17 May 2009 | ChristopherYoudfan
Wonderful Cormier adaptation
I'm a huge Robert Cormier fan and have read every novel he's ever written. So I came to this movie with mixed emotions. I think his books are filmable, as they're relatively short. But they're not easily filmable, as he gets into the heads of his characters and the thought processes are what makes them so interesting. So far there's been 4 adaptations of Cormier's, until now. Chocolate war was an awful movie, messed with the book and changed the ending. Sucked in though to the students who watched the movie and not read the book. I am the cheese, featuring Cormier himself, was quite good - certainly better than it's remake, Lapse of Memory. But it was still flat and sentimental. The Bumblebee Flies Anyway seemed to be aimed too young and was an indie film that tried to overuse its name signing - Janene Garofalo. So I was worried Tenderness, with 2 name signings - Dern and Crowe - would do the same. What it was, though, was brilliant. It doesn't mess with the book as far as I remember it (it's been a few years). It does flesh out Crowe's character, who provides a narrative framework as well, but that actually works for the film and not against it. The ending is brilliant, the tension throughout is brilliant, and the "teenage" actors (really 19 and 25, but they pass well for 16 and 18) are great. It's a bleak tale. It won't be easily sold off the preview. But if you're a Cormier fan looking for a film that captures his ethos of hope through pain, his bleak "there is no light, so learn from the tunnel" themes are all present, which is why his books stand out and why this challenging and masterly crafted film will likely fail at the box office (as it has in Australia, where I'm from) and remain a minor masterpiece.
(If there are any Dern fans there - she has 2 scenes, a cameo really, though she's quite good. Crowe fans - his expanded role really makes him a third lead, while the book was really about the main two. I thought there was room in the film to flesh him out, and they did so nicely. Think about his role in the The Insider - not the lead, but his presence is felt.)
But this film is very thought provoking and challenging. Even if you don't like Crowe it won't matter, and if you've never read a Cormier book, it's a great introduction to his stuff, unlike the other adaptations.