With his newfound popularity in the movie biz due to the success of the Coen brothers masterpiece No Country for Old Men and the upcoming adaptation of The Road starring Viggo Mortensen that is already getting Oscar buzz, Cormac McCarthy – who is undoubtedly my favorite living author – has become one of the hottest and most respected literary names out there right now (that Pulitzer Prize last year probably didn’t hurt either). More than likely, this is going to attract the studios to anything by Cormac McCarthy they can get their hands on (possibly even leading to a Director’s Cut of a certain McCarthy movie from earlier this decade – read on).
There’s no way around it. We’re going to get a lot of McCarthy adapted movies, which can be great or terrible depending on your viewpoint. But if this is going to be the case, I can only hope these adaptations are done right, as McCarthy is the premiere living American writer – our generation’s Faulkner, if you will. So below, let’s take a look at some of Cormac McCarthy’s works with some mumblings about their adaptations.
Here is the one that is being filmed as we speak, and so far it is shaping up to be everything a fan of the Pulitzer winning novel could wish for. We have a minimalistic, nature-centric director in John Hillcoat, the talents of Viggo Mortensen, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Robert Duvall and Charlize Theron in front of the camera, and the brilliance of Nick Cave and Warren Ellis composing the movie’s score.
While everything surrounding the set has been very hush-hush, there are already a number of people (including me) predicting that Cormac is going to have to dust off his tuxedo for a second year in a row for the Oscars. If all goes as it should, this won’t be much of a surprise. I’m almost expecting it.
We’ll have to wait until it hits theatres in the USA on November 26, 2008 to make our judgment though.
All the Pretty Horses
All the Pretty Horses is the first book in Cormac McCarthy’s Borders trilogy (which is followed by The Crossing and Cities of the Plain). This one, of course, was already made into a film by Billy Bob Thornton in 2000, starring Matt Damon and Penelope Cruz. It needlessly left out quite a bit from the original source material, but Thornton and Damon both have been vocal about their displeasure with the Harvey Weinstein-Miramax controlled two-hour cut of the film – in fact, Thornton’s original cut was over three hours long.
Back in ’04, Damon spoke up in an Entertainment Weekly interview about the original cut: “There was a $50 million movie that everyone involved in wanted to be 3 hours and 12 minutes long. You can’t cut 35 percent out of a movie and have it be the movie you intended.” He seemed pretty bitter, especially towards Weinstein, and summed it up by saying Thornton “got screwed.”
Then just as recently as March ’08, Thornton spoke at SXSW Film Festival (you can read the verbatim transcript here) about how the studio completely screwed him over, but that the studios are open to the possibility of releasing his director’s cut – in fact, he actually has a copy of his director’s cut on VHS at his home with his original score intact (this cut he was able to cut down to 2 hours and 42 minutes long) and he called it “pretty damn good.” He went on to say that he wouldn’t release the DC without the films original score by Daniel Lanois – a score that was “the most haunting score for a movie” Billy Bob ever heard, but was ultimately rejected and replaced in the studio/Weinstein cut of the movie. Thornton says if the day ever comes the Lanois calls him up and says he will let him use the music, the director’s cut will happen. Otherwise, he won’t do it.
Personally, I’d love to see a remake of All the Pretty Horses altogether, notably because the entire movie was a tad miscast (I’m a big fan of Damon, don’t get me wrong, but he was 30 years old and the character from the novel is sixteen – same goes with Cruz). But since that won’t be happening any time soon, a release of Thornton’s Director’s Cut would obviously satisfy and excite me beyond belief, although it would be hard (impossible? silly?) to implement Damon into an adaptation of the sequel Cities of the Plain if it were to ever be made and that role would have to be recast. It’s a bummer we were never able to see Thornton’s vision in the first place, especially on the big screen. Cutting 45 minutes of footage that the director believes to be essential is obviously going to destroy a movie, with very few exceptions.
The Crossing and Cities of the Plain
Andrew Dominik, who directed the masterful The Assassination of Jesse James and Chopper, actually has had a script written for Cities of the Plain for years now, but has just been unable to get the support needed to actually make it happen. As Dominik put it: “I’ve got a big thing for McCarthy, and it’s a beautiful story.”
I can’t think of a better person to bring these stories of McCarthy to life. Honestly, in an ideal Hollywood, if I could have one single person direct the entire Borders trilogy (the first which is All the Pretty Horses), Dominik would probably be my first choice after seeing the two movies he’s made already and hearing how passionate he is about McCarthy’s work. While I’d be interested in him directing Cities of the Plain, I think Dominik could do an even job with The Crossing, specifically the first third of the book (which is some of the finest writing I’ve ever read) with Billy Parham and the wolf.
Sadly, as of now, Dominik has all but put his Cities of the Plain adaptation aside, as he’s pretty adamant about not casting big movie stars in any of the roles – and, of course, the studios refuse to greenlight the project without a big name aboard. So chances of Dominik taking this on, let alone The Crossing, are probably pretty slim – at least for now.
There have been rumblings for quite a while now that Ridley Scott wants to direct Blood Meridian from an adaptation by William Monahan (The Departed, Kingdom of Heaven). The story follows a character only referred to as “the kid” who around the Mexico-US border in the 1840s gets mixed up with a gang of outlaws who are employed by territorial governors to murder the Native Americans in the area.
While everything on this front has been quiet for a while (this was first confirmed in 2004 and while he is still attached, over the past few years not much has really been said about it), I have to say this is the adaptation of a McCarthy work that I’m most concerned with. Frankly, it seems pretty unfilmable and not just because of the ridiculous amounts of violence (which is thematically essential to the story, even moreso than No Country for Old Men), but due to the abstractness and vagueness of the entire novel and how so much of the impact comes from the prose itself.
Another reason I don’t think this would work is that having a big star in this (something that pretty much any studio would REQUIRE to finance it) would really take away from the characters. Judge and the kid both come to mind here. Then again, especially for Judge, an actor of the highest-caliber would be needed to pull it off. Yet, I can’t think of anyone (and I’m wondering if Ridley is thinking of using his favorite man, Russell Crowe, something I wouldn’t be too keen on as much as I like the guy).
“It’s an amazing book,” Ridley said. “But one of the difficulties is what do you say about it, because as an author he [McCarthy] doesn’t have to give an answer to anything. He writes the book and says if you get it, you get it and if you don’t, you don’t. And therefore there are no answers at the end of the book.”
The Orchard Keeper
Here’s a book that relies heavily on its descriptions, but also, I think this would work so well as a film because it relies entirely on the actions and dialogue of its characters to tell the story. Never once do we get inside the head of any character to know what they are thinking or feeling. Everything is deduced by their actions and their words. Often the problem in translating literature to the big screen is the fact that novels often rely so much on the unsaid, on the feelings and thoughts of characters, and when that is left out of the movie, so much is often lost.
The novel follows three characters in a rural Tennessee area around WWII. There is a young boy, John Wesley Rattner. There is a bootlegger, Marion Sylder, who turns into a father figure and hero for the young boy. And lastly, there is Arthur Ownby, an old hermit that lives in the mountains with only his dog who befriends John Wesley. In the beginning of the novel, Marion Sylder murders John Wesley’s father and throws him in an abandoned spray pit – although this is unknown to everyone that that was who it was. Ownby, after discovering the body, tends to the corpse, memorializing it. The three characters play out their lives, unaware of their common connection to the dead body in the pit.
Of course, McCarthy’s other works may make it to the screen someday too. Suttree. Outer Dark. Child of God. He also wrote a screenplay titled The Gardener’s Son that was adapted for a PBS series and is begging for a remake. His other two works are plays: The Stonemason and The Sunset Limited and they could make for some good, low-budget adaptations.