidable byproduct of the script’s setup. However, I am not sure I really buy into the person’s excuse given for their betrayal of Casey. It feels a bit trite, more like a placeholder for a better idea to come along with a rewrite. For a script that makes a lot of interesting creative choices, this rather mundane one comes as a disappointment.
But that fixable point aside, Autobahn is a gripping read that with the right director could be turned into a rather exciting film. Here’s hoping that production company Between The Eyes can deliver on that promise.