“Which did you like better, the movie or the book?” Readers almost always choose the book. But because the book and film are different mediums, each with with its own traditions, requirements, and limitations, a direct comparison between the book and the movie is usually unfair or, even, uninformative. A more fruitful discussion question might be “How true to the spirit of the book is the film adaptation?”
This article considers the difficulty of adapting James Ellroy’s books to film. With their convoluted plot tapestries and telegraphic postmodern writing, Ellroy’s novels appear unsuitable for film adaptation. Yet my husband and I both think the film version of Ellroy’s novel L.A. Confidential is one of the best film adaptations of a book we’ve ever seen.
The occasion for this article is the upcoming opening of a film with screenplay by Ellroy:
Friday marks the arrival of Ellroy’s first produced screenplay: “Street Kings,” a racially charged tale of police corruption and conspiracy starring Keanu Reeves and Forest Whitaker. While the film, set in contemporary Los Angeles, lacks the sweep of “L.A. Confidential” and is unlikely to make the same impact, its language, characters, sardonic morality and fast-reversing plot feel like an Ellroy novel.