Wednesday, April 6, 2016

A to Z Challenge: Empire Falls

The movie for this is another non-theatrical movie.  It was actually a two-part miniseries on HBO some years ago.  The book won the Pulitzer Prize in 2000, I think largely because it involves a school shooting on the heels of Columbine.  You know, before school shootings became so commonplace that no one cared anymore.  That's not to say it isn't a great book but was it the best book of that year?  I don't know.  It's like asking whether a movie like The Artist or Birdman or The Hurt Locker was really the best movie of that year.

Anyway, the book and movie take place again in Tony Laplume's backyard of Maine.  The titular town used to be a factory town but since the factory has gone belly-up the people struggle to survive.  Miles Roby runs a diner after he came back to care for his sick mother years ago.  He has a high-school age daughter and an ex-wife who's married to an older guy who calls himself the Silver Fox and like Cliff Claven seems to have a solution to everything.

The book is by Richard Russo, who previously wrote four or five other books about down-on-their-luck inhabitants in small Northeast towns, usually Maine or upstate New York.  Except for the school shooting, this pretty much is the same as most of those.  What Russo does really well is paint a picture of small town life, like a realistic version of Norman Rockwell paintings.  As someone from Michigan, it was something I could really relate to for the most part.

The miniseries pretty much covers the whole book.  I don't think it really needed to be two parts.  If they had done a theatrical version it could have been shorter and covered all the main points pretty well I think.  Mostly though I didn't like the casting.  They cast Ed Harris as Miles Roby and Philip Seymour Hoffman as his brother but they should have been the other way around.  In the book Miles is a chubby, balding, affable doormat, and Ed Harris is pretty much only one of those.  Hoffman would have been much better suited but I think this was before he won an Oscar so he didn't have enough notoriety I guess.  Plus they cast Helen Hunt as the ex-wife and she just sucks.  The saving grace was Paul Newman as Miles's irascible father.

Honestly I'd read the book first and then watch the movie if you feel like it and can find it.  (If you have HBO Go or HBO Now it should be on there.)  Though the better Russo book/movie combination is Nobody's Fool.  The story is somewhat the same in that it involves life in a northern town and a local scoundrel named Sully who tries to reconnect with his son.  The book is a little long but very well-written and the movie was actually a theatrical release starring Paul Newman (who was nominated for an Oscar) and Jessica Tandy in one of her last roles.  I'd have used that as an entry but I have a different N in mind.

2 comments:

  1. Never actually read Russo (or seen this), but I came close to correcting one of these while traveling recently. So we'll see...

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    Replies
    1. When I was in Portland in 2005 I saw a car with the license plate NOVEL1 and thought maybe it was Russo's car.

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