Sunday 17 March 2013

Richard Stark's Parker is Back

When I saw that there was a new movie coming out called Parker, I held my breath. 

Could this be an adaptation of one of the great Richard Stark thrillers, featuring an implacable gun-toting professional thief called Parker? 

(I’ve previously written about the Parker novels here. And there's a fab website about them here.)

The fact that this new film starred Jason Statham, who specialises in hardnosed action heroes, boded well. And yes, indeed, it is that Parker.

Based on the novel Flashfire by Richard Stark (a pseudonym for Donald Westlake), Parker is directed by Taylor Hackford with a screenplay by John J. McLaughlin.

This is all good news. Taylor Hackford is responsible for two of my favourite movies, the under-rated Devil’s Advocate and the deeply moving Proof of Life, while McLaughlin co-wrote the excellent Black Swan and provided a witty and intriguing script for the recent Hitchcock; he also worked on the TV series Carniv√†le.

And Parker is terrific. I loved it. It has the advantage of Flashfire being one of the best late-period Parker novels, involving a revenge campaign in the grand tradition of our hero, plus a great female character and a nifty jewel heist in Palm Beach.

Hackford and McLaughlin are to be congratulated on doing such a splendid job in bringing this strong material to the screen intact.
Statham is excellent as Parker and Jennifer Lopez is great as the Miami real estate agent who gets caught up in his violent schemes.

(In my post about Steven Soderbergh last week I should have mentioned another masterpiece of his — Out of Sight, adapted by Scott Frank from an Elmore Leonard novel — which featured Jennifer Lopez in an outstanding role.)

Anyway, Lopez is terrific in Parker, along with an outstanding cast that also includes Michael Chiklis and Nick Nolte. The film is fast-moving, thrilling, funny and true to its source material.
I have to say, it is very nearly the best Parker movie ever. It’s surpassed only by Point Blank.

Point Blank is a work of art and a masterpiece of cinema. Parker is ‘merely’ a great thriller and a terrific piece of popular entertainment.

I’m also delighted that there has finally been a movie that uses the actual name of Westlake’s character — indeed, it trumpets the fact by using his name as the title, in the style of Jack Reacher.

Just for the record, here’s a list of previous screen versions of Parker novels.

Made in USA (1966) based on The Jugger: Anna Karina as ‘Paula Nelson’.

Point Blank (1967) based on The Hunter: Lee Marvin as ‘Walker’.

Pillaged (1967) based on The Score: Michel Constantin as ‘Georges’.
The Split (1968) based on The Seventh: Jim Brown as ‘McClain’.

The Outfit (1973): Robert Duvall as ‘Macklin’.

Slayground (1983): Peter Coyote as ‘Stone’.

Payback (1999) another adaptation of The Hunter: Mel Gibson as ‘Porter’.

Now, finally —

Parker (2013) based on Flashfire: Jason Statham as Parker (yay!).

As you can see, Parker as well as having issues with his name being constantly changed, has been played by an Englishman, an Australian, three white American guys, a black American guy, a Frenchman (of Polish Russian extraction) and a Danish woman who became a French citizen.

Donald Westlake once shrugged and smiled and said, “I guess the character lacks definition.”

I beg to differ. Parker is indelible. The strength of Westlake’s character burns through even the most distorted and flawed adaptations.

And his newest movie incarnation is one of his finest.
Go and see it.

(Image credits: The striking red Parker movie poster is from Wikipedia. The blue movie poster is from Watch Hollywood Movies. The nice black and red poster is from Book My Event. The stylish British paperback of Flashfire is from the publishers, Quercus. The American Mysterious Press edition of Flashfire, which reveals the gun under the table gag, is from a review on ebook3000. The movie editions of The Split and Point Blank are from that wonderful Parker website I mentioned, The Violent World of Parker.)


  1. Thanks for the tip. I must admit I was a bit hesitant to hear Parker linked with Statham and Lopez, but he's done some good films (The Bank Job, Death Race)and she of course did Out Of Sight as you say. I did a blog post/review of Slayground recently and the Parker phenomenon.

  2. I have to admit I have a soft spot for "Payback" (the cinema release, not the director's cut).

  3. Parker vs Parker - another Stark fan on the similarities and differences between the book and film: