About the Production
Novelist and screenwriter Donald E. Westlake's iconic anti-hero, Parker, debuted in 1962 in the best-selling crime thriller, THE HUNTER, the story of a brutal professional thief who operates under his own stringent code. Over the next 46 years, Westlake went on to publish two dozen popular thrillers featuring the character, developing a worldwide following for the hardboiled noir series.
When he first conceived the character, Westlake figured Parker was doomed by the literary conventions of the time to become a one-hit wonder -- a charismatic bad boy who would get his just desserts in the first novel's final pages. But after reading the finished manuscript, Westlake's editor came back to him with an unusual request: Allow Parker, a ruthless criminal with a passion for revenge, to escape justice in the first book, leaving the door open for a sequel or two.
"In those days, a criminal had to die at the end of the book," recalls Abby Westlake, the writer's widow. "Donald had followed tradition and killed off the character, but he was convinced to keep him alive for another book."
Les Alexander, producer of the movie PARKER and long-time member of Donald and Abby Westlake's inner circle, remembers the shock of the first book's ending. "Back then the bad guy had to die," he recalls. "But the truth was, readers found themselves rooting for Parker even after he killed people, because he's smarter than most of the people around him and he has a code of honor that is impeccable.
"Not killing the guy off at the end of the first book was a brilliant stroke," he adds. "It was pure serendipity, which is often how the best things happen."
And so began an almost five-decade run for the mysterious "heister," as Parker refers to himself and his colleagues in the books. Westlake, a prolific writer who published more than 100 novels and non-fiction books under his own name and a number of pseudonyms, eventually authored 24 books about the career criminal using the nom de plume Richard Stark. Readers were enthralled by Westlake's minutely detailed capers involving ultra-high-stakes robberies, as well as by Parker's personal code: never steal from those in need, kill only if you have to, and always get even with your enemies.
"He wrote about 17 books and then took a break between 1974 and 1997," says Abby. "He always said the character just went away. He just didn't have access to that character anymore, so he moved on. But one day, Parker came back. The seven books that followed were very rich, and Donald was proud of all of them."
The character had already built a huge international following through the first books, but something essential seemed to have shifted in him that made the new Parker even more intriguing, according to Alexander. "Parker had changed during the hiatus," he says. "The later books have more richness, warmth and humanity to them, while the early novels are more cold, classic noir."
PARKER is adapted from FLASHFIRE, the first book Westlake published after his 23-year break from the character. While several earlier films, including PAYBACK (with Mel Gibson) have borrowed story lines and ideas from the series, PARKER marks the first time that the Westlake estate has allowed filmmakers to use the character's name in a movie.
The producer says that the Westlake estate selected FLASHFIRE to be the first movie to put the Parker character on screen because it includes all of the most important elements. "We chose to start here because this story has everything," explains Alexander. "It has Parker's unrelenting quest for vengeance when he is wronged, as well as his devotion to his girlfriend Claire even when tempted by another woman, which humanizes him. I really think it is the best Parker story."
The script, written by John McLaughlin (who also penned the screenplay for BLACK SWAN and HITCHCOCK), stays true to the essence of Westlake's honor-bound criminal while updating and expanding the story. "John McLaughlin did a brilliant job on the script," says Alexander. "There's a big difference between a translation and an adaptation. A translation means to just copy the book down. John really adapted it. He found the character's spirit and captured what is magical about him."
McLaughlin's script attracted the attention of one of Hollywood's top producer-directors: Oscar winner Taylor Hackford, who has helmed such acclaimed films as RAY and AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN. "There's only one thing that attracts me to a project and that's the script," he says. "I read this and I was sold. It is an intelligent action picture, full of intrigue, and strong characterizations, which are important to me."
Like so many readers before him, Hackford found himself unexpectedly charmed by the character's peculiar psychology. "The wonderful thing about Parker is that he has an unshakable code of ethics," the director says. "He is completely unapologetic about what he does. He's a thief, he is capable of extreme violence, but he's not a psychopath. In fact, he lets people know right off the bat that if they do what he says, they won't get hurt. He only steals from people who can afford the loss. He is somebody with integrity who has chosen a criminal path. And if he's going to do something with an accomplice, there is a bond. If he's crossed, as he is in this movie, he'll go to the ends of the earth to get even."
But Hackford resists the temptation to compare him to other charming rogues made famous by films. "I would never call him a gentleman," Hackford says. "He's not debonair like Cary Grant in TO CATCH A THIEF. He is a realistically tough professional who believes in honor among thieves. Without that, there's only chaos. And as he says very clearly in the script, no one likes chaos."
Hackford added his own personal touches to McLaughlin's screenplay, finding dialogue that helped further define the players. "He gave each character some gems that condensed their essence," says Alexander. "It's a much richer script for having him involved with it. You need characters with clear motivations to allow the audience to see the spider weave the web."
Film noir is one of the few genres Hackford has never tackled in his decades-long career. "Taylor embraces challenges with great enthusiasm," says Alexander. "He said he was going to make the best genre film he could. Taylor knows his film history better than anybody and he knows what the rules are. He made an even better film than we had hoped."
With scores of Parker fans around the world awaiting the character's big-screen debut, the filmmakers took their responsibility to stay true to Westlake's creation very seriously. "We are basically following in Donald Westlake's footsteps," says Hackford. "He created the characters and we have to deliver based on that. All we could do, because Donald's no longer with us, was read the material, try to stay true to it and, and pay it respect. I wish he were here to see it. It will be up to all those millions of fans out there to tell us if we have or we haven't done him justice.
"There is a good reason that this is the first adaptation that's ever received permission from the estate to use that character's name," he adds. "Donald Westlake received the ultimate compliment when he was called the modern inheritor of Raymond Chandler, and John McLaughlin fit right into Westlake's style. He utilized the most important elements and then built on others in a wonderful way that maintains the integrity of Donald Westlake and, at the same time, made it more of a film project. He has wit and added a little piquancy of his own. It was sanctioned by Abby, so you know it's true to the original author."
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