Parker Movie Trailer Irks this Parker Fan

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University of Chicago Press edition of The Hunter

Parker, the protagonist of Richard Stark’s novel The Hunter, is not a nice man.  He beats a prison guard to death to escape a California work camp.  He does this not because he’s serving a long sentence–he isn’t–but out of impatience.  Once free, he browbeats his admittedly traitorous wife into committing suicide.  He dumps her corpse in New York City’s Central Park, hiking up her skirts to make it look like a sex murder, then mutilates her face.  Later, he threatens and beats a prostitute into revealing the location of the man who walked off with his money.  Info in hand, he abandons the woman, leaving her at the mercy of the mob she just betrayed.  Next, Parker stakes out the mobster’s hotel by breaking into a hair salon across the way.  Finding a stylist still there, he ties her up and gags her.  When she asphyxiates and dies, he blames her death on his enemies.  Even when he’s killed the man who betrayed him, Parker, total bastard that he is, still isn’t satisfied.

While I’m a tremendous fan of the Parker books overall, even I have to admit that if I’d read The Hunter first, I would never have tried the rest of the series.  There are twenty-four books in total, twenty-eight if you count the four staring Parker’s more genial colleague, Alan Grofield), nearly all of which are heist novels.  These follow Parker and a rotating cast of other ‘operators’ through the planning and commission of a theft, along with the inevitable complications.  Many of these books allow Parker to display his finer qualities, such as they are.  He possesses a keen understanding of people’s psychological needs, needs he simply doesn’t share.  He dislikes unnecessary killing, not because of any moral stance, but because murders attract more law-enforcement attention than thefts.  Parker never betrays his fellow thieves, but is absolutely ruthless with operators who become greedy or erratic.

Parker reserves his nice manners for managing his victems.

Darwyn Cooke illustrates Parker’s smooth touch in his graphic novel adaptation of The Score

In The Hunter, Parker is nothing short of contemptible.  In later books he operates according to a code of conduct that might seem admirable if it weren’t entirely self-serving.  Just what attracts me to the series is hard to explain.  Whatever it is, Hollywood has occasionally fallen under the spell of Parker’s brutal appeal.

The quintessential Parker movie is John Boorman’s 1967 film Point Blank.  Lee Marvin plays Walker (Donald Westlake, a.k.a Richard Stark, never allowed the Parker name to be used during his lifetime) as a kind of emotionless force.  His quest to retrieve his money from the mob unfolds in all it’s meaningless glory.

Less successful was 1999’s Payback, another adaptation of The Hunter.  Mel Gibson, now called Porter, comes across as sort of puppy-eyed hardcase with a heart full of goo, who’s prone to irregular bursts of insane violence.  As the bodies drop, he goes out of his way to rescue the aforementioned prostitute.  Muddying the waters even further is Lucy Liu (who’s now cluttering up an otherwise serviceable Sherlock Holmes TV adaptation) as a comic-relief Asian gangster.

Jason Statham as Parker?  Well, if we must...

U. of Chicago’s movie tie-in edition of Flashfire

Now Hollywood is back at it.  January of 2013 will see the release of Parker (the Westlake estate allowed the use of the name) staring Jason Statham.  I’m willing to set aside Statham’s complete lack of resemblance to the character as described by Stark.  I’m more worried about other issues.  Though Parker’s new producers have dodged a bullet by not trying to adapt The Hunter yet again, the novel they picked–2000’s Flashfire–bears a remarkable similarity to Parker’s first outing.  After a successful score, members of Parker’s crew betray him and leave him for dead.  When he tracks them down, they’ve spent his loot setting up an even bigger job.  Of course, Parker isn’t leaving without his money.  Sound familiar?

Even more disturbing is Parker’s revised code of conduct, as mouthed by Statham in the recent trailer.  “I never steal from people who can’t afford it,” he rasps, “and I never hurt people who don’t deserve it.”  Sentiments Stark’s Parker would find laughable, or at least worthy of a fist in the face.  In a way, Hollywood’s efforts to soften Parker are understandable.  Most people don’t want to watch a movie featuring an uncommunicative sociopath, even if that’s how his die-hard fans would prefer it.  Let’s hope that, in their efforts to introduce Parker to a mass audience, Statham and company don’t undermine the very things that make this anti-hero so intriguing in the first place.

Dave Hurwitz

10 Responses to “Parker Movie Trailer Irks this Parker Fan”

  1. Parker is quite vicious in a few other instances outside of The Hunter. In The Mourner he tortures a woman with matches until she divulges some info. In another volume (which one I can’t remember) he attempts to have sex with an unresponsive prostitute and thus hits her until she finally gets responsive enough to enjoy it. Very rough stuff. Westlake didn’t pull punches.

    Those lines in the opening of the trailer are the worst cop-out, typical Hollywood playing it safe pablum and a bad rereading of what today’s audiences will accept.

  2. The one thing I would quibble with you on is the fact I hardly think Point Blank is the quintessential Parker film. The Outfit with Robert Duvall has Duvall getting much closer to the essence of Westlake’s Parker than Marvin’s performance.

    I mean, c’mon, would the Parker of the novels follow Lynn on the boardwalk all misty-eyed and sheepish, obviously so infatuated he can barely stand it?

    Would the Parker of the novels allow John Vernon to push him to the floor at what looks like a College reunion (Parker in College? Hell no.) and plant a big gooey smooch?

    Hell no.

    • Fair point. I’ll admit it’s been a while since I last watched Point Blank. My brain must have scrubbed those scenes from my memory of the film. That said, I just can’t accept Robert Duvall as Parker, either. His performance is excellent, but I’ve just seen him doing his Robert Duvall thing in too many other movies. Come to that, that’s pretty much my objection to Jason Statham as well. No matter what his character’s called, he’s still Jason Statham.

  3. Yeah, can’t argue that point. Both Duvall and Statham seem more like “personalities” than master Thespians. I think Duvall is good when he plays a certain part, but I don’t think he has the range of a DeNiro or Pacino.

    Westlake himself stated Duvall’s performance was the closest to the books. But Duvall, as well as Statham, doesn’t really look like the physical image I have for Parker.

    DeNiro in Heat and Keitel in City of Industry are very Parker-like. And I personally can’t wait until Mise a Sac (Pillaged) comes out on DVD, because Michel Constantin is VERY much like my physical image of Parker. A big, hard thug.

    For those who don’t know, Mise a Sac is the 60’s French adaptation of The Score. Dammit, if there’s a film I must see before I shuffle off this mortal coil, it’s that one! The French just seem to “get” that existential quality to good hardboiled Noir.

  4. Never read these books, but I understand how Hollywood adapts. A name like Statham probably wouldn’t want to play the sociopath. He’s a good action start, and that’s what I’d look for in this flick. Most action flicks are short on plot anyway (Expendibles). So if it even has a smidgen, call it a success.

    • Thanks for looking in, and for providing the non-anorak point of view. Regardless of whether Parker is a successful action flick, however you chose to define that, it seems unlikely to satisfy hardcore Parker fans such as myself. Of course, movie adaptations aren’t really aimed at original fan-base, but that’s been changing lately. Take a look at The Avengers. Or Hunger Games. And look at Darwyn Cooke’s Parker graphic novels. A respectful adaptation is possible. Sadly, if the trailer is any indicator, that doesn’t seem to be what we’re getting here.

  5. […] Readers of this blog might appreciate this book/movie post. […]

    • Thanks to Trent over at the Violent World of Parker for including this post in his latest news roundup. If you’re a Parker fan, and haven’t seen VWOP, you need to check it out.

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