RARA-AVIS: Brown's Requiem (the movie)

From: Patrick King ( abrasax93@yahoo.com)
Date: 03 Jun 2008

I got to see the movie made from James Ellroy's first novel, BROWN'S REQUIEM, last night. Michael Rooker plays Fritz Brown. The movie is about as close to the book as one could ask of a 97 minute movie. A lot of the schmaltzy aspects of Brown in the book are eliminated in the movie. His obsession with classical music, for instance, is referred to but not elucidated. He does not have sex with Jane Baker, played by Selma Blair in a thankless role. Jane Baker is Brown's catalyst in the book, but she's rather incidental to the movie. I thought that this strengthened Brown's character. In both the book and the movie, Brown is a brutal character full of anger and violence mitigated only by his alcoholism and quixotic love of classical music. Rooker plays him as a man warring with his alcoholism more successfully than Ellroy's character. The sentimentality that so undermines the Ellroy Brown is nearly eviscerated from Rooker's creation. The brutality of the torture scene when Brown confronts Ralston really brought home for me what the book suggests. The casting especially of Fat Dog and Kupferman was spot on in terms of my vision of those characters. The casting of Walter was less satisfying. I thought Ellroy would have improved the book had he cut that character out of it. I don't know why they kept him in the movie. He accomplishes nothing for the plot, but make Brown slightly more human. All that does, in my opinion, is confuse Brown's motives.

This is a hard boiled film that is also noir. If anything good happens to any of these characters it will represent a major shift in fate. The novel has a much warmer sense of the end with Jane's letter. The movie drops off, which I think makes for a more realistic story.

This was Ellroy's first novel and an excellent first novel, too. It's starts themes he picked up on in later work. It's also sparsely written in a normal voice. It is somewhat indulgent of Ellroy's own experience in terms of life around a golf course, right-wing politics, and classical music. He perhaps takes some of those ideas a little further than they need to go to color the story. The corrupt LA police force and the exact nature of the corruption is well described in the book. The movie follows the plot closely. A few major characters are demoted and some scenes of violence are inserted to move the plot faster than Ellroy's interesting but more cerebral detective work. There's at least one cameo that came as a surprise to me.

If you've read this book, you'll probably find this movie interesting. If you haven't read the book, this is a brutal combination of hard boiled and noir that can stand on it's own.

Patrick King


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