Thursday 14 March 2013

Last Man Out, aka The Ghosts of Belfast, aka The Twelve

Over the last few weeks, I've turned down a bunch of interviews, mostly from Irish press, about the film adaptation of The Ghosts of Belfast -- retitled as Last Man Out -- that's currently in development. There are two main reasons why I turned the interviews down: 1. I don't know anything about the movie that hasn't been reported in the original news releases from the likes of The Hollywood Reporter; 2. The adaptation is still at an early stage, and so few films make it from development to production, and I don't want to make a song and dance about something that still has so many hurdles to clear.

Having said that, I have a few thoughts arising from the kinds of questions I've been asked, and comments I've been sent.

Pierce Brosnan as Gerry Fegan

Reaction to the former James Bond taking the role of Fegan has mostly been positive, but a small number of people have questioned this. Me, I'm very happy at this bit of casting. First off, Pierce Brosnan has far more range as an actor than his tenure as Bond might suggest. Anyone who has seen The Matador or Seraphim Falls can vouch for his ability to play darker, meaner characters. I imagine it must be frustrating for Mr Brosnan that some people can't move past Remington Steele, 007, or even the might-be-dad in Mamma Mia. Check out some of the lower budget movies he's starred in. You might be surprised.

But here's a point that some are missing: how close will the screen Gerry Fegan be to the character on paper? I recently re-watched Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, then read the Robert Bloch novel it was based on. The middle-aged, portly, bespectacled Norman Bates on the page could hardly be further removed from the twitchy, repressed young man that Anthony Perkins portrayed. Cinema is full of protagonists who varied greatly from their literary sources, yet the movies did not suffer for the changes.

Remember, Gerry Fegan on paper is a deeply unsympathetic character.  He's a mass-murderer with the blood of women and children on his hands.  In the novel, I had the luxury of being inside his head, filtering his world through his perception, which made the task of humanising him an awful lot easier. The screen version won't have that direct line to his conscience to make him more likeable. While I've no reason to believe the screen Fegan will be in any way watered down or smoothed off, I do expect him to evolve into a more empathetic character.

Speaking of taking liberties...

How faithful will it be?

I don't know. I haven't seen the script, so I've no idea what Craig Ferguson and Ted Mulkerin have done with the source. Frankly, my main concern is not that they've been loyal to the novel, but that they've written a good movie. Those two things don't always go hand-in-hand. A few examples...

One of the greatest Hollywood adaptations of a novel, in my view, is LA Confidential. James Ellroy's typically sprawling narrative must have been a hard beast to tame for Brian Helgeland, but he did it in style. And it's a very, very liberal adaptation that cuts to the very core of the story, leaving out large tracts of the book.

Peter Benchley's script based on his own novel is an undisputed classic. Has there been a better creature feature since Jaws? But the movie diverges from the book in many, many ways, not least of all in its portrayal of Hooper.

Stephen King famously hated Stanley Kubrick's take on The Shining, but that doesn't stop it being one of the greatest horror movies of all time.

Ken Kesey was similarly unimpressed with the screen version of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, but again, it's rightly considered a landmark moment in American cinema.

That's not to say that faithful adaptations are bad; going back to Stephen King, Misery and The Shawshank Redemption stick pretty closely to their sources, and are great movies. Likewise, Silence of the Lambs is both a faithful translation to the screen, and a masterpiece of a thriller. On the other hand, Red Dragon suffers from, at times, being too slavish to the source.

In short, I'm not feeling at all precious about my novel being adhered to by the screenwriters. I'd just like them to make a good movie.

Will I have any input?

Nope. Nada. Zero. Zilch.

Truthfully, I'm quite happy to have nothing to do with it. I really don't think I could have been objective enough in adapting my own debut novel.  I'm too close to it emotionally to be able to stand back and see what needs to be changed in order for it to work as a screenplay.

I don't feel that way about all my books. I've been developing my own screenplay based on Ratlines, for example, but that book means something very different to me than my first did.

So, who else is on board?

I've heard a couple of things, but nothing concrete. Really, like I said, what has already been reported elsewhere is the complete sum of what I know. The producers have a hell of a track record, so that's encouraging, and I'm glad they've gone with a Belfast director. Terry Loane's work in film and TV to date speaks for itself, and I'm looking forward to seeing what he does with the movie.


When I travelled to LA in late 2009 to record my segment for The Late Late Show, Craig Ferguson was in talks with my Hollywood agent about The Ghosts of Belfast. At that stage, it was far from certain we would sell him the option, but I was impressed by how passionate Craig was about it. We only spoke very briefly on the topic, but he was at pains to tell me how he wanted to do this right. I have no reason to believe he won't.

But it's important to remember how hard it is to get a movie into production, how many planets have to align in order to get the cameras rolling. That a star and director are attached to the project is a huge step forward, but we're still a long, long way away from seeing Gerry Fegan merrily killing half of Belfast in our local cinemas.  But I think if anyone can get this film made, Craig Ferguson can.