During the Mexican-American War, Lieutenant Ulysses Grant falls in love with a young Mexican woman who helps American slaves escape bondage. The war separates them, but years later they meet again when the woman is dispatched to the United States to seek an alliance to prevent France from conquering Mexico and becoming an ally of the Confederacy. (Finalist - 2018 Academy Nicholl Screenplay Competition, Finalist - 2020 Final Draft Big Break Screenplay Competition)

Fresh out of West Point, young Ulysses Grant leaves his family to go off to war. He's a man of feeling, a man of sensitivity. And when he meets Marina Calderon, living with her family on a prosperous ranch in South Texas, the two fall in love - even though both are spoken for.

A battle against the Mexican army in south Texas leaves Grant with a great aversion to violence. But this is exactly the quality that makes him such an effective leader, and he rises through the ranks. Marina suggests this is his destiny, like it or not. And though they dream of going off together to live a quiet life together, it is not to be. He must leave Marina behind to pursue the Mexicans deep into Mexico. When he returns, she's married. There's nothing for him do but return to his life and career...and marry the girl back home.

Dissatisfied with his lot in life and haunted by memories of the war, Grant takes to drink. It affects his performance, so much so that he is asked to resign his commission. He does, and attempts to make a go of it in civilian life, at home with his family. But times are tough and Grant can make little headway. He's reduced to selling firewood and cleaning privies. When the Civil War breaks out, an old friend swings him a spot in the Illinois Militia. Grant has no choice but to resume his military career. Advancement comes swiftly, and at the request of President Lincoln he rises to become commander of the Union forces.

In Mexico, the French have invaded and seized control of the government. And it soon becomes clear why - Louis Bonaparte wants to make up for his uncle's mistake of the Louisiana Purchase. By taking over Mexico, he could link up with the remaining unpacified Confederate forces and start the war all over again. Deposed president Benito Juarez doesn't want to see that happen, and bets Grant doesn't either. When it's discovered Marina knows Grant, she's deputized to visit him in Washington and seek his help.

The two ex-lovers meet again. It's a bittersweet moment. But Grant pledges to provide weapons and materiel to the Mexicans. The tactic works - the French are driven out, and the remaining Confederate holdouts give up. Peace is finally at hand. Marina takes her place in the rebuilding of the Mexican nation...and Grant gives in to his destiny, a destiny that will take him eventually to the White House.

Script Excerpt
Written by:
Starring Roles For:
Matt Damon
Penelope Cruz
Javier Bardem
In the Vein Of:
inspired by true events

Author Bio:
A graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, Ernestina Juarez is the author of two historical novels, CALL NO MAN MASTER and SOUTH WIND COME, both published by Arte Publico Press of the University of Houston. Her screenplay LABYRINTH OF DESTINY was named a finalist in the 2018 Academy Nicholl Screenplay Competition and a finalist (diversity category) in the 2020 Final Draft Big Break Screenplay Competition.

Contest Results:
Final Draft/Big Break (Finalist) [2020]
Nicholl Fellowships (Finalist) [2018]