While on vacation last week I found myself browsing Netflix's instant queue, and I came across Rain Fall. I knew that Barry Eisler's first novel had been turned into a movie at some point, but that the movie hadn't made it onto the big screen in the States; it appears that it was only shown in commercial theaters in Japan. Curious as to how Eisler's noirish assassination thriller had been adapted for film, I fired up the movie and sat back to watch.
And by watch I mean, I spent about half the time reading my Kindle, looking out the window bored, and contemplating if I was wasting time that could be better spent writing. The film is a serviceable thriller, with the usual government conspiracy, some techno-thriller bells and whistles, some gunplay, some knifeplay, some karate or judo or whatever it's supposed to be, and some other boilerplate moments here and there. Gary Oldman does his best to play a barking, frantic CIA supervisor running this little operation, but in the end it feels like he's just redressing his character in The Fifth Element with a pair of glasses and a cheap suit, but without any of the flash or quirk that made Zorg a fun villain.
The biggest flaw in the movie is that it really has very little to do with the book itself, and more importantly, it is missing the "soul" of the novel. Eisler, for all his "I was in the CIA and I learned about self-defense from a guy nicknamed Animal and I get romance writers to rubber-stamp my often creepy sex scenes" nonsense, is able to capture a very surreal vision. His characters operate in the Shadow World of espionage, assassination, mercenary operations, and other highly illegal shit, but at the same time, they have relationships, enjoy good music and drink great single malt whisky. Eisler's books are one of the reasons my collection of single malts has been maintained so well over the years, and the image of the lone wolf assassin chilling in a dark, smoky Japanese jazz club, sipping an eighteen year old single malt while ready to kick ass at a moment's notice, just plain works.
But the movie adaptation has almost none of this cool. There is about fifteen seconds of jazz in the whole movie, the character lacks any kind of panache or style at all, and in fact, the movie makers completely change the character's identity and background. John Rain in the novels is in his fifties, wears glasses, was a Vietnam veteran and carries with him an older man's sensibilities, style, and sophistication. He's careful, cautious, and deliberate, well aware that most of the men who hunt him are almost half his age. The experience and gravitas that the novel's Rain carries with him allows him to turn the tables on his more aggressive, reckless opponents, and seeing this play out is very engaging. On the other hand, the John Rain in the film is just another "highly trained operative" blah blah blah. He's a two-dimensional, cookie-cutter character that adds nothing to the film and takes away so much of the spirit of the book that it is, in fact, embarrassing that this fate could befall such an excellent novel.
So although this is a "movie review", I actually recommend people skip the movie completely and go read Eisler's book (the Amazon link above takes you to the novel, not the film). Although it has its faults, I still think the John Rain series is one of the best modern espionage thriller stories of the 21st century.