Jonathan Safran Foer's novel Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, about a boy dealing with his father's death in the Sept. 11 attacks in Manhattan, achieved less than extraordinary attention when first published in 2005. Walter Kirn of The New York Times reviewed the book, and he compared the 9-year-old protagonist, Oskar Schell, to a "hyperactive impersonation of Holden Caulfield," J.D. Salinger's iconic disaffected teenager from The Catcher in the Rye. Oskar ends up piecing together a nagging puzzle in a dispassionately told story that offers "a chilly intellectual thrill but doesn't penetrate the bosom."
Many readers -- and even reviewers -- ignored the book until recently, when it became a movie starring Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock. Foer's novel suddenly grabbed headlines, demonstrating yet again that a film project can catapult a book to new heights -- or thrust an old classic back into the spotlight.
More such rediscoveries are happening now at the Cannes Film Festival. As Steven Zeitchik of the Los Angeles Times notes in an interview with National Public Radio, the 65th anniversary of the famous French confab, which runs through May 27, has a distinctly American flavor because of movies based on American novels.
Here are five debuting films and the novels on which they are based:
This is a retelling of the Jack Kerouac novel of the same name, published in 1957. The book, along with The Dharma Bums, a year later, established Kerouac as a major voice of the so-called Beat Generation, a movement associated with a rejection of materialism and a spiritual searching that often involved experimentation with drugs and Eastern philosophy. On the Road follows the autobiographical character Sal Paradise as he leaves New York City with his free-wheeling friend to see America. "It tells tales of madness played out by all kinds of strange characters, in settings as diverse as a Virginia small-town diner, a New York jazz joint, and a Mexican whorehouse," writes reviewer Anna Hassapi of the blog Nabou. The Beats, she adds, saw no point in conforming to the traditional American Dream -- what Kerouac termed "the mad dream-grabbing, taking, giving, sighing, dying just so they could be buried in those awful cemetery cities beyond Long Island City." The Beat Museum in San Francisco has been tracking the development of the film version and the novel's continuing influence on pop culture. Here's the trailer:
Robert Pattinson and Juliette Binoche star in this adaptation of Don DeLillo's 2004 novel about a day in the life of a young billionaire in New York City. The book, also called Cosmopolis, tracks financial tycoon Eric Packer as he is chauffeured across Manhattan to get a haircut. The trip becomes a nightmare due to traffic from a presidential visit and a famous rapper's funeral, combined with rapid changes in the financial markets that bring down Packer's empire. "The very notion of a day-long push along Forty-seventh Street is funny and metaphoric -- a soul's slow-motion hurtle from the U.N.'s posh environs to the desolation of Hell's Kitchen," says John Updike's review in The New Yorker. David Cronenberg directs the film version and also claims credit for the screenplay. Here's the trailer:
Zac Efron handles the lead role in a story about a young man returning to his home town in Florida to help his brother, a newspaper reporter, probe the truth about a convict on Death Row. Pete Dexter's eponymous novel, published in 1996, falls short of his earlier Southern novel, Paris Trout, which won a National Book Award, but even so, "Dexter's writing is rock-solid," says Publishers Weekly. "He offers acute observations about the nature of reporting and his grip on the Southern male psyche is unquestionable." Dexter, who wrote the script for the film version of Paris Trout, does the same here, sharing screenplay credit with Lee Daniels. Here's an interesting profile of the novelist, who lives on an island in Washington state's Puget Sound, written by Ellis E. Conklin of the Seattle Weekly. Here's a clip:
This tale, by influential young filmmaker Megan Ellison, daughter of Oracle billionaire Larry Ellison, concerns a Boston mob enforcer's attempts to avenge a petty heist -- and how things go awry. The film is based on the 2011 novel Cogan's Trade, by George V. Higgins, who drew praise from reviewers for packing the story with wit and crackling dialogue. The author has "an uncanny ear for the argot of the underworld," says O.L. Bailey, writing for The New York Times. "His ability to capture its textures and rhythms in fiction without losing authenticity immediately established him as an impressive chronicler of the lifestyle and mores of the small-time hoodlum." Bailey says the slang gets too heavy at times, but the twisted story has attracted a heavyweight cast, with Brad Pitt starring alongside James Gandolfini and Ray Liotta. The New York Times profiled filmmaker Ellison a year ago, and the Los Angeles Times ran a feature about her this month. Here's a clip:
Megan Ellison's second film at Cannes is about a family of bootleggers in Prohibition-era Virginia, where moonshine dominated the underground economy. Matt Bondurant's 2009 novel, The Wettest County in the World, inspired the movie; both tell a fictionalized version of Bondurant's own family history. His grandfather and uncles were bootleggers in a culture nearly as rough as today's violent drug cartels. The novel is being re-released in July under a new title, Lawless: A Novel Based on a True Story. The movie, meanwhile, stars Jessica Chastain, Shia Labeouf, Guy Pearce, and Mia Wasikowska. Here's the trailer:
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