Last summer, the L’s Cullen Gallagher and I collaborated on a piece for Moving Image Source, assessing the cinematic adaptations of Jim Thompson’s books and stories. Thompson’s most notable attribute is his first-person narrators, who are at least sociopathic and generally full-blown paranoid schizophrenic: the plotting and atmosphere of his books is dependent upon their instability, their paranoid calculations, recalculations and miscalculations. It’s a queasy pulp-fiction sensation and if you’ve never read After Dark, My Sweet you should, it only takes an afternoon.
Because of his narrators, though, the challenge of adapting Thompson — which is, really, the challenge of adapting literature in general — is to convey that interiority, that first-person psychosis.
Cullen and I agreed that even the better Thompson adaptations — Coup de torchon and The Grifters, say — capably get at the outlines of Thompson’s world, without being able to convey the full-force of his extraordinary paranoid, unstable narrators. The only Jim Thompson adaptation to really get the feel of Thompson’s narration across is Alain Corneau’s criminally underseen and underavailable A Hell of a Woman adaptation Serie noire. As we said:
Coincidentally, this is the only Jim Thompson movie to stars, as the protagonist, an actual insane person: the hotblooded and charismatic Patrick Dewaere committed suicide three years later.
When Cullen and I wrote this article we did not consider Julia, Erick Zonca’s boozy kidnapping thriller, which opened here this past weekend. This is because a) dude, were you not listening to what I just said, about it just opening here this past weekend, Jesus H. Christ, and b) it is not, technically, a Jim Thompson adaptation.
And Tilda Swinton, as the sozzled kidnapper protagonist, gives a fearless, reckless, moodswinging performance that, in my opinion, conveys the simultaneously wary and oblivious, self-preserving and self-destructive madness of a Jim Thompson narrator. The movie, to me, belongs up there with Serie noire.
So… should we worry?