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I'm sitting down to write something about Parker, which I've just seen. Yesterday I had seen reviews of the film by A.O. Scott (positive) and Joe Morgenstern (negative).

I haven't checked other reviews, but I don't need to. I'm happy to report that Scott is correct. This is the best piece of genre filmmaking I've seen since Haywire. It's not as formally interesting as Haywire (although that film, which I know is a favorite of many of us on the board, lost something for me on second view), but it's very well put together by Taylor Hackford. I wouldn't call it a must-see, but it's surprisingly well made.

Now, a caveat: 24 hours earlier I had seen Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, which is not the worst movie I've seen, but it's pretty bad in some obvious ways, particularly in its incoherent action scenes. So when Parker opened with a robbery, intercut with some lengthy flashback sequences, and the editing never confused me for a second, I knew I was watching a talented filmmaker put together a pulpy tale with skill and polish.

The film may be a tad too long, but I'm not sure what should've been cut, if anything. It's a good movie.

I hope we see more Parker films, especially because that'll give me an incentive to keep reading the Donald Westlake (Richard Stark) books that feature the title character.

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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No one else saw this film over its opening weekend? Drat. I was hoping for a little discussion, some other perspective, given how much some of us admired Haywire, and how many of us have discussed Westlake and other detective fiction in the Lit area. I could be completely wrong about this film, but gosh, I enjoyed it. Not greatly, but it impressed me.

I liked that the second act s-l-o-w-e-d down some, but at some point I found myself too aware that the film's pace had slackened, and I wanted it to pick up. It did. I'm not sure if that slower stretch lasts too long, or is something that will seem less important on second viewing.

And I will be watching this film again. Maybe not at the theater, but I'll be watching it again.

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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Justin, dude: Have you seen The Bank Job?

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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Not yet, all I've seen of his main roles and not just supporting is Crank 1 and 2, Death Race, Safe, and The Mechanic (I did like that last one a bit, but it was mainly cause of Ben Foster who I love in every role he's in.)

"The truth is you're the weak, and I'm the tyranny of evil men. But I'm tryin Ringo, I'm tryin real hard to be the shepherd." Pulp Fiction

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Yeah, I haven't seen any of those. I don't think of The Bank Job primarily as his film, but it's a good film. Goes to some surprising places, though, in terms of S&M stuff. (You've mentioned some reluctance to see Eyes Wide Shut, and while The Bank Job isn't about sex the way EWS is, there's some kinky stuff in it, which understandably might not be something you'd want to seek out. Still, as someone sensitive to that content myself, I think first and foremost about how well-executed that movie is.)

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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I think it's because of my lack of reluctance to see EWS that is why I shouldn't be seeing it lol....I'd be seeing it for the wrong reasons. Most movies I can go in without knowledge and deal with really erotic stuff, though the fast forward has to be pushed a lot. But some movies I know I'd be seeing them for the wrong reason. Gotta know your limitations. I'll check out The Bank Job.

"The truth is you're the weak, and I'm the tyranny of evil men. But I'm tryin Ringo, I'm tryin real hard to be the shepherd." Pulp Fiction

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I love Westlake, especially his Richard Stark novels.

But this film... I dunno. It's interesting that the Richard Stark novels have been adapted in wildly different ways (what other series has inspired adaptations as wildly varied as POINT BLANK, MADE IN U.S.A., and PAYBACK?), but I wasn't sure that PARKER was my kind of thing.

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Legitimate concerns. I've read two of the Parker novels and part of a third, so I'm no expert. But the film felt faithful to the tone of the stories, if not every particular of the character. He has a few lines in Parker where he lists his truisms, or moral code, and that, I'm told, is something Parker never does in any of Westlake's stories.

I note that Nick Pinkerton picked up on this in his positive review:

There is the inevitable softening of the character as originally conceived, as this Parker exhibits something of a moral code, but Statham, of the pure panther prowl and vigilant poise, more than makes up for this when placed into action.

I realize anyone can pull up Rotten Tomatoes to read the other positive reviews, but I'm particularly fond of Stephanie Zacharek's take:

As Westlake himself explained, Parker is angry: "Not hot angry — cold angry." Statham, with those inquisitive, cautious eyes and that slow-burning purr of a voice, can act cold, but he can never be cold. Even at his coolest, he's all heat.

Then again, you can use electricity to make ice, which is pretty much what Statham does in Taylor Hackford's jaggedly satisfying thriller, Parker. Based on Stark's 2000 novel Flashfire, this is a bruised knuckle of a movie; there are moments of unapologetic violence (including some nasty business with a scary little curved knife) that made me wince and squirm and want to leap out of my seat. Note to self: Must see it again!

Some of the negative reviews say Hackford et al. have made hash of Westlake's character. I know one big fan of the Parker series who refuses to see the movie based on the whole "moral code" business.

Edited by Christian

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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Apologies to those who follow me on Twitter or Facebook and saw me post this link there, but I want to spread far and wide this transcript of Paul Westlake's -- son of Donald Westlake -- response to a "Parker" critic who loves the book series.

Paul doesn't entirely discount the critiques about the film's treatment of the Parker character, but he also puts the character in context in a way that might -- might -- allow fans to see the movie's portrayal of Parker as fitting in with the books' portrayal.

This is the kind of honest, open discussion that fascinates me -- probably because I'm particularly interested in this writer, this character and this film (and any future films), while at the same time knowing I have a lot to learn.

Edited by Christian

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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Apologies to those who follow me on Twitter or Facebook and saw me post this link there, but I want to spread far and wide this transcript of Paul Westlake's -- son of Donald Westlake -- response to a "Parker" critic who loves the book series.

While I haven't seen PARKER, I don't understand objecting to it because it is somehow unfaithful to the character. All of the Parker adaptations have been markedly unfaithful to the character (sometimes wildly so). The important thing is whether this riff on Westlake's creation is compelling in its own right, not whether or not it's a successful copy of what Westlake put on the page.

Also, Paul Westlake's response to this critic doesn't exactly seem enthusiastic. "It could have been worse" is one of the least inspiring lines of defense one can make, and that's essentially the approach he takes here.

Edited by Ryan H.
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And kudos to the author of the pan mentioned above, linked here, which he wrote at 4 in the morning after a midnight screening, and which concludes with links to reviews from other Westlake fans, most of whom like the film quite a bit better than the 4 a.m. reviewer.

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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While I haven't seen PARKER, I don't understand objecting to it because it is somehow unfaithful to the character. All of the Parker adaptations have been markedly unfaithful to the character (sometimes wildly so). The important thing is whether this riff on Westlake's creation is compelling in its own right, not whether or not it's a successful copy of what Westlake put on the page.

Well, Parker fans are quick to (loudly) disagree with that sentiment, in my experience.

Also, Paul Westlake's response to this critic doesn't exactly seem enthusiastic. "It could have been worse" is one of the least inspiring lines of defense one can make, and that's essentially the approach he takes here.

I probably overstated Westlake's own response, which, as you say, doesn't exactly contradict the criticism of Parker, but which I thought mitigates that criticism in some important ways. Plus, Westlake mentions options on other books and seems hopeful for another adaptation sooner rather than later. That, admittedly, excites me.

Also, the posted critique of the film that Paul is responding to seems off base to me in some important ways. I don't want to be dismissive of concerns about faithfulness to the character of Parker, but when the author writes that the film's strength is its action scenes, that seems like a strength to me. The whole need to "get inside Parker's head" is pretty much brushed aside by Paul Westlake, who writes:

Winning the stuffed animal for the little girl at the fair is hardly a Parker-like activity, to be sure. And yet, doesn’t Parker frequently find himself doing things that he would never do just to make the people around him more at ease? Doesn’t he say “hi” when all he wants to do is stay quiet and hear about the job? And that with fellow heavies! Wouldn’t Parker go through the motions of maintaining the entirety of the disguise, right down to smiling and winning a toy for a kid, if that meant keeping the job on schedule? The thing we’re missing is Parker’s internal monologue wherein he reveals his disgust with the motions, even as he goes through the motions. How do you translate that on camera without a voiceover or a sneering aside? I don’t think Don would have put him in that specific situation (obviously) but once there, he wouldn’t have let him off easy, either.

Then there's Trent's pan of the film, which states:

Taylor Hackford made a point in interviews of saying he wasn’t an action director, so this was somewhat new territory for him.

And that’s a problem, because it looks to me like he was so worried about not delivering on the action scenes that he concentrated on those and not everything else that should be part of a good movie. The action scenes are about the only things that work here, whereas the things a good director is supposed to do (directing actors, creating drama, filling in all of those spaces that are supposed to make the damn action scenes have some resonance to the viewer) he didn’t do. He forgot about the stuff in between. If we’re talking Statham movies, The Transporter, with all its cliches and clumsiness, is far better at the things Taylor Hackford is supposed to be good at!

--As I said earlier, maybe it was because I'd seen Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters the night before, but the action scenes in Parker struck me as particularly coherent and very well put together. That's a big plus in my book.

The cinematography is excellent. Whoever did that and his crew deserve better gigs than this one. Good luck, crew!

--OK, stop right there. Anyone who knows me knows that the above statement is pretty much enough for me to overlook other shortcomings. That's a weakness of mine. I admit, although I can't say the cinematography particularly stood out to me here. It's possible that it was, like good acting, so great I didn't even notice it. smile.png

Edited by Christian

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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A negative review (unconvincing, but I don't want to go the mat justifying my reaction) that was, for me, educational (I had no idea Westlake adapated The Grifters for Frears):

Hackford and his screenwriter, John J. McLaughlin, didn’t go in for anything fancy; this is a head-on, efficient, old-fashioned, R-rated B-movie with guns and splatters and bared breasts. Hackford knows what he’s doing behind a camera, and McLaughlin has adapted the book with admirable economy. But Parker reveals why every effort to turn Westlake’s character into a cinematic immortal has been doomed to failure.

So far so good. But then:

The simple fact of the matter is that watching Parker is boring. He’s not witty, he’s not interesting, he doesn’t care about people, he has nothing to say. Every now and then he shoots somebody, or tells someone else to shoot somebody, or doesn’t shoot somebody (which is supposed to be a big surprise).

Reading about Parker, however, is anything but boring. There’s a lot going on inside his head. He is a study in the perversity of intelligence. He is brilliant, patient, and determined. He observes. He waits. He sets up plans with payoffs months later. He works out his play and improvises only when necessary. He’s a craftsman with a craftsman’s code. He believes in order, he only acts when things get out of order, and he doesn’t make mistakes based on heated emotion.

I also agree with this assessment of the Parker novels:

Books that specialized in highly elaborate plotting of the sort it might take another kind of writer years to work out, but took Westlake a couple of weeks at most.

This is true of my reactions to mysteries in general -- how'd they come up with that? -- but with the Parker novels specifically, where the imagined criminality is brazen yet plausible to my limited way of thinking.

Edited by Christian

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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  • 2 weeks later...

I understand why no one would take my word for it that Parker is a good movie. So how 'bout Glenn Kenny's?

The Statham/Hackford cinematic realization of Parker is sufficiently in the spirit of the original that I would not mind seeing another such adaptation from these guys.

Kenny's post is an excellent overview of the Parker character. I had no idea that he'd changed in certain ways in the later books, and that Parker (which is based on one of the later books in Westlake's series) gets at some of those changes -- the very things the movie's critics have cited as being not true to the character! Presumably those critics haven't read through the later books, or have just forgotten those nuances.

Or, it's possibly Kenny's wrong.

But I doubt it.

Edited by Christian

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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  • 6 months later...

I watched Parker again over the weekend with my wife, and was quite pleased with the film on second viewing. I don't think I have any new insights to share; what I've written above still holds, especially my fondness for the film's action scenes.

 

I sometimes have liked Jennifer Lopez as an actress but am ambivalent about her performance here. Essentially, there's not much chemistry between her character and Parker, but I wonder if there should be. Is that something out of Westlake's book on which this film is based (I haven't read that particular book), or is that a conditioned expectation when we see two attractive leads on screen? It's not that Parker can't show tenderness or love; he's

involved with another woman, and she has a couple of scenes in the film.

 

The opening sequence at the carnival/fair is very good, as is the film's climax. That scene on the hotel balcony is the kind of grisly that I like.

 

Also, I like the ending of this film.

 

My wife watched the movie and didn't react much one way or the other. She did wonder aloud how someone who was shot/stabbed could rebound so quickly and show minimal lingering effects. Fair question; I don't think that's explained well in the movie.

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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  • 2 weeks later...

Christian--I remember your enthusiasm for Parker, so when it popped up on Netflix I took the opportunity to check it out. I know nothing about Parker the character from the novels. In general I agree with your assessment about the film. It was a well done, tense heist thriller. But, on the other hand, it lacked a particular verve that the next level of thrillers have, for which Out of Sight is probably my benchmark. I never for once thought I wasn't watching Jason Statham on screen--he could have been the dude from the Expendables. Lopez is fine as the down on her luck desperate agent ready to make a score, but she's not much more than fine. But the action was crystal clear and the tension amped up nicely. In the end, it was better than the other new release I watched on Netflix just cause it was new and I'd heard of it, Dredd. But Dredd had that cool Clint Eastwood impersonation...

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1-for-2. I would've guessed Ryan would go for it more than Buckeye, but after Ryan's embrace of Riddick, all bets are off. ;)

 

Thanks to both of you for at least giving Parker a shot. My work here is done. And ... I'm fired.

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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  • 2 weeks later...

About half an hour into this on Netflix. It's certainly a cut above a lot of Statham's other genre flicks. And I love hearing him use words like "trachea" and especially "posthumous".

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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How did the rest of the film play, Peter?

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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Christian wrote:

: How did the rest of the film play, Peter?

I liked it well enough. It's a genre film, but a solid one.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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I loved the scene where Parker talks the guy out of the panic attack. I am of 2 minds about the fight which lasted most in my memory, the brutal fight in the hotel room involving the balcony. That was GRUESOME, but it was also pretty memorable. I didn't care for Jennifer Lopez's character or the scenes with her (except the scene which also included his SO--girlfriend? wife? I forget).

 

Oh, and for Pete's sake, do they ever show him change the license plate off of any of his stolen cars? It felt stupid that he never got apprehended for all those thefts.

That's just how eye roll.

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