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Good Adaptation, Performances Can't Hide Parker's Ugly Side

Good Adaptation, Performances Can't Hide <i>Parker</i>'s Ugly Side

DVD Release Date: May 21, 2013
Theatrical Release Date: January 25, 2013
Rating: R for strong violence, language throughout and brief sexual content/nudity
Genre: Action
Run Time: 118 min.
Director: Taylor Hackford
Cast: Jason Statham, Jennifer Lopez, Michael Chiklis, Wendell Pierce, Clifton Collins Jr., Patti Lupone, Micah A. Hauptman, Bobby Cannavale, Nick Nolte, Emma Booth, Carlos Carrasco

The first credit at the conclusion of Parker, the new crime caper starring Jason Statham, reads, "In memory of Donald E. Westlake." The shoutout to author Westlake, who wrote a series of Parker novels under the pen name Richard Stark, feels appropriate, given that Parker director Taylor Hackford and writer John J. McLaughlin (Hitchcock, Black Swan) have done justice to the tone of Westlake’s series of novels centered on Parker.

That’s not to say you should rush out and buy a ticket. Westlake’s character is a criminal who, over the course of 24 novels, gets caught up in a number of heists, jobs-gone-bad, double crossings and back-stabbings. He uses his wits to stay a step ahead of those pursuing him, somehow coming out ahead of his rivals. His mission in this story and others is, in a word, revenge.

The Parker character has been seen on the big screen multiple times over the decades, although Westlake’s character has gone by different names until now. He’s best known as the protagonist (named Walker) of John Boorman’s Point Blank (1967), and was played by Mel Gibson in 1999’s Payback, where the character’s name was Porter.

This latest Parker story, based on Westlake’s Flashfire, starts with the title character teaming with a group of lowlifes who include Michael Chiklis (TV’s The Shield), Wendell Pierce (HBO’s The Wire) and Clifton Collins Jr. (Sunshine Cleaning, Extract). They hit a county fair that’s flush with cash, but when Parker demands his fair share of the haul, the team turns on him and leaves him for dead.

Parker survives, and so does his moral code, such as it is. "When I enter into an agreement, terms must be honored on both sides," Parker explains. Otherwise, chaos ensues. And ensue it does, as Parker tracks down the men who wronged him, with the help of Leslie (Jennifer Lopez), a down-on-her-luck Florida real-estate agent who needs a big payday of her own.

Parker may have his own code, but it’s not based on anything greater than himself. He respects his criminal mentor (Nick Nolte) and tries, in his own twisted way, to love his girlfriend (Emma Booth) and remain faithful to her (he doesn’t resist the divorced Leslie’s kisses, but refuses offers to take her out for drinks). Yet the story of Parker is a basic revenge plot, and however well done it may be, it’s still centered on motives that are far from Romans 12:19.

"Civilized people need to follow rules but these are mine: I don’t steal from people who can’t afford it and I don’t hurt people who don’t deserve it," says Parker, laying out another of his axioms. “I’m just going to put things right.”

We can’t ultimately "put things right" on our own, of course, but in Parker’s world, trying to do so is a form of honor. He's doing what he thinks is orderly and proper.

So is director Hackford. For the first time in a long time, a filmmaker has put things right in bringing the Parker character to the screen. If Parker doesn’t capture every nuance of Westlake’s novels, it at least feels true to their spirit.

However, that spirit was never designed to uplift, offer joy, or suggest anything spiritually fruitful. The accuracy in how the film adapts its source material makes Parker admirable in its own way. It’s a film that fans of Westlake’s character won’t find off-putting or embarrassing. But it’s very violent and, at times, quite ugly. Sure, that’s the point, just not a recommendation.


  • Language/Profanity: Lord’s name taken in vain; many uses of the “f”-word; various obscenities; double entendre
  • Alcohol/Smoking/Drugs: Wine and beer drinking; prescription pills taken; Leslie says she drinks too much
  • Nudity: A woman’s breasts shown while changing clothes; a man and woman in a shower are seen from the shoulders up, kissing; in a painting, a woman’s breasts are exposed; Parker’s girlfriend is seen in her panties, breasts visible; Parker makes Leslie strip to her underwear to make sure she’s not wearing a wire; Parker and Leslie kiss, even though Parker is involved with someone else; Leslie stares at Parker’s rear end
  • Violence/Crime: Criminals point guns, rob, fight, draw blood, shoot each other (sometimes at point blank range), stab each other; a man jumps from a speeding car; a choke hold puts a man to sleep; car theft; Mob activities; a character says there’s nothing wrong with stealing, and another says that everyone steals; pools of blood, a man stabbed in the hand; a man falls to his death from a balcony
  • Religion: Parker disguises himself as a priest during a robbery; a hospital patient says, “Praise the Lord”; speculation that Parker may have been an angel

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Publication date: January 26, 2013