Fans of unique and prolific author Joe R. Lansdale have two more great reasons to be excited about 2014. Coming off his terrific 2013 book THE THICKETS and the filming of a cinematic adaptation of early work COLD IN JULY (which has already been warmly received by those who’ve seen it), now Deadline is reporting the news that another Lansdale adaptation is gearing up. Actor & director Bill Paxton, along with Brent Hanley, writer of Paxton’s earlier film FRAILTY, is making a film of Lansdale’s 2000 novel THE BOTTOMS, a dark and moody tale of crime and race set in Texas.
This is what I wrote about THE BOTTOMS in a book-by-book overview of Lansdale’s career:
THE BOTTOMS (2000)
The Bottoms is considered by many fans to be Lansdale’s best work to date. I’m not ready to commit to such pronouncements, but I would certainly point to this as his most universal, mainstream, and critically amenable piece yet. Longtime readers of Lansdale were well aware of his ability to create vivid characters, to write peerlessly believable and witty dialogue, to write descriptive prose so evocative it makes a reader feel as if they’re looking at a photograph, to write chilling scenes of horror and suspense, and to engage thoughtfully in matters concerning history, race, relationships, and family. This is maybe the first book where he managed all of those talents at once. In The Bottoms, set in East Texas during the Great Depression, a black woman’s body is found mutilated and bound to a tree. A local urban legend known as The Goat Man is suspected. The young boy who found the body sets out to find the killer. The book won the Edgar Award and was feted by the New York Times, and rightly so. Comparisons to Mark Twain, while impossibly weighted, still don’t feel entirely out of the question. I couldn’t name many other writers who so consistently blend humor, common sense, and social relevance in their work. The Bottoms is one of the best examples of Lansdale’s estimable talent.
This is actually a pretty great match of creators and material. For some reason, I’ve seen Bill Paxton dismissed as bland by film nerds who’ve only seen him in movies like APOLLO 13, TWISTER, and TITANIC, where he plays stalwart hero types. That’s crazy. As a character actor, Paxton has been bringing agreeable madness to movies from the beginning, from THE TERMINATOR and ALIENS to WEIRD SCIENCE and NEAR DARK [read more here]. As a lead actor he’s shown a hunger for bringing challenging, pitch-black stories to screen — see ONE FALSE MOVE and A SIMPLE PLAN (right away!) — and he’s continued to be interesting as a supporting player, in recent films like HAYWIRE, 2 GUNS, and THE COLONY. [Read more on that one here.]
But FRAILTY is the one to look at, regarding what Paxton and Hanley bring to THE BOTTOMS. A spooky tale of belief, human darkness and the sins of the father, Hanley’s script is surprising and haunting and Paxton as a director shoots it for all it’s worth. In that film he pulled double-duty as a widower father of two young sons who believes God has called upon him to slay very real demons. Paxton’s performance and direction leave plenty of room for doubt in the viewer — is this actually a story about the supernatural? Long before Matthew McConaughey’s current wave of artistic success, Paxton cast him perfectly, in a role mirroring the one McConaughey played in John Sayles’ LONE STAR. There he played the father; here he plays the son. McConaughey is great in FRAILTY and so is Bill Paxton, in a story that in retrospect almost plays like an audition for a job making a Joe Lansdale tale come to life.
I’m excited about this match-up. Bill Paxton is from Fort Worth. He knows Texas. As a filmmaker he’s concerned with atmosphere and characters you can believe in. He’s not a flashy presence if he doesn’t need to be; he serves the story above all. All of the above is ideal for anyone adapting a Joe Lansdale story. Let’s cross our fingers and send our blessings to this production — it has the makings of something special.
And in other Lansdale news, it was recently announced that he’s the writer of the upcoming DC animated feature SON OF BATMAN, based on the Grant Morrison storyline where Bruce Wayne finds out he has a son by Talia Al Ghul, daughter of one of his greatest enemies. The boy’s name is Damian, which I don’t think is a reference to THE OMEN but that sure would be awesome. I haven’t read any of that comic storyline, but with Lansdale’s name in the credits, I’ll be sure to check out the animated version. Here’s the trailer:
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