Look out for: The Long Red Road
Wow…this is exciting news. Brett C. Leonard’s play “The Long Red Road” is being adapted for the screen. I was able to see this play performed in March of 2010 at The Goodman Theatre in Chicago. It starred Tom Hardy (in a role written specifically for him) and was directed by Philip Seymour Hoffman. Hardy will reprise his role as Sam in the film and Michael Shannon (a veteran of Chicago theater) will be taking on the role of Sam’s brother Bob. The mere thought of Hardy and Shannon together in a film is enough to make any cinephile salivate, but with a text like this, you know fireworks are going to fly. Hardy and Shannon are both classically trained actors and have earned sterling reputations on stage and screen. They’re both actors capable of intense emoting, and with the firepower they’ll have from Leonard, they’ll be sure to tear through the screen. There’s no word on who’s to direct this project, but I wonder if Hoffman might do it. He made his film directorial debut a couple of years ago with “Jack Goes Boating,” and he clearly knows the material. It’s going to be interesting to see Hardy get another crack at the character of Sam. Will he play it pretty much the same? Will he go in a completely opposite direction? Films are unlike performed plays in the sense that the finished product of a film is fixed once and for all. Viewers will approach them from different perspectives and will offer different interpretations, but they’re still looking at the same piece of work. A play, on the other hand, is different every night. An actor might not vary his or her performance much, but it’s never going to be exactly the same as it was another night. I’m curious to see how Hardy and his director will choose to “fix” Sam on celluloid. Once it’s wrapped there’s no going back, and that has to be an exciting if daunting challenge for an actor who could mine new depths for dozens of performances.
When I saw “The Long Red Road,” I thought that it would make a great movie, but I didn’t actually think it would happen. The text feels very modern and very filmic in the way that it utilizes movement and silence. There are no highfalutin monologues here, no big entrances or actors talking a mile a minute. You have terse language, sloppy behavior, and inarticulate stammerings. It “cross-cuts” much like films do, using sonic and visual transitions between “scenes” (Sam slams his shot glass down in the bar, the lights come up on another part of the stage, which is set in a classroom but happening at the same time, etc.). I suppose that’s become pretty commonplace for modern theater (“Angels in America” really capitalized on this technique), but it nevertheless brings to mind film’s influence on the medium. The way that Hoffman used lighting and music in the climax to intercut between characters felt particularly filmic and made me think of “Magnolia.” It’s a very earth-bound play…no high-concept trickery, no existential philosophy, no elaborate settings. Just messed up characters and shabby locations. Hardy plays a self-loathing, guilt-ridden alcoholic attempting to run from his past, and man, he doesn’t even try to pretend that Sam is likable. That’s not to say that he’s entirely unsympathetic, exactly, but he’s far from a good person. Hardy dives into the grime much like he does in “Bronson,” without a second’s thought of how the audience might despise him. “The Long Red Road” is a dark play…full of rotten people doing nasty things without acting like they’re having fun doing it. And we don’t have fun watching them do it. I suppose that’s a more noble path, in a way, to not glamorize the bad behavior. But the result is like getting punched repeatedly in the gut. No wonder why the intermission sent so many people to the bar for a quick, stiff drink. Anyhow…before I sound like I’m talking you out of watching this, I’ll say that “The Long Red Road” will make one compelling movie. Maybe not an entertaining movie or an enjoyable movie. But one that will knock you over with its intensity. I certainly can’t wait.