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Tuesday, January 5, 2016


Welcome back, Mr. Bachman.

Roadwork is the third novel King released using the synonym Richard Bachman. Contrary to what I thought until quite recently, he apparently actually wrote this between writing 'Salem's Lot and The Shining, which explains the 1973 setting. It was King's first attempt at writing a "straight drama", and while it worked, King's fingerprints are all over it.

This is the first Bachman book that isn't centered around teenagers. It's also the first one that doesn't have any elements of "horror" to it, though one could say that Rage didn't, either. Then again, one of the first actions our protagonist in Rage takes is to murder someone, so I can understand how that one gets classified as "horror". Roadwork is dark, depressing and in some parts, violent. But it's not a horror story. It's not even trying to be.

Also gone is the clinical tone of the first two Bachman books. You feel everything here. And it hurts.

This story concerns the uncaring, unfeeling raping life often hands you as an adult that you're expected to just shut up and take. Our protagonist, Barton Dawes, hasn't done a thing to ask for all the crap that's happening to him. He's been a faithful husband, a valued employee at his job (even management material) and owns a fine home in the suburbs that's fully paid for, all at the age of about 40.

And here's what life has handed him for all his hard work: his son Charlie died of a brain tumor over two years before the novel's beginning, and now the only way Bart can function is holding fake "conversations" with him in his head, where he acts as his father's conscience. Thanks to a highway extension the city has undertaken, he's about to lose both his house and his job.

But then, that's part of the problem. No one's threatening him with homelessness and joblessness. He has the physical ability to move into a different house, and he's also the man in charge of securing a new building for his work, which is the Blue Ribbon laundry company. But something has snapped in Bart's mind. He finds himself unable to face the idea of leaving the house his son was born and raised in, and the building he poured his life into, rising to a management position. He cannot accept that his entire life is about to be uprooted for no other reason than to save drivers a bit of road time.

To make matters worse, the 1973-74 energy crisis is in full swing. Everyone's anxious, no one knows how the coming winter is going to hurt them.

I could resonate with Bart. I've gone through miscarriages with my wife. I have had a marriage crumble with nothing to be done to save it, and I have had more than one job disappear on me through no fault of my own. I know what it feels like when life grabs you, spreads those cheeks and hate-fucks you just because it can. Sometimes the only thing preventing me from taking the actions Bart Dawes takes in this story is concern for how it would affect people I love. For Bart, even that isn't enough. There's only one person left who he really cares about, and he convinces himself that somehow trying to deny, or prevent, the inevitable, is doing right by his wife.

Done right, this could be an Oscar-caliber movie. It's more or less a one-man show, as Bart's actions drive the narrative throughout, and whoever ends up playing Bart should probably be prepared for a Best Actor campaign. This will probably be one of those King adaptations that keeps his name kinda low-key. Remember how The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile seemed to deliberately hide the fact that they were based on King movies? Stand By Me and Misery did the same, for that matter, as did others. King's name is often splashed in huge lettering on posters, even titling the movies "Stephen King's Whatever", but often where his straight dramas were concerned, you'd only notice his name if you bothered reading the credits. This will probably happen here, too.

I want a big name behind this one. Part of me wants Sam Raimi to do this (his best film, A Simple Plan is bleak like this one) and another part wants Clint Eastwood. Let's go with Clint. I'll let him pick the screenwriter.

I honestly don't know why this has never been filmed; it's very cinematic.

But then, maybe I do know. At points in the story, Bart holds very animated conversations in his head with another personality that he calls "Fred" and "Fred" calls him "George". It's revealed almost immediately that Bart's full name is Barton George Dawes, and comes as no surprise when Charlie's full name is revealed to have been Charles Frederick Dawes. "George" is his dominate personality, the one the public sees and the one that's busy making sure he hangs on to his old life for as long as he can. "Fred" is the better part of himself, the one that's trying to make him see reason. I don't see a way for these conversations to be internalized, and using voice-over is always cheesy. But then, so would having the actor play both parts. Maybe a kid who plays Charlie can also play Fred, even just removing the whole "Fred/George" interplay and having his alternate persona be his dead son. A skilled screenwriter can make this work.

Throughout the reading of this, I wondered if updating the setting would work, or if this should stay in the 70's. The environment created by the energy crisis was pretty unique, and this book is firmly rooted in the mindset of those times, but I wondered if today's job crisis would work just as well. In the end, I decided there was more gravitas in keeping the original setting. Making it a historical that can be related to our current issues just adds to the award-bait feel.

Now for casting. The role of Barton Dawes has to be cast well. It hinges on being played by an actor skilled enough to carry this off. If you'd asked me twenty years ago, I would have said Viggo Mortensen in a heartbeat, but Dawes is only 40, so Mortensen has, regrettably, aged out. In their prime, Sean Penn or Tim Robbins would have knocked this out of the park. The original cover of the book (though rather inaccurate) made me think of Eastwood in his prime. If Bryan Cranston were twenty years younger, I'd pick him, because Bart Dawes has a lot in common with Walter White. I struggled to think of an actor in the right age range who has the sort of screen presence this role requires. Initially I went with Bradley Cooper, but I think he might just possibly be too handsome and WASPish for Bart. Bart is very much working class. He should looks like a dude who's spent his life working hard. Jeremy Renner is 45, which is five years older than Bart, and not, in my opinion, too old to play 40.
The other roles are all small by comparison, but the next biggest is probably Bart's wife, Mary, who truly believes her husband has everything well in hand, but watches it all come apart well after it's too late to do anything. The role isn't all that meaty (though there are some killer scenes with Bart) but I wanted to cast a late-30's actress who's held on to her youthful good looks. I eventually came up with Keri Russell.
If there's a villain in this tale, it's Steve Ordner, owner of the company that owns the Blue Ribbon, and the man Bart places in the villain role when he's looking for people to blame. Steve is older, rich, tall and can go from friendly to threatening very quickly. I went through a few names before settling on Kelsey Grammer.
When Bart finally decides he's going to take physical action against the highway expansion, he does what any sane, rational individual would do and goes to see the local mobster. Ultimately, things don't go his way, but I think the scenes with Salvatore Malgiore are pretty key scenes. He'd described as fat and bespectacled, but in every other sense a classic mobster. I had a hard time finding an Italian American actor that I felt suited the role (unfortunately James Gandolfini is unavailable) but Oliver Platt can step into the part and look, and act, perfectly credible.
About mid-way through the story, when he's at his lowest point, Bart picks up a young hitchhiker named Olivia, takes her home and...well, figure it out yourself. But it's less a booty call and more an attempt to help someone other than himself that doesn't go as planned, and his own selfish nature takes over when he realizes she's willing. I had a hard time with this character. She's described as being about 21 and looking younger, but there are few actresses that age who wouldn't feel uncomfortable in a role like this. I ended up going with Olivia Luccardi from It Follows because, while she's 26 years old, she looks much younger, and I have no problem believing her as a young girl from the mid-70's experimenting with drugs, sex and hitchhiking.
Then there's Phil Drake. I'll just let the Stephen King Wiki describe him: "He is a fallen priest who helps the homeless and has left "The mother church." He will not allow himself to be called father and has a "oddly scarred" right hand." Uh huh. "Phil Drake", eh? And I'm Richard Nixon. This is Father Callahan, plain and simple. This is what he got up to after leaving Jerusalem's Lot. Now, I could suggest that, as this film is more award-bait drama and 'Salem's Lot is more horror movie, not to mention that I'm updating the setting for that one but not this one, using the same actor might end up being confusing and unnecessary. But then, Father Callahan's travels following his departure from the Lot take him through a lot of other worlds and even time periods. That can certainly account for him showing up in the 70's, looking older than he did in the 2010's. For that matter, we can even suggest that Bart's adventures happen in the Keystone World. Whatever the case, my Father Callahan is also my Phil Drake. Come on back, Alan Dale.
A few minor roles: Vinnie Mason, one of the young salesmen at Blue Ribbon, is the man who starts the negative ball rolling by alerting Steve Ordner that Bart hasn't closed the deal on the new laundry location. In all his scenes, I couldn't help but think "pretentious little shit", and there is no actor more suited to playing pretentious little shits than Vince Kartheiser.

I liked the few short scenes featuring Tom Granger, the head tech guy at the laundry, and I pictured Craig Robinson in the part for whatever reason.
Finally, even though he's not a very large role, I couldn't help but picture Giovanni Ribisi as Malgiore's right-hand man, Pete Mansey.
So that's Roadwork, and I hesitate to say, going forward, when I'll be posting again. My next story is The Jaunt, which I'm told is one of his classics, and that there's already a few filmmakers interested in the property, so maybe this is one of those short stories that can be expanded to film. After that comes Cujo, which I strongly doubt needs a second adaptation. If you disagree, let me know in the comments. For sure I'll be doing a post on The Running Man and...the next novel after that one. I'm itching to get to that.


  1. This is a great movie just waiting to be made.

    I first read the novel in high school (circa 1991) and didn't get much out of it at all. No surprise there. I didn't reread it until about 2008, at which point in time I realized that not only was it a great novel, but it was a very timely novel STILL.

    Clint directing? Yeah, I could see that.

    Bradley Cooper as Bart? I'm less sold on that. I don't have an alternative choice, though, and I do like Cooper; so if he were in it, I'd be fine with it.

    1. To be honest, I'm not sure about Cooper either. I just don't know of another actor the right age that could sell this, and I know Cooper can.

      Now that I'm close to 40 myself, I find that most 40-year-old actors look too young to be 40 while most actors in their 30's look like kids. There are exceptions to that, but I still have a hard time taking, say, Ryan Gosling seriously as an adult. Nothing about his acting skills. He just looks young to me. Meanwhile, I keep thinking of George Clooney and Robert Downey, Jr. as being around 40, when both men are in their 50's, and Will Smith as being somewhere in his mid-30's, which is impossible because that would make him younger than me, which I know he isn't.

  2. I was incredibly excited to see you'd done Roadwork. You're dead right, it's very cinematic, and it could be an Oscar contender in the right hands.

    I should give you a little background on why this excites me so much, and an idea. I've read a few of King's classics, and a total of 21 or 22 novels/collections of shorts so far, and Roadwork is probably in my top three so far. I read it last summer, and the sequence where Dawes drives through the blizzard to go blow up some construction equipment had me as hooked as anything I've ever read. He's losing it, but you're rooting for him. My idea is for the trailer, and I originally posted it in the comments section on Bryant's blog in August, shortly after reading the book. It's basically a two-minute teaser, with no context for what's going on for anyone who hasn't read it, starting with the whiteout and Dawes's preparations, with the gasoline and station wagon, arriving at the site, the lighting of the first match, and maybe an explosion as the screen fades to black, and the words "Roadwork," then "October 2" or whatever the release date is.

    Back to the casting: I've actually thought of Bradley Cooper too, and he'd probably do fine, but like you, I'm not 100 percent sold on that, and I'm one of the few fans who probably have enough passion to really want to see this character done right. Initially I pictured Mark Wahlberg, but he has the same problem as Cooper, which is that he might be just a little too pretty. I picture Dawes as solidly middle-class, down to earth but not a schlub. Bryant suggested Kyle Chandler, who is 50 and therefore almost a decade older than Dawes is in the book, but he's got the boyish good looks and could probably pass for early forties if they made the movie soon. I need this adaptation to happen.

    As for your other suggestions, Oliver Platt could make an interesting gangster, although he'd have to change the voice and physicality to be a convincing Italian wiseguy. He's a great actor, so it's possible he could pull it off. Robinson, Kartheiser and Kelsey Grammer are all intriguing. I don't know your Olivia, but she's got the right look of young and attractive, but just a little bit trashy. The gap in her front teeth is a definite plus. She looks a little bit like a Kat Dennings who's still young enough to play 21, which I think is a good way to go. Olivia Thirlby is an idea I had, but she's probably close to 30 now. And I actually don't even remember Phil Drake.

    I think the seventies setting is absolutely imperative, both for the reasons you mentioned and because it was still possible back then to get off the grid a little bit. A modern setting would make the idea of getting away with vandalism and Dawes's other shenanigans a lot more shaky. I think you're right that tying it into current issues is a lot better for Hollywood prestige reasons too.

    Keri Russell I'm not sure of. I picture that character as a little less glamorous than that, but then I have a major thing for Keri Russell and her glorious backside, so it might just be me. At any rate, thanks for doing this one. I'd be interested in what you think of the trailer idea. It came to me pretty strongly right after reading that section, and I'm not often that visionary. Also, I've read your casting of The Stand and have some comments for that, but that one is such a huge undertaking that I want to give a worthy response to it. I haven't yet read your casting for The Dead Zone, The Long Walk, and Firestarter. Am I safe to do so if I haven't read the books?

    1. I'd forgotten that I'd had that Kyle Chandler idea! Not bad, although after watching the first season of "Bloodline," I think I might give the role to Ben Mendelsohn instead of Coach Taylor.

    2. Well, I did something I haven't done on this blog yet, though I stated I would eventually have to. I recast after putting the post up. Check and see if my new Bart sits better with you. I wasn't crazy about a 50-year-old in the role, but 45 is just young enough to still play 40 without trouble.

      As for Keri Russell, yeah, she's pretty glamorous, but she plays an "ordinary housewife" (or at least, someone who's supposed to be) pretty well on The Americans, and she is starting to look her age. Besides, Bart thinks to himself many a time how pretty she is and how even at 37 she could still have any man she wants.

      Aaron, I love what you said about Bart and how he drives this story: "He's losing it, but you're rooting for him." That's it, exactly. At his worst I was still hoping he'd eventually win. Even though I knew he was doing wrong things, I still wanted him to succeed.

      I do like the trailer idea, as well. I would be tempted to put in a "cool guys don't look at explosions" slow walk but I'm not sure that fits the tone. Bart's not really a badass, and that's the whole point.

      Platt is a pretty chameleonic actor. I have little doubt he could put on an Italian gangster voice. His physicality, though, is the reason I chose him. Sally One-Eye is fat and getting on in years.

      Phil Drake is the guy that Bart meets at the party late in the book while he's flying high on mescaline. Drake is an ex-priest with a curiously scarred, burned hand (perhaps from trying to enter a Holy place after he'd been marked by a vampire?) who is now working in various charitable organizations, which we know Father Callahan did thanks to the Dark Tower books. King claims he didn't realize how similar Drake and Callahan are, but I don't know about that. After all, why the burned hand? It has no bearing on Drake's character, other than to tie him to Callahan.

      As for your last question, Aaron, I do try and keep spoilers to a minimum for the posts about books that are less widely read, but it couldn't hurt to hold off on reading the posts until you've read the books. They're more interesting than my posts anyway.

  3. I love the Renner idea. He's not handsome in the conventional Hollywood way, but not funny-looking, and in good shape physically so that, as you say, you can easily buy him as blue-collar middle class. I have no idea whether Bradley Cooper was a rich kid, but he looks like a rich kid, or at least he did at the time of Wedding Crashers and The Hangover.

    You've convinced me on Keri Russell. I didn't remember her being described as beautiful. And you're right about this not being a "walk away from the explosion without looking" kind of movie. Honestly, even in a Bond movie, the lead actor has to sell the hell out of it for it to work at all any more. The best use that comes to mind is Denzel in Man on Fire, which makes sense because that character really doesn't give a fuck at that point, plus he was already a world-weary trained killer.

    I remember Phil Drake now. Wasn't there something about his hesitation to accept whatever was left of Dawes's estate because he'd be complicit in whatever wrongdoing he was up to?

    Anyhoo, thanks for the feedback.

    1. Well, Cooper has played blue collar before, but I like Renner better. Thus, he stays. Besides, the more I think about it, the more Bart's age is immaterial. Of course, if he's too old, his scenes with Olivia will get very uncomfortable...

      Yeah, Drake said just that. This character is so clearly Father Callahan that I can't believe King didn't intend it. I mean, the burned hand combined with being an ex-priest?

      Anyway, thank you for being a valuable contributor to my blog!