I have never read anybody who comes close to Thompson for his descriptions of violence, descriptions which in most books I skip for their tedium. He makes you feel like you are there, being buried alive, having your throat cut. He really is remarkable. But this is hard stuff to bring to the screen, the visual impact will never be the same as the written one. It isn’t the only problem with the movie version. The commentator introducing the movie to us, part of a crime noir weekend, said the Donald Westlake was not happy with the script. I don’t blame him, and I think that he showed better judgement of his own work than did those subsequently who think he did a fine job.
He messed this up in more than one way, firstly by omitting a character and the story line that went with it, that of Carol the nurse, and secondly by setting it in the nineties. I wondered if the nurse’s part had been cut out in order to include scenes of the long con – completely unnecessary and rather dull for anybody who has seen any of the long con shows around these days. Without Anjelica Houston’s marvellous performance this movie really would have languished. The other two leads, Annette Bening and John Cusack were awful.
I expect we can blame Scorcese, Frears and Westlake in part for this. But in the end, you have to read Jim Thompson. READ HIM!!!!