You guys know how much I love Richard Stark’s Parker books. I think I’ve mentioned it one, maybe one and a half times over the years.
So of course I was intrigued when Variety announced the other day that Jason Statham is in talks to play Parker in a new movie called PARKER, based on– well, that part’s not clear, the article doesn’t say. Some have assumed that it’s another adaptation of the first Parker book, ‘The Hunter’ (even though we’ve already seen that turned into POINT BLANK, two different cuts of PAYBACK and a recent comic strip book). Others think it’s gonna just be a new story based on the character.
Loosely based, I’m afraid. While some sights debate the merits of Statham in the role
few have said anything about the most eyebrow raising sentence in the Variety article, the part that says the movie “revolves around a thief who, though at times is forced to be a killer, still lives by a code of honor that includes never stealing money from people who need it.”
You know me, I love a good code of honor, but there’s no way around this one – that’s not fucking Parker. Parker lives by a code all right, but it has nothing to do with honor. I’ve read I guess 16 of the books now, and I don’t remember anything ever crossing his mind about it being a shame to take money from some poor sucker. That’s not something that Parker would ever think about.
The only thing Parker cares about is getting the job done correctly. Any concerns he has about killing or not killing have to do with efficiency. As another character we all love said, “Deserve’s got nothing to do with it,” or whatever. He doesn’t want to kill somebody if it’s gonna cause him any trouble. If it will make his job go smoother then yes, he’ll kill somebody.
The one thing that always seems to worry movie producers about the character – that he seems unlikely to be nominated for a Humanitarian of the Year Award – is of course the exact reason why the character is so beloved and timeless. In a 2008 interview Donald Westlake explained, “When Bucklyn Moon of Pocket Books said he wanted to publish ‘The Hunter’, if I’d help Parker escape the law at the end so I could write more books about him, I was at first very surprised. He was the bad guy in the book. More than that, I’d done nothing to make him easy for the reader; no smalltalk, no quirks, no pets. I told myself the only way I could do it is if I held onto what Buck seemed to like, the very fact that he was a compendium of what your lead character should not be. I must never soften him, never make him user-friendly, and I’ve tried to hold to that.”
So of course whenever there’s a movie they do the opposite, they try to soften him and make him user friendly. I still love several of the movies, but they never quite get it right. I’d say PAYBACK and POINT BLANK get pretty close. They certainly make him a cold-blooded bastard. But they give him emotional moments and connections, they make him just a little bit too human. THE OUTFIT and THE SPLIT moreso.
In all of those movies, though, he’s not called Parker. I’ve never been clear if this was because Westlake didn’t want anybody to use the name or if it had to do with optioning the rights to the individual books and not the entire series. At any rate I feel like if you’re gonna use Westlake’s death as a chance to snatch up the actual name I think you have a duty and obligation to not be a dick about it. You gotta make an effort to reflect the original character more than the other versions. But if that Variety description is accurate then this is clearly not the case. Too bad.
But hey, even though the movies mentioned above are not quite Parker they’re all movies I really dig. So while this one sounds like it’s unfortunate, unethical, unamerican, shameful, etc. I do hope it will still be pretty cool. Statham wouldn’t be my first choice, but maybe that’s just because he’s so associated with a big, showy type of action that Parker shouldn’t be. He does project a meanness and an intelligence that fits. I can definitely imagine it working.
I’m more concerned about Taylor Hackford being the director. Hackford is the guy that did AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN and RAY. He was actually one of the editors of WHEN WE WERE KINGS, that’s the best thing he’s been involved with as far as I’m concerned. It’s better than if Simon West or somebody was doing it, but it’s a question mark. He’s done respected movies but even in those he hasn’t displayed much chops, and who the fuck knows what his take on the films of badass cinema is.
The Variety article quotes Hackford as saying, “I don’t want to get stuck in a genre, What I like the most about this piece of material is that you can take a genre piece like this and turn it into a great movie.” You can read this as condescending, like the crime genre is usually crap but can be elevated by the vast skills of an Academy Award nominated director of glorified TV movies like himself. But he probly didn’t mean it that way. He probly just meant he was gonna take it seriously and try to do a good job.
Hell, even if he was being condescending it’s not the end of it. POINT BLANK is an absolute classic, but it’s always seemed to me like John Boorman had no respect for the book. In interviews and the DVD commentary he brags about dumping the original screenplay because it was just a straight up genre movie, presumably like the book.
You know what would’ve been exciting? If Brian De Palma was gonna direct it. Which he was, a couple months ago. I’m glad I didn’t find that out until now, because I woulda been real bummed when suddenly they were talking about Hackford instead.
Another vital point that’s not addressed is when this movie takes place. Most of the books were written in the ’60s and ’70s, a very different time to commit a robbery. If PARKER takes place in the present day it completely changes everything. Parker of the books could never use a cell phone, didn’t have to worry about sophisticated alarms or cameras, databases or forensics. In ‘The Hunter’ he’s able to go around using a bad credit card back before they could check that shit on phone lines. If you want to contact Parker you call Handy McKay at his diner, and Handy calls Parker. If this movie Parker has email I’m not sure I can take it. Or if he has a computer hacker sidekick, or any of that high tech MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE type shit they put in modern heist movies. It was smart for Brian Helgeland to set PAYBACK in some kind of indistinct ’70s-ish period.
But right now we got no clue what it is. We’ll have to wait until more information is available. Keep in mind that every story out there at the moment is just recycled from the Variety one, and there’s alot of assumptions and mistakes getting repeated. Some have stated matter-of-factly that the new movie is based on ‘The Hunter’ or that it’s a new story, but without any new source besides Variety, which did not state either. I saw 5 versions of the story that I guess must’ve used wikipedia as a source because they confidently state that there are three movies of ‘The Hunter’: POINT BLANK, PAYBACK and Ringo Lam’s FULL CONTACT. This may come as a surprise if you’ve seen FULL CONTACT. It does involve a guy coming back to get even after being left for dead on a heist, and I do think it’s true that they got that from POINT BLANK, but the characters and details are not the same at all, and it’s not credited as an adaptation or anything.
I did look up the producers to see if they seem trustworthy or not. Steve Chasman is the producer of most of Statham’s movies (TRANSPORTER, CHAOS, WAR, BANK JOB), so that doesn’t tell us much. Les Alexander seems to just do TV movies (I KNOW MY SON IS ALIVE, SWITCHED AT BIRTH), except for NEXT OF KIN with Patrick Swayze and Liam Neeson. I didn’t like that one too much, but it’s okay. Sidney Kimmel seems like the more respectable producer, he did stuff like ALPHA DOG, THE KITE RUNNER, SYNECHDOCHE NEW YORK, ADVENTURELAND. Some good stuff, nothing completely embarrassing. The last guy listed is Jonathan Mitchell, all he did was a movie called WHO DO YOU LOVE that never came out, but it’s about the founding of the great blues label Chess Records. So who knows.
So my conclusion on that is, well, at least it’s not Millennium Films. That’s a good sign.
And then there’s the writer, John McLaughlin. He got a story credit for the Tommy Lee Jones comedy MAN OF THE HOUSE. Probly just wrote an early draft, I wouldn’t blame him for that. His only other produced credit is BLACK SWAN so far. Admittedly he’s one of three credited writers, and Aranofsky is known to work very closely with his writers and perfect everything through countless drafts. So him by himself doing Parker for Jason Statham is gonna be different. But BLACK SWAN was probly my favorite movie last year, so respect is due for being involved. That’s positive.
But whatever happens with this movie it’s still a good time for the Parker books. I know alot of new people are being turned on to the character by the two comic book adaptations by this artist Darwyn Cooke. He did ‘The Hunter’ and then he wisely skipped to book #3, ‘The Outfit,’ which is one of my favorites of all the books because it has multiple heists as all of Parker’s allies plan simultaneous hits on the organized crime group of the title. Actually Cooke condensed book #2, ‘The Man With the Getaway Face’ into a prologue to explain how Parker got plastic surgery.
They’re good adaptations, very faithful, using big chunks of the original text and dialogue, doing what can be done visually with the drawings. I would encourage you, though, to check out the books too. You just can’t beat the original. I like the retro ’60s style of these drawings, but it’s still a cartoon drawing. In your head it’s gonna be tougher, I guarantee you.
And the best news is that at last all of the books are easy to get. For years I’ve been trying to read all of them in order, scouring ebay for each one, trying not to spend too much. Some of them took a while, I kept getting snaked by guys who never bid until the last second. Sonofabitch.
I got stuck on the 15th book, ‘Plunder Squad.’ That one and ‘Butcher’s Moon’ were the last two written until he revived the character in the ’90s with ‘Comeback.’ For some reason they were never reprinted and were very rare. I never saw them on ebay for less than 80 bucks, and usually it was alot more than that.
In 2008 the University of Chicago Press started reprinting the Parker books in order. It would be years before they caught up with me, that is if they even saw the whole series through. But the time flew by faster than I thought it would, and now they’ve done it. I finally own ‘Plunder Squad’ and ‘Butcher’s Moon’ and they’ve even done ‘Comeback’ from 1997. There are only 7 left to reprint and they’re all recent enough that they’re easy to find used copies of.
‘Plunder Squad’ was well worth the wait, that was a good one. We’ve seen alot of stories before where Parker sees bad signs and it explains that he would usually back out but he stays on the job for whatever reason. In ‘Plunder Squad’ there are two jobs in a row where it doesn’t smell right so he doesn’t do it. My favorite is when he’s in his hotel room and the driver’s wife shows up at his door. Knowing this is gonna be some kind of love triangle shit that will spoil the job he just walks past her to his car and drives away.
I’m in the middle of ‘Butcher’s Moon’ right now and this one is pretty cool too, it’s a direct sequel to ‘Slayground’ where he goes back to try to recover some money he had to ditch in that one. And I like how there are all these characters who were cops and security guards and stuff that were involved in that story and you get to see them a couple years later and how their encounter with Parker changed their lives.
Anyway, let’s hope for a good movie, and please read these books. Reading shit is fundamental.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.