Wednesday, 19 January 2011

A Shock to the System

A Shock to the System is a 1990 film starring Michael Caine based on Simon Brett’s stand-alone novel of the same novel. Before writing the book, Brett was associated, in the crime genre, with a string of witty whodunits featuring the actor Charles Paris, so this represented a considerable departure.

I read the book at the time, and enjoyed it. One of the interesting aspects of the book is that it can be seen as a modern spin on the idea of Malice Aforethought by Francis Iles – a put-upon chap resorts to murder to solve his problems, and various complications ensue.

A striking feature of the film is not just that the screenplay was written by Andrew Klavan, a notable thriller writer himself, but that the action was transplanted to the USA. Furthermore, the ending was completely changed. I don’t know why this was done, or what Simon Brett thought about it, but it means that really one has to judge the film quite separately from the book.

On the whole, taking the film by itself, and trying to put the book out of my mind, I thought Klavan just about got away with it. Caine dominates with his usual smooth efficiency, and in effect the result is a crisp piece of black comedy that makes for pretty reasonable entertainment. Worth a watch.


Unknown said...

Saw this when it came out. Can it have been that long ago? I remember that I liked it and enjoyed Caine's performance.

Anonymous said...

Martin - Thanks for sharing this. I, too, sometimes wonder at the differences between books and the movies made about them. Of course, books and films are different media, and different kinds of entertainment, so certain things, I'm sure, simply work better with one media than the other. Still, I do think about that. Glad you found the film worth a watch, even if it didn't stay true to the book.

Deb said...

I remember both the movie and its print advertising tag line: "Die Yuppie Scum!" I think the filmmakers were trying to zero in on anger towards Wall Street and bankers who had manipulated the financial markets in the 1980s.

Le plus ce change, etc. Sigh.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks for these comments.
Bill, it has worn pretty well, I think.
Margot, the point about certain projects that work best in one particular medium is well made, and encourages me to a future blog post!
Deb, how interesting. I find that tag line quite out of keeping with the actual film