Movie Review: Parker
What’s not to love when you’ve got Taylor Hackford behind the camera and Jason Statham, Michael Chiklis, Wendell Pierce, Clifton Collins Jr., Micah Hauptman, Nick Nolte, Jennifer Lopez and Patti Lupone in front of it! Stepping into the action genre for the first time in his storied career, Hackford is charged with bringing the beloved Richard Stark (one of the pseudonyms for Donald E. Westlake) character of Parker to the big screen and, for the first time in film adaptation history of the books, has been granted rights to the use of the name, PARKER.
With a solid philosophy that “you cast from the center out so they fit with Jason [Statham]” and giving unending praise to both Stark for the source book of Flashfire and screenwriter John McLaughlin as “John adapted a terrific crime novel”, Hackford charges ahead, finding that the key to bringing PARKER to the big screen is that “it’s all about being true to the inspiration but then taking it a step above it. . .it’s going to be my version of PARKER.” And Hackford’s version it is - brilliantly.
For those unfamiliar with the 24 volume series of PARKER books, PARKER is a thief, but a thief with integrity, ethics, class and is, quite frankly, flawless and lethal. PARKER maintains a strict code of ethics wherein he honors his word and you honor yours, but when you don’t keep your word, that’s when things can become unpleasant. And did I mention he only steals from those who can afford to be stolen from? Nice. So we have a situation here. Brought in to help pull a State Fair heist with the noted crime boss Melander and his goons, the merry band of thieves pull a fast one on PARKER and renege on the terms of the deal. Not an advisable thing to do. When PARKER insists they honor the fee split and their deal, Melander and company turn on PARKER and leave him for dead on the side of the road.
Not one to give up so easily, PARKER survives the ordeal and aims to exact vengeance and claim his share of the State Fair heist. After all, fair is fair and a deal’s a deal. But in order to get what’s his, the trail takes him to Palm Beach, Florida where Melander plans to pull off the heist of the century - some $50-$70 million worth of jewels set for auction.
Posing a wealthy Texan looking to buy a home, PARKER stumbles onto Leslie Rodgers. Divorced, frustrated, broke, pushing 40 and living with her mother, Leslie wants money, independence and power, and will do anything to get it - and get out from under her mother’s thumb. Realizing that PARKER isn’t who he says he is and that he can be her meal ticket to the life of the rich and famous, she “blackmails him” into accepting her help, proving herself to be a valuable ally in uncovering what’s about to go down. But in PARKER’s world, nothing is ever easy and while PARKER is trying to exact his revenge against Melander on one front, he’s got their Chicago mob connection coming at him from the rear.
Statham is Statham is Statham is PERFECTION. Slick, smooth, silent intelligence. Once again, impeccable knife work with hand-to-hand combat as he, again, performs his own stunts. Surprising is that there wasn't any real "action driving” for him, given his penchant and ability in that area. And again, Statham as a "bad guy" is STILL a guy with morals who is more than likeable and whom you respect. Every character he ever plays has a code of ethics and moral conduct that demands respect and compassion. PARKER is no different. Thankfully the script provides for Statham's patented one liners which always add a nice comedic touch. As for Statham’s physical abilities, Hackford’s praise knows no bounds. “When you’re working with someone as good as Jason, as much a perfectionist, I knew what I wanted and at the same time, I listened. The guy has done a lot more action films than I have and he knows what he’s doing. It’s a collaborative process. Once he trusts you, and he’s such a perfectionist, he’s never ready to stop. He so wants it to be right. It’s a gift when you have people like that.”
Coming as a total surprise to me is Jennifer Lopez. Talk about perfect casting! Lopez brings Leslie to life as a money grubbing, man hungry, social climber with some street smarts and grit who gets to whine and ogle millions in jewels and money. A beyond enjoyable performance with her embodiment of Leslie’s qualities and traits. Notable is that Lopez is improving in her comedic timing and manages to elicit more than a few laugh-out-loud one-liners and looks.
When it comes to bad guys, Hackford has some of the cream of the crop with Michael Chiklis, Wendell Pierce, Clifton Collins, Jr. and Micah Hauptman. Each comes with a distinctive personality and definitive talent. According to Hackford, “The Wendell Pierce character [Carlson] and Clifton Collins character [Ross] aren’t that clear in the book. By casting those people, they define who [the characters] are. And they don’t have to say a lot. You just know who they are.” A particular standout is Collins who plays explosives/armory expert, Ross. While detailed and serious, Collins also brings a touch of naivete to the role of “hardened criminal.” Of course the really entertaining highlight beyond the in-fighting amongst the boys is the sight of Chiklis and Pierce in wetsuits. A vision you will not soon forget.
One of the greatest joys of the film is Patti Lupone. I can only say, More, More, More! As Leslie’s mother Ascencion, Lupone is deliciously flawless. Comedic but with a touch of overbearing motherly love and infliction of guilt, Lupone turns on a dime showing us Ascencion’s not the rich socialite as perceived by Leslie. This woman has a past and fortitude which tacitly shines when we get Lupone and Statham together for a few scenes. She and Statham have such great chemistry that a sequel with the two of them would be more than welcome!
Nick Nolte steps into the fray as PARKER’s mentor and best friend, Hurley. Unfortunately, something just doesn't gel with the construction of his character. The script and Hackford's direction is such so as to cleverly give intimations that Hurley is not all that he seems and, in fact, may be part of a "leak" to the Chicago crime bosses, yet nothing is ever flushed out. In fact, once PARKER heads from Ohio to Palm Beach, we never see or hear from the character again.
A nice performance comes from Billy Slaughter. As Ben, a young guard taken by surprise during the State Fair heist, Slaughter is not only charming in a scene with Statham’s PARKER, but he helps set the tone for audience as to PARKER’s code of ethics and his Robin Hood style kindness - rob from the rich and give to the poor. Pay kindness with kindness.
A noticeable flaw in the story comes with Bobby Cannavale’s Palm Beach police officer Fernandez. With the hots for Leslie, we are given an almost “stalking” feeling when it comes to his obsession with her, leading us to expect his appearance in the climactic jewel heist, especially since we are given enough set-up shots throughout the film of Fernandez following Leslie. But, like Nolte’s character, Fernandez also just disappears without resolution of the plot point making the unresolved nature of the character stick out like a sore thumb.
As opined by Hackford, when shooting an adaptation of a book, one has to remember that “A book is a book and a film is a film” and you have to “step out [of the book]” and reach for the cinema, but remain true to the source. “PARKER is not Superman. He gets hurt. . .It’s not somebody who just bounces back and jumps around and everything is cool.” Which means that by casting Jason Statham, “I get bonus points. He does his own stunts.” While Hackford appreciates the filmmaking involved when stunts come into play, it’s also distressing when there are multiple cuts going from stunt man to actor. “I get a chance to do it real. And I double that chance by having in the big fight, Daniel Bernhardt. Daniel Bernhardt has starred in his own chop-saki movies. . .So, I have Jason Statham and Daniel Bernhardt facing off against each other.” This luxury allowed Hackford to shoot action scenes in one continuous move with handheld cameras. “When you cast that way and you have a cinematographer like Jimmy Muro who can ‘really go with it’, I have all that working. I can stay back. I can go in tight for a shot. . .It frees you up to say to the audience, ‘Now you show me where I’ve cheated. You show me where this isn’t the real deal.’” And folks, what Hackford delivers is the real deal. Every fight sequence is Statham start to finish - and yes, even out on a balcony 30 stories above the ground. “When you see [Statham] completely out of breath and he’s completely spent, he was.”
Guided by the expertise of cinematographer J. Michael “Jimmy” Muro, camera work is intimate and often in close quarters, putting the audience right in the thick of things. Although angularly disconcerting on occasion by the very nature of the action (try 5 guys in an SUV in 100 degree heat with no air conditioning with guns and rifles and Statham diving out of the rear passenger window, and Jimmy Muro crammed with a camera in the back compartment), it ratchets up the intensity exponentially. Not one for fancy tricks, Hackford keeps the visual handheld and simple, just like the design of the two heists. This simplicity also allows one to concentrate on and follow the players and the hopscotching from Ohio to Palm Beach to Chicago and pay attention to how everyone is connected.
For all the girls out there, as if Jason Statham isn’t enough to look at, check out the fantastic display of diamonds and baubles designed for the Palm Beach jewel heist. Personally, I don’t know which is more heart-pounding, the jewels or Jason.
As with any Taylor Hackford film, music is key. Here, propelling PARKER ever forward is a score by David Buckley. Pulsating, driving and high octane , it plows ahead giving buoyancy even in lulls.
Be it on the printed page or on the silver screen, PARKER - and diamonds - are a girl (and guy’s) best friend!
Directed by Taylor Hackford
Written by John McLaughlin based on the novel Flashfire by Richard Stark.
Cast: Jason Statham, Michael Chiklis, Wendell Pierce, Clifton Collins Jr., Micah Hauptman, Nick Nolte, Jennifer Lopez and Patti Lupone