This seems like something obvious, doesn’t it? Well, turns out a lot of screenwriters don’t entirely get their importance.
There are plenty of films who have good characters, but they are outweighed by the ones who don’t. With characters, I don’t mean the amount of them there are. I’m talking about the character of the characters and how they are written.
Recently I saw a film in which the characters were horrible, which lead to me writing this article. This film was a western about a woman called Jane (Natalie Portman), who had searched for help with her ex-lover (Joel Edgerton), to protect her home from a gang led by John Bishop (Ewan McGregor), because of the things her husband (Noah Emmerich), with whom she’s at the moment, had done to that gang. This film was directed by Gavin O’Connor, the director of “Warrior”, and the recent The Accountant. This film was called Jane Got a Gun and against all of my expectations, it wasn’t very good.
In Jane Got a Gun, they surprisingly try to create characters. They try to do this by using flashbacks, and having them have conversations about themselves, so why were the characters badly developed? Because each time we nothing learned new about them. We knew that Natalie Portman’s character and Joel Edgerton’s had a background, but in the flashbacks, they didn’t add to them. They were just them talking, without any emotion, whereby we don’t even get subtle character traits. And in the normal conversation, they also don’t add anything to the characters, so when the climax of the movie comes, you are numb to what’s happening on screen and don’t even care about it. And also by having these badly written characters, you’ll be bored throughout, because of the frequently told and clichéd story, accompanied with bland directing.
From each movie something can be learned, so what did we learn from Jane Got a Gun? We learned that if you want to create somewhat interesting characters, you don’t need to repeat everything we’ve already seen and that you have to add something to them once in a while, so you ‘ll get a multi-layered character, that can be unpredictable.
As a counter-example, I’ve also chosen a western – this time a modern-day western – that came out last year, called Hell or High Water. The screenplay of that film was written by Taylor Sheridan and is about a pair of brothers who’re robbing banks while being hunted by the Texan Police. Now, why does Jane Got a Gun differ character-wise from this film? In Hell or High Water, there are for a starter better actors, each giving their all to the character, and adding on them themselves, by acting fittingly to the characters. Second of all is because of the brilliantly written story and characters that were done by Taylor Sheridan. The story unfolds in a brilliant way, even though the film might seem superficial at first. The characters are developed by the events that occur or when they talk about something that’s happened in the past, it also adds to the character. Not only by doing that, they are also developed by just normal dialogue, in subtle manners. Like that, we get to know Jeff Bridges his character very well, just by the jokes he makes, and we get to know Ben Foster’s character by the subtle actions he does. These things all add up and at the end of the movie you have rounded, multi-layered, interesting characters that are interesting to watch on screen, and will never bore you.
To wrap things up I want to conclude the reason why characters are important to film in one tiny sentence: to make your film interesting.