You’ve got a lot of time to spend at home suddenly and we’re here to help with this list of great crime novels turned into great films that you can stream.
Cinema’s first wave of dark, gritty crime noir films was initially based on the work of highly original writers like Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett and James M. Cain. Modern crime noir, from roughly 1960 forward, is no different, with a seemingly endless stream of inventive writers supplying the material for some of our most interesting films.
The following is a list of smart, gritty films. It’s also a reading list for some of America’s best writers, regardless of genre or snooty literary pretensions:
“Devil in a Blue Dress” (R; Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, others)
Writer Walter Mosley is a national treasure who created one of our great literary detectives, Easy Rawlins. Denzel Washington is one of our greatest actors, and embodied this role as if it was written just for him. This 1995 Carl Franklin film captures both at the height of their powers. Mosley built a layered, nuanced world in his debut novel and ensuing series about the postwar amateur detective who does favors for friends as he fights the lure of a much darker life represented by his friend Mouse (played by a menacing Don Cheadle). Few writers deserve the cinematic treatment as much as Mosley, an endlessly thought-provoking explorer who can’t be pinned down to one genre. Yet very little of his work has been translated to the screen. That’s a shame, as you’ll see if you pick up the remote and hit play.
“Out of Sight” (R; Hulu, Vudu, others)
Pair the coolest actor of his era, George Clooney, with Elmore Leonard, the coolest writer to ever put pen to yellow legal pad while sitting by the pool in South Beach, and you’ve got a delightful film that’s been forgotten over the years. Starring Jennifer Lopez in full chip-on-her-shoulder mode as a U.S. Marshal accidentally entangled in Clooney’s inventive escape from prison, the 1998 film makes you smile. Leonard had a gift for dialogue and showing the ways his characters interact, and director Steven Soderbergh really nails the patter and chemistry that drive this story. Many of Leonard’s novels like “Get Shorty” and “Rum Punch” were turned into films (not to mention the TV series “Justified”). Read them before you watch the movies if you can.
“Drive” (R; Netflix, iTunes, others)
James Sallis calls his anti-hero Driver, and it’s true the stunt driver/getaway-driver-for-hire’s life is completely centered around his chosen profession. The rest is an empty void, something actor Ryan Gosling and director Nicolas Winding Refn capture perfectly in a 2011 film that alternates thrilling adrenaline-fueled driving scenes with stretches of icy detachment. And it all happens with a minimum of dialogue, mirroring Sallis’ trademark economical style. If you haven’t heard of Sallis, hit the search button. It’s time you met him.
“No Country for Old Men” (R; Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, others)
Cormac McCarthy is the dark prince of American letters, spinning tales so horrible and true, there seems to be a dark magic woven into his words. The Coen brothers possess a similar gift, so it’s little wonder when they came together on the 2005 film adaptation, the resulting work won four Oscars, including best picture. The Coens are entirely faithful to McCarthy’s book, which subverts the form in ways that are totally satisfying as a sheriff tries to solve the mystery of a drug deal gone bad and the whereabouts of the money everyone died over. McCarthy is due a Nobel Prize, and the Coens’ extensive filmography might be the perfect way to spend your quarantine time. “Blood Simple.” “Miller’s Crossing.” “Fargo.” Even “Raising Arizona.” All films that sit on a pinnacle with “No Country for Old Men.”
“Winter’s Bone” (R; Amazon Prime Video, Vudu, Hulu, others)
Daniel Woodrell creates unforgettable characters, most of whom are the reason for their own problems. In “Winter’s Bone,” his teenage protagonist is played by Jennifer Lawrence in her breakthrough role. The teenager is trying to find her missing father or prove he’s dead. The rural world she inhabits in this country noir is bleak and real, and Debra Granik’s 2010 film captures the hopelessness of her situation. Every word Woodrell writes, in the rural Missouri world he has created in novels like “Woe To Live On,” “Tomato Red” and “Give Us a Kiss,” is cinematic and his unforgettable work deserves more of this kind of treatment.