Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Coming to a screen near you...

It’s been rather beastly hot here in Toronto the past week or so. This is not a complaint on my part. I love summer and am quite willing to be warm when called for. Consider the alternative and it’s not much of a battle against which is worse: being too hot or being too cold – and north of the 49th parallel that’s a consideration.

Anyway, the other evening, thoughts of being somewhere cool for a few hours led my wife and I to take in a movie. Only one thing really caught our eye: The Lincoln Lawyer which is based on the very fine novel of the same name by Michael Connelly.

Books brought to the screen don’t generally cover themselves with glory. Remember that horrible attempt to bring Sara Paretsky’s iconic V. I. Warshawski to the silver screen back in the early ’90s? I’ve tried to erase that from my memory. Kathleen Turner was a good choice as the title character, but what the hell were they thinking when they wrote that script? How did Paretsky deal with the embarrassment of what they did to her creation?

Don’t get me wrong. Adapting books to the screen can be done with excellent results. The problem seems to be that screenwriters, directors and producers think that they can just add and subtract whatever they want. It’s as if they feel that since they bought the rights, everything now belongs to them to do with as they please.

There are certainly things to consider and problems to solve when adapting a novel. It has to be streamlined, most subplots thrown away and often large portions of the work left out. The problem is that the adaptor has to understand the basic idea of the novel, or you’re going to get something that might have some of the same names and maybe bits of the plot, but the end result isn’t going to resemble anything like what you started with. Fans of a book who go to see the movie will be very disappointed, and if the movie they’ve “made up” from the story isn’t good cinema, it will have a very short run.

I’m here to tell you that The Lincoln Lawyer does not fall down on these points. It is a good film (if you’ve never read the novel), and if you have read it, the screenplay captures a lot of what Connelly wrote. (Surprisingly, he had nothing to do with the script.) Yes, they had to cut out a lot, but what remained held together well. The title character, played by Matthew McConaughey, is excellent and the supporting cast well-chosen, and they ultimately make the movie what it is: a very enjoyable way to spend an evening – and stay cool at the same time.

1 comment:

Donis Casey said...

The movie version of "Cold Mountain" did a good job of using and rearranging elements of the excellent book, but the ending was turned on its head, which was a very great disappointment and a very big mistake in my humble opinion. I couldn't see what the moviemakers' reasoning was, either.