Smart trims make the grade
Author Dennis Lehane’s involvement on the film adaptation of Live By Night was just how he likes it: non-existent. By James Croot.
Anice, no muss, no fuss experience. That’s how Dennis Lehane likes film adaptations of his books to go, even if it’s the book he described ‘‘as the novel I always wanted to write’’.
Released in 2012, Live By Night is the Prohibition-era tale of Joe Coughlin and his journey from small-time Boston gangster to running the rum trade in Florida. It was inspired by the research the 51-year-old author did on earlier, historical novel The Given Day.
While, at the time of the book’s release, he hoped it would follow the likes of Gone Baby Gone and Mystic River to the silver screen, he had no desire to adapt it himself.
‘‘It’s like a doctor operating on their own child,’’ he explained.
Fortunately he found an ally in Ben Affleck, who had previously adapted Gone Baby Gone to critical acclaim. Fresh off the Oscar-winning Argo, the Hollywood star was keen to usher this latest Lehane story into cinemas.
‘‘And,’’ the author twinkles down the phoneline from his home in Boston, ‘‘my involvement would be nonexistent – which is how I like it.
‘‘I have a very standard approach, which Ben has already been through with me once before, which is ‘once I’ve sold it to you, here’s my cellphone number – if you need me, call me. If you don’t - I’m good’. And Ben reached out maybe three times – once at the script stage and a couple of times during production. Then he took me to see a couple of different cuts, which was great.’’
When asked if he noticed many changes between those cuts, Lehane just mentions that there were ‘‘lots of really smart trims’’. ‘‘A long time ago, I heard the best way to describe the creative process is that you’re looking for the statue underneath the marble and that’s what it felt like – each cut got closer to the statue.’’
He admits that it was strange watching cuts the movie either side of ‘‘the abomination we called an election’’. The book and movie’s themes of corruption, lawlessness, and race relations tensions seemed even more relevant post-November 8, Lehane thinks.
Delighted with the finished product, the author has plenty of praise for Affleck.’’He’s an amazing, fantastic straight-down-the-line director who is just terrific at casting his films, from the non-speaking parts to the leads. That’s not a gift that I would necessarily have.’’
But he believes it will ultimately be up to audiences to decide if Affleck and company have achieved what he believes is the biggest challenge of adapting the 400-page doorstopper.
‘‘Ultimately it’s stuffed with a lot of events – a lot of things happen in the book, you know? Does it feel overstuffed? That would be the only question I have about the movie and I certainly can’t answer that.’’
Opening up, the former writer for groundbreaking TV series The Wire, says in a perfect world he would have got Affleck to make Live By Night asa ‘‘10-hour, limited series’’.
‘‘But movie stars don’t make limited series. My brain is really programmed like a 10- to 12-episode format. That’s how I trained as a novelist, how I trained as a TV writer.
‘‘So I always find it interesting working on film scripts. I always have to go, ‘man, I’ve got to throw out a whole lot to get through this story faster’.’’
While Lehane is keeping himself busy with work on a TV adaptation of Stephen King’s Mr Mercedes (with Boston Legal producer David E Kelley) and finishing up his latest novel Since We Fell (a contemporary thriller), there is the small matter of the third chapter of the Coughlin saga – 2015’s World Gone By.
Has Lehane had any sense from Affleck or film giant Warner Bros that they are keen to follow up Night with that? ‘‘No, and I’d be fine either way. Having now had five adaptations, whether a movie gets made or not means nothing to me. I feel like I’m good – I’ve eaten now. Let somebody else take a shot at it. I know a lot of great writers who have never had a movie adaptation made.’’ ❚
Live By Night screening. (R16) is now
Dennis Lehane says in a perfect world he would have got Ben Affleck to make Live By Night as a ‘10-hour, limited series’.