he 1990 movie adaptation of Jim Thompson's novel The Grifters
has much going for it: strong performances all around, a script by Donald Westlake, bit parts for character actors who look as thuggish and dangerous or thick and greedy and vulnerable and stupid as the characters are supposed to be, nicely staged cons, and the joy of seeing Annette Bening naked (she just seems to be having so much fun, rare for any performer.)
Mostly, though, the book, despite dropping one of Thompson's dark little subplots, offers a simple two-point definition of noir:
- The characters who die are neither deserving villains nor innocent victims.
- No one who's let alive is any better off at the beginning than at the end.
The movie's Wikipedia article reports some overheated, self-important tosh about the film, some of it possibly true. One advantage books have over movies is that their creators don't usually call them projects or report breathlessly that they cried during the creation of certain scenes or say anything as silly about symbolism as Wikipedia reports Martin Scorcese as saying. (Scorcese was the movie's producer.)
I enjoyed the movie especially because the novel, which I did not finish, was not among the highlights of my recent burst of Thompson reading
(click the link, scroll down). Perhaps this is a case where a movie is better than the novel on which it is based.
© Peter Rozovsky 2013
Labels: Annette Bening, Donald Westlake, Jim Thompson, movies