Parker: The Movie

October 18, 2012 in Screens by pewestlake

The first of what is slated to be several movies based on the Parker series (originally published under the pseudonym Richard Stark) is due to be released in January, 2013. The first trailer (below) is already out and beginning to make the rounds in theaters. And the die-hard DEW fans are already deep in discussion on the merits of the film, mostly based on the trailer. I was given the opportunity to see the rough cut of the film a few weeks ago and will offer my thoughts below. The film already has a Facebook page and Twitter account.

Parker Trailer

From Entertainment Weekly:

“Parker first appeared in the 1962 novel The Hunter, the first of more than 20 books to feature the career criminal written by prolific author Donald E. Westlake under the pen name Richard Stark. The character has previously broken any number of laws in a clutch of movies including 1967’s Point Blank and 1999’s Payback, but always after a name change (in Point Blank, Lee Marvin played “Walker” while, for the Mel Gibson-starring Payback, the character went by the name “Porter”). Parker director Taylor Hackford (Ray, Against All Odds) and screenwriter John J. McLaughlin (Black Swan) have, of course, very much rectified that situation, even naming this adaptation of Westlake’s 2001 novel Flashfire in honor of Westlake’s original creation.”

Actually, it was the producers who rectified the situation and I’m looking forward to the development of the film version of the Parker character in subsequent productions. And let’s be clear, there is a difference between the film version and the book version of just about every character ever adapted to the screen from a novel. This Parker is not precisely the same as the one found in Don’s original work. And while there has been some grousing among die-hard Parker fans about the personal code espoused by the film version (not a spoiler — it’s in the trailer), it’s actually not too far from the implied code that the book version of Parker acted out in each of the novels.

Many DEW (and especially Parker) fans know the reason that the name “Parker” was never used in a film adaptation until now. But to clear up the misconception for others, while it’s true that Don never gave permission in his lifetime for the name “Parker” to be used in any film adaptations, he had always maintained that he would allow use of the name if the filmmakers would agree to produce the books as a series instead of one-offs.  Les Alexander, long-time friend and producer of the Parker movie, did agree to make a series and the production company purchased the rights to multiple books in one pass. The DEW estate agreed to allow the use of the Parker name based on the best understanding of Don’s wishes.

Personally, my biggest fear for this film was knowing that Jason Statham is not very good at American accents and Parker is a definitively American character. It worried me that a justification for the accent would be injected, turning Parker’s enigmatic pedigree into some tearjerker story of being raised in an abusive orphanage in Manchester until he escaped by killing the director with a sponge. I am pleased to report that the English accent is not justified or acknowledged in any way. When “Parker” needed a disguise, I think they put Jason in a cowboy hat (also in the trailer) because “Texan” is about the only American accent Statham can successfully pull off. Hard margins are a fact of film making life and this choice worked just fine.

At its core, this is a heist and revenge flick. There are two big jobs book-ending the film and Statham’s subdued mannerisms are a very good fit for the Parker persona. Nick Nolte and Michael Chiklis are predictable but appropriately so. And both Jennifer Lopez and Patti LuPone give outstanding performances. The anti-climactic nature of the violence depicted in the Parker novels takes a back seat to the more favored over-the-top Hollywood version but not always. There are several depictions of Parker’s prowess that should prove satisfying for most fans of the novels. And Statham carries off most of the violence with Parker-like efficiency.

The plot is mostly true to the book, Flashfire, and Statham’s low-key performance speaks to an understanding of the character in a way that was totally lost on others. Lawrence Block, Abby Westlake and I all approve. Oscar-winning Director Taylor Hackford, who has received mixed reviews in the past, made some very good choices that manage to depict Parker’s nature visually without resorting to canned exposition or distracting narration. He put a lot of effort into the changes that are inevitable in any adaptation and it shows. I think J-Lo would have made a terrific Claire but that role is too small for her and she did a fantastic job as the down-trodden, always-last real estate agent in the playground of the rich and powerful.

Most Parker loyalists will not be pleased with the casting of Claire. The actress, Emma Booth, is fine but young. Still, the Aussie does a better job with the accent, so there’s that. The loose familial relationships are a bit contrived. But again, Claire may have a big role in Parker’s life but she has a small role in the books and in the film. Not easy to find an actress with the kind of gravitas Claire has in the books (think Susan Sarandon) to take on a role with just a few lines and fewer scenes. Overall, this is an excellent first installment of what we hope will become a successful introduction of Parker to a larger audience.

I’m looking forward to sequels, and especially prequels, and have already started buzzing Les Alexander’s ear about doing something with the Alan Grofield novels, which are rollicking good stories of a similar tone with a decidedly more extroverted main character.

Stay tuned for updates, publicity, behind-the-scenes multimedia and upcoming events promoting the new film.