Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: Three Way

I came across this DVD on the clearance shelves at Half Price Books a while back, and when I saw that it was based on a novel by Gil Brewer, of course I had to buy it, even though I didn't even know such a movie existed before that.

And since I had a copy of the source novel, WILD TO POSSESS, and hadn't read it yet, the idea occurred to me to read the book, write a Forgotten Books post about it, and then watch the movie and follow up the next Tuesday with an Overlooked Movie post. It made for an interesting experience.

If you read last Friday's post, you'll recall that the protagonist of WILD TO POSSESS, Lew Brookbank, who is on the run from the law for a murder he didn't commit, stumbles onto an entirely different kidnap/murder scheme hatched by a couple in the town where he's sort of hiding out. Lew decides to invite himself in on the plan, save the would-be victim, and snag the ransom money for himself. Needless to say, Lew's decision is not a good one.

THREE WAY retains that basic structure but makes lots of other changes, beginning with updating the action from the Fifties to the present day, which is something I'm not fond of, and moving the setting from Florida to California. Some of the characterizations are changed as well, and the ending is considerably different. However, for a script based on a complicated novel, THREE WAY is a fairly accurate adaptation, more so than a lot of movies I've seen. If you hadn't read the book, you'd never know that the original story was different, and most of the new stuff works okay. The new ending, however, makes very little sense.

The problem I have with this movie is that the execution isn't quite there. Sometimes when I watch a new Western, I find myself thinking that the people who made it really wanted to make a good Western, they just didn't quite know how because they didn't grow up watching good Westerns. Things are just slightly off. That's how I felt about THREE WAY. The filmmakers wanted to make a good film noir (and choosing a Brewer novel to adapt is a fine start), but just missed. For one thing, having the characters say "fuck" all the time doesn't make a movie noir. And it doesn't help that the protagonist is even less likable in the movie than he is in the book. Lew Brookbank in Brewer's novel is a loser who puts himself in a bad situation, but he's not a criminal with a violent past, as the character is in the movie.

After all that complaining, I need to mention some positive things about THREE WAY. The cast is pretty good for the most part. Dominic Purcell, who plays Lew, starred in JOHN DOE and PRISON BREAK on TV, and while I didn't care for the changes in his character, his performance is solid. Ali Larter, pre-HEROES, is a pretty good femme fatale. Gina Gershon, as the kidnap victim, is fine when she's on-screen, but that's only about ten minutes. And good old Dwight Yoakum is a sleazy villain, just as you'd expect.

The lone extended scene featuring gratuitous nudity, for those of you who care about such things, is actually pretty boring.

So is THREE WAY worth your time? It is if you're a Gil Brewer fan. If you've read WILD TO POSSESS, you really ought to watch it, if for no other reason than as a good example of a film adaptation that gets some things right and some things wrong. If you've never read the book, it's still a watchable enough way to spend an hour and a half, but just barely. One of these days somebody will make a movie from a Gil Brewer book that's set in the Fifties and follows the book closely, and a handful of us will love it. Everybody else in the world will yawn, and the movie will tank at the box office, ruining the careers of the people who made it.

Just the sort of noirish outcome you'd expect, eh?


pattinase (abbott) said...

Never heard of this one. Wonder if it went straight to DVD.

August West said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
August West said...

I saw this one for the same reasons as you, because of the Gil Brewer connection. Since it was one of those "straight to video" films, I wasn't expecting much. Just an OK movie for me. Because of the title I thought it was taken from Brewer's fine GM novel "Three Way Split." But after seeing it I discovered it was from "Wild to Possess."

At least with DVDs and streaming we can see these notched down films based from fine author's work.

Todd Mason said...

I like this three-legged mutt slightly better than you do, but mostly for the female cast (including Joy Bryant) and Yoakum and the attempt to do right by the form that does indeed just miss. Purcell is offputting, but I haven't yet read the Brewer, so I didn't know how faithful to the novel it had been...I did see it just after another minor Gershon neo-noir, THIS WORLD, AND THEN THE FIREWORKS, which is a very poor adaptation of its novel indeed (thanks to everyone other than Gershon), and this film is better than that...if not up to actually good. (Hey, Ali Larter is from Cherry Hill, a few miles away. And she's Ali Larter. With Gershon, Joy Bryant, and the source material, a film I had to look at...) But, as you see, I'd forgotten the film was based on that novel by the time you posted the FFB review...

You really have to make an effort for one film to undo you these days...

Steve Lewis said...

This is one of the few movies I've seen in the last ten years that I never got around to writing a review of. Now I don't have to. You said all of the things I meant to, or should have, especially your closing remarks.

Maybe all the movie needed was more Gina Gershon. It couldn't have hurt!

Juri said...

Todd: THIS WORLD, AND THEN THE FIREWORKS isn't based on a novel, it's based on a novella (or a novellette) rather than a full-length novel. It had remained unpublished during Jim Thompson's lifetime, IIRC.

Lots of these neo-noirs got lots of things wrong, just look at my posting about ROMEO IS BLEEDING. (It's not very long, though.)

Todd Mason said...

Yes, Juri, I know. I'd say, more properly, novella, which I first read in Ed Gorman's SECOND BLACK LIZARD ANTHOLOGY OF CRIME FICTION some years before the film made its way to cable tv, where I saw it.

Yeah, ROMEO IS BLEEDING isn't quite right, either. BOUND, on the other hand, writing of Gina Gershon films, does just fine.