A Dark Twist on an Old Story? Not Even Close

Okay, I know how I started writing about a 2010 movie based on a 2001 novel but I am not sure why I am posting an entry in my blog about them.

I guess it all started when I watched the Brit TV series based on the Jack Taylor novels by Irish writer Ken Bruen (an appreciation of Mr. Bruen’s unique – to me – prose style appears elsewhere in this blog.)

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I noticed a second hand copy of London Boulevard at a book sale and since I had become an aficionado of Mr. Bruen’s works I picked it up. Okay, it wasn’t a Jack Taylor novel but the protagonist, a wary, volatile ex-con named Mitchell, his run-ins with former criminal associates, his relationship with mentally unstable sister, Briony, his reluctant affair with the aging but still alluring  reclusive actress Lillian Palmer and her enigmatic butler, Jordan. held my attention.

Then I became aware of a movie adapted from the novel.  Since it was written by William Monahan, the Oscar-winning screenwriter who adapted the Asian box office hit Infernal Affairs for the Martin Scorsese-directed North American cinematic success The Departed (one of my favorite films) I had high hopes when the acclaimed screenwriter chose London Boulevard as his directorial debut. 

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Imagine my surprise when I looked closer at the back of the DVD dust cover and saw that Colin Farrell and Keira Knightley had been cast in leading roles. While reading the novel I kept picturing Liam Neeson and Helen Mirren or Charlotte Rampling in the roles. (On the other hand, the casting of Anna Friel as Briony and Ray Winstone as Mitchell’s criminal nemesis, Gant, was spot-on.)

I understand the need to attract “name” stars to secure investors. However, the casting – and rewriting – completely destroys Mr. Bruen’s original intent: to write a British version of Sunset Boulevard, or, as it says on the front cover of the novel, “a dark twist on a classic story.” Imagine a version geared to a youthful demographic directed by Zack Snyder and starring, say, Scarlett Johansson as Ms. Palmer (renamed “Lily”) and one of the Hemsworth boys as Mitchell (MC Mitch?)  

Mr. Monahan’s second attempt at directing, the dismal Mojave. didn’t fare much better (24% Audience Rating). Perhaps Peter Howell of Toronto’s Globe & Mail (quoted on RT) says it best:  “Writer/director William Monahan won an Oscar for penning The Departed and he obviously needs the discipline Martin Scorsese brought to that picture.”

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Taylor Made for Hard-Boiled Noir Fans

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Ken Bruen – The Irish Elmore Leonard?

Call Ken Bruen the Irish Elmore Leonard.  He would probably like that. After all, he includes a quote from Be Cool, arguably one of Leonard’s weaker efforts, in one book and a quote from La Brava,one of my personal favorites, in another. 

There are traces of Elmore Leonard in his books but like Mr. Leonard, Ken Bruen has developed his own style and found his own voice in his Jack Taylor novels, set in the Irish city of Galway, and Inspector Brant books, set in London. ( He has also written standalone novels and co-written a series of satirical paperbacks with Jason Starr featuring an unsavory character named Max Fisher.)

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Mr. Bruen favors blunt, clipped sentences which can carry the force of a sucker punch.  His chapters are usually brief (Attention ADD sufferers!) His writing style can be interpreted as wilfully eccentric – think of  modern poetry adapted to a prose style. There are numerous pop culture and literary references (everything from Flaubert to Jim Thompson). Mr. Bruen not only tells us  Jack  is a discriminating film buff but what his favorites are: (“I headed for my video shelf. It`s sparse but has my very essentials:

                                   Paris, Texas  

                                  Once Upon a Time in the West

                                  Sunset Boulevard

                                  Double Indemnity

                                 Cutter`s Way

                                 Dog Soldiers “

(No, there is nothing wrong with my keyboard. That is the spacing in the book.)

Ken Bruen  also tells us about Jack’s favorite authors and  TV shows (Breaking Bad is a particular favorite). Mr. Bruen is also musically literate. (In describing the repertoire of a young singer , Jack recognizes songs by  Chrissie Hynde, Alison Moyet, Neil Young and Margo Timmins, lead singer of The Cowboy Junkies). 

I would have posted a favorable review of the Jack Taylor novels for fans of hard-boiled noir but the best adjectives have been taken : “Bruen’s astringent prose and death’s head humor keeps this quest for redemption from getting maudlin, just as his ‘tapestry of talk’ makes somber poetry of the bar-stool laments that  serve as dialogue. ”  (Marilyn Stasio, New York Times)  or “… a potent draft of desire and hopelessness, conviction and surrender, inadvertent heroism and unexpected grace.” ( best-selling crime novelist T. Jefferson Parker) and (“there’s not a single drop or morsel of sentimentality to be found”) Oh, excuse me, that last quote (from Entertainment Weekly) is from the back cover of an Inspector Brant novel.

It is tempting to think  Jack Taylor’s tastes match those of his creator – and I’m not the only one to wonder. In a lead-up to an interview with Ken Bruen, Mary-Ann Kolton writes on the L.A. Review of Books website: “SLY, PROFANE, CHARMING, ALCOHOLIC, sensitive, lonely, handsome, addicted to drugs, ballsy, well read, wry, nasty, self-deprecating, savvy, vicious, darkly humorous, vulnerable, cunning, insecure, emotionally damaged, loves his music, melancholy, short-tempered, bookstore lover.

Jack Taylor or Ken Bruen? “

During the course of the interview Mr. Bruen asserts that he is categorically NOT Jack Taylor, although they may share some tastes in literature and music. (Mr. Bruen tells Ms. Kolton that the character of Jack Taylor is actually based on his alcoholic brother.)

I already suspected that, before perusing the interview, after reading a Hard Case Crime paperback called PIMP.

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One of the Max Fisher novels co-written with Mr. Starr, it is a wannabe (now there’s an adjective that hasn’t been used, to my knowledge) R-rated homage to Elmore Leonard’s Get Shorty (it even has a cop named Leonard in the mix) which takes satirical potshots at the movie and book biz.  Jack Reacher author Lee Child is satirized mercilessly. (One or two jokes may have been funny but a dozen or more? (Ever the good sport, Mr. Child wrote a blurb for the front cover: “I would have killed these two but I was too busy laughing.”)

I suppose if you were in the book business, or had some frustrating experiences dealing with Hollywood execs (according to his website Mr. Starr has several projects “in development”) the book may have been hilarious. The duo appeared to having fun writing it but to me the whole affair seemed to be a betrayal of Mr. Bruen’s voice in the Taylor novels.

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Ironically, I was initially intrigued enough to sample the novels after watching the British TV series based on the Jack Taylor novels (on Netflix in North America and also on DVD). But after reading the novels I found the series (there are six episodes) did not stand up to repeat views. Iain Glen does a serviceable job as Jack Taylor (I guess Ray Stevenson wasn’t available and they couldn’t afford Liam Neeson) but they radically altered The Guards (for that sin alone I cannot forgive them).

If Jack Taylor was a real person, though, I bet we would have much in common as far as our pop culture favorites were concerned. (Steve Earle is one of my favorites, too, especially the way he sings “Galway Girl” and  The Good Wife was must-see TV when it was on the air. )  We may not have been mates (I have a glass jaw when it comes to booze and I am a practicing Protestant) but we certainly could share a jar or two. 

PS Mr. Bruen’s novels are not recommended for devout Catholics (he directs a lot of shots at priests, nuns and the Church in general) or for those for whom profanity in literature is a dealbreaker (Mr. Bruen’s characters swear a lot.)

ken-bruen-blitz
Jason Statham plays Inspector Brant in BLITZ

DVDs I Rent So U Don’t Hafta … “Blitz”

"Now, tell me again why you didn't like the movie."

Why I Rented It: Hey, it’s Jason Statham, dude. 

How It Plays:

The tag line for the poster says it all: “Cop Killer Versus Killer Cop”

Statham is a vigilante cop. Aiden Gillen as a small time thug with authority issues is the killer.

Badtime Charlie’s Got the Blues:

“You’re a dinosaur,” a woman tells Det. Sgt. Tom Brant (Statham).

So is this movie.

The simplistic plot and  heavy-handed depiction of the law of the land as a  weak and flawed system where perps have more rights than victims and get away with murder reminds me of those old Charles Bronson shoot-em-ups back in the ‘8os.

Although even Charlie and/or his writers might get a visit from the PC police with dialogue like this: 

In one scene, Brant tells his soft-spoken boss (Paddy Considine) that he is a good cop (pause)  “for a poof-tah.”

Later he asks a female co-worker to help him figure out his computer.

Do you mean women are good for something other than cooking, cleaning and shagging? she asks.

Brant just gives her a stubbly smile while she looks at him adoringly.

 There is also a subplot with a former drug addict turned undercover officer (Zawe Ashton) stitched in here for no discernable reason other to pad the running time of the movie (which clocks in at just over 90 minutes.)

Since Brant is the central character in a series of novels by Irish crime fiction scribbler Ken Bruen (including the one adapted by Nathan Parker for his paint-by-numbers screenplay) and director Elliott Lester’s primary experience is limited to music videos and commercials (he has only other feature film to his credit) I’m not sure whom to blame for this mess.

Bottom Line: This is Statham’s first movie to go direct to DVD in North America. With material like this it won’t be his last.

"Whaddya mean we went straight to video in America?"