5 Movies That Do Their Books (or Plays) Justice

by Treehouse Editors

Caleb Andrew Ward

I recently read an article in The New Yorker by Richard Brody on “Movies from Books” and how adaptation can be a very dangerous feat. Many fall face-first into the pit of flops alongside such B-movies as The Toxic Avenger (which though it made little to no money I still consider a cinematic gem). We have all spent hours reading a book and connecting with the characters only to be completely let down by the film adaptation. This seems to happen more often than not, and so when a movie does come around that successfully embodies its literary inspiration, it’s something to be celebrated. Here are just a few adaptations—in no particular order—which I think do their best to capture as much of the books’ raw material as they can. This is in no way a concrete be-all and end-all list, but merely a few I wouldn’t mind watching a time or two more.

  1. Closer (2004) Directed by Mike Nichols based on the play by Patrick Marber. If you’ve ever seen this play live then you probably left the theatre feeling nothing but despair and lack of hope in your own romantic life (as I did). This film adaptation channels the heart of the play by representing a group of shallow individuals without morals who base their romantic intuitions on the past.
  2. King Lear (1987) Directed by Jean-Luc Godard based on the play by Shakespeare. The tragic story of King Lear and his daughters is a tale that has been told for over four hundred years. In Jean-Luc Godard’s adaptation starring Woody Allen a present day story is told bringing a new light to the story through Godard’s auteur lens.
  3. Shopgirl (2005) Directed by Anand Tucker based on the novella by Steve Martin. In Steve Martin’s novella Shopgirl a twenty-eight-year-old Mirabelle spends her monotonous life in the back of Nieman Marcus’s store selling gloves, or, “things that nobody buys anymore.” I recently read and watched this film and found it very accurate indeed; its author, Martin, playing the role of the handsome Mr. Ray Porter, directly influenced this.
  4. The Killers (1946) Directed by Robert Siodmak based on the short story by Ernest Hemingway. As the elusive Johannes Lichtman once copied from some author he listened to once, “when male American writers take us to a boxing match, it’s generally so we can watch them squaring up with Hemingway.” [Editor’s note: The quote is from Geoff Dyer and I did not “copy” him—it’s called quoting, Caleb. –JL] In Siodmak’s rendition of Hemingway’s 1927 short story The Killers he manages to stretch a minimalist ten-page story into 103 minutes of crime and drama. The Killers is a successful adaptation of the short story, unlike that three-hour movie where Brad Pitt shrinks. This is fiction converted quite well into beautiful noir black and white. Ava Gardner stars in all her glory alongside Burt Lancaster.
  5. The Silence of the Lambs (1991) Directed by Jonathan Demme based on the book by Thomas Harris. If you’ve seen this film then simply hearing the title evokes a series of graphic images, including that of a man enjoying the taste of another man’s flesh. Winning the Big Five Academy Awards including Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, and Adapted Screenplay, this film is a winner in both the suspense of the novel and horror of the moving image.