Full Screenplay


Original screenplay by Kevin McDermott

(Courtroom Drama) During a routine coroner's inquest, a troubled prosecutor begins to suspect that an apparent self-defense shooting was actually a cold-blooded execution.



Based loosely (very loosely) on a murder trial I covered years ago in Christian County, Illinois, involving two brothers. An agent I was working with on another screenplay a few years ago (``i.d.'') wasn't interested in this one, not enough explosions. He arranged for me to enter ``i.d.'' into the Nicholl Fellowships amateur screenwriting competition, put on by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. I threw ``Inquest'' in as a second entry. ``i.d.'' didn't do anything, but ``Inquest'' made the quarter-finals.



When a well-liked newspaper reporter in a small town kills a home intruder, there appears to be little doubt that it was self-defense. Authorities begin going through the motions to close the case, convening a coroner’s inquest that everyone assumes will be short and simple. Only State’s Attorney Frank McGrath -- a World War Two veteran still haunted at what he’d witnessed of the Holocaust -- is having problems with the story. As McGrath reluctantly pursues his questions, he finds implications that reach far beyond the case at hand, to challenge his very understanding of the concept of justice. (`The Verdict’ meets `Gods & Monsters’)




Writer: Kevin McDermott
Genre: Courtroom drama
Length: 121 pages.
Logline: During a routine coroner's inquest, a troubled prosecutor begins to suspect that an apparent self-defense shooting was actually a cold-blooded execution.
Setting: Small town, Pacific Northwest, 1968 -- with flashbacks to World War Two Germany.
Main characters:
- Frank McGrath, a local state’s attorney and World War Two veteran. Stoic and somber, he has a tragic family history (wife and son killed several years earlier), and wartime memories of liberating a Nazi concentration camp that still haunt him.
- Dennis Hawkins, a young, friendly newspaper reporter who kills an intruder in his home, seemingly in self-defense.
- Mary Hawkins, Dennis’ wife, young, pretty -- and blind. She is the only ``witness’’ to the shooting.
- Charlie and Jimmy Travis, brothers and petty criminals who graduate to murder.

`Inquest’ is a dark courtroom drama about two killings: One in the home of small-town newspaper reporter Dennis Hawkins, an apparent open-and-shut case of self defense. And the other, 25 years earlier, in the aftermath of the American liberation of the Buchenwald Nazi concentration camp during World War Two.

The common thread is Frank McGrath, the grizzled prosecutor who struggles with private doubts about the current killing -- even as he is haunted by his memories of the earlier one, when he was a young soldier. As he slowly picks apart Dennis’ story, we see McGrath’s own story unveiled, piece by piece, in black-and-white flashbacks from the war, a time when McGrath’s quiet but unyielding principles of justice were first formed.

Those principles are challenged after Dennis, a friend of McGrath’s and a well-liked member of the community, kills local career criminal Charlie Travis in Dennis’s living room. All the evidence points to self-defense, especially after a routine coroner’s inquest fills us in on the background: Charlie and his brother, Jimmy Travis, had earlier been tried for a murder based on evidence that Dennis had helped unearth. Charlie had made it clear he wanted revenge, and had apparently shown up at Dennis’s home to get it.

McGrath, like everyone else, is initially satisfied with Dennis’s story, until he begins looking more closely at some of its loose ends. He is especially bothered by indications that there was a long pause between the two shots that Dennis fired at Travis -- though Dennis and his blind wife, Mary, maintain the shots were only a few seconds apart. (We in the audience know from the start that this is a lie -- the movie opens with the sound of the two shots, separated by a torturously long silence --  but what actually happened won’t become clear until the end.)

The screenplay contains numerous twists, a stunning surprise ending, and stylistic touches that include black-and-white flashbacks to differentiate the current story from the World War Two backstory; liquidy sounds and images symbolizing blood throughout; and a scene in which we experience what it‘s like to ``witness‘’ a shooting from the point of view of a blind woman.

The story’s central theme is summed up in McGrath’s words to a jury: ``The living have a responsibility to the dead.’’ Ultimately, the question is whether McGrath himself can live up to that responsibility in the face of a community’s opposition and his own conflicted past.



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