Thursday, February 18, 2010

Film Yap: Dennis Lehane and His Mysteries

Genre films always have a certain stigma next to them. Even if it a great science fiction film, it will always be labeled as a sci-fi film not just a film. Mysteries are the exact same way in film and literature. The only time mysteries tend to be generally accepted is when they “transcend the genre,” which is a bit condescending. It implies that mysteries can only be good when they are not mysteries. However, that is not always the case. Sometimes it just means the snobs like a mystery and need to figure out an explanation.

One of the major authors who keeps seeming to “transcend the genre” is Dennis Lehane. Throughout the 90s he became an unexpected powerhouse with his Kenzie-Gennaro series. From his very first novel, A Drink Before the War, his skill as a writer was very apparent. His second book, Darkness Take My Hand, was named one of the 100 Favorite Mysteries of the Century. Another one of his books was positively featured in the book Mystery Muses, which I may be biased but I believe it’s amazingly edited.

So he was popular among the mystery community, but in 2001 he became huge. His novel Mystic River shook everything up. This was his first stand-alone novel and it received an incredible amount of praise from beyond the genre. This is when Hollywood started to take an interest. Clint Eastwood adapted Mystic River to a critically acclaimed movie that was ultimately nominated for Best Picture. (It lost to some obscure movie about midgets and rings.) Four years later Tinsel Town returns to Lehane territory and adapted his novel Gone Baby Gone and once again it was nominated for an Academy Award.

This weekend yet another Lehane adaptation is being released and by none other than Martin Scorsese. In a town that doesn’t adapt enough mysteries, why are filmmakers constantly returning to Dennis Lehane? First off, he really is a great writer. How good? He wrote for The Wire, which is synonymous with the word “perfection.” However The Wire is not a film so I shall stop yapping about it. It seems like Hollywood also returns to Lehane’s work because the rich emotions and themes surrounding the mysteries.

With the success of these three films, there is the opportunity to look into more mystery series. I am shocked there hasn’t been a proper Harry Bosch novel on the silver screen. Michael Connelly is truly one of the best writers alive today. Not only is he critically drooled over, but also he’s always on the New York Times Bestseller list. There is an obvious audience there. (I do want to note that Eastwood adapted Connelly’s Blood Work but that was a failure.) In fact mysteries typically encompass the bestseller lists. Why is Ghost Rider or Elektra a safer property than Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone series, Max Allan Collin’s Quarry series or literally anything by Laura Lippman. We can do this Hollywood; look at what works! Let 2011 be the year of mysteries!

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