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Archive for July 9th, 2019

One of the marks of a true auteur is someone that can take a director-for-hire job and make it their own. They are able to take a project that originated from a major studio and infuse it with their own personal style. Sometimes this works (The Untouchables) and sometimes it doesn’t (The Cotton Club). The 1990s was the decade of John Grisham movie adaptations. He was a criminal lawyer that began writing very popular crime fiction several of which were made into successful movies by esteemed filmmakers like Sydney Pollack (The Firm), Alan J. Pakula (The Pelican Brief) and Francis Ford Coppola (The Rainmaker). These directors were very prominent during the 1970s and began to fall out of favor with the studios during the 1980s. They took these paycheck gigs as a way to stay relevant in mainstream popular culture while also hoping to parlay their potential success into financing more personal projects.

Along came Robert Altman towards the end of the ‘90s who decided to try his hand with The Gingerbread Man (1998), based on an original story that Grisham himself adapted into a screenplay. Never one to follow a script too closely, Altman heavily reworked it and created his own unique spin on the material. When an audience test screening went badly, the studio went in and re-edited the film against Altman’s wishes and their version tested even worse. They finally agreed to release his version and promptly buried it thus ensuring that it would not do well at the box office. While certainly not Altman’s finest work, it is a curious cinematic oddity full of fascinating quirks that help it stand apart from other Grisham cinematic adaptations.

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