Saturday, February 5, 2011

Widescreen Awards: Adapted Screenplay

Joel and Ethan Coen exercise a light touch in adapting Charles Portis' novel True Grit. In doing so, they preserve some of the best dialogue I’ve ever heard in a western. It all rings true. It all speaks volumes about the characters through word choice alone.

The Town doesn’t seem as authentic as it would seem. For one thing, “The Town” — as the film is quick to say in a disclaimer — of today has been the benefactor or victim of urban renewal. For another, the dialogue seems to benefit from actors well-versed in the Boston accent. Where the film succeeds, however, is in its old-fashioned, tightly-written heist film script, penned by Peter Craig, Ben Affleck and Aaron Stockard.

Full disclosure. The Killer Inside Me, a first-person depiction of a Texas sheriff's deputy's descent into full-on psychosis, is one of my favorite pulp fiction novels. The film, particularly the ending, leave something to be desired. But John Curran’s script, with its regionally-specific dialogue and some beneficial plot tweaking, is not the problem.

Much has been said already about Aaron Sorkin’s (pictured) rapid-fire dialogue in The Social Network. It is impressive, but that kind of dialogue is only worthwhile if it’s handled effectively by the director and the actors. (It is.) The real strength of Sorkin’s screenplay is its delicate handling of a complicated story, its multiple perspectives and the broader impact Facebook has had on its creators and the rest of us.

Writer-director Scott Teems keeps the motivations of his characters always clear — though sometimes cloaked in several layers of self-deception — in That Evening Sun, an adaption of William Gay’s short story, “I Hate to See That Evening Sun Go Down.” Teems never loses sight of the characters' humanity and, when the tension is ratcheted up, you feel for both sides in the property dispute.

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