It’s a wonder that classic novelist Ernest Hemmingway’s novels are not getting remade these days. His novels are robust with manly stoicism and strong visuals. Perhaps his ultra-manliness, full of gritted teeth, rampant alcoholism, and all sorts of wrestling with nature and fellow men, is too much for the modern metrosexual man. So, it comes as a breath of fresh air to see Hollywood take on Hemmingway again, with tough-guy Tommy Lee Jones directing, writing, and starring in ‘Islands in the Stream’.
Now, one reason Hemmingway novels are not being remade is that because previous attempts to adapt his books have not been very good. In fact, Islands in the Stream was adapted already, in 1977, with Franklin J Schaffner directing George C Scott through a messy film that tries to stretch its plot into action, and fails miserably. The problem is that Islands in the Stream is possibly Hemingway’s most contemplative (and in my humble opinion, his best) story, full of melancholy and impotence. It’s a story of a man’s man and his inability to be a father. It also has one of the best closing lines of any book. To try and inject action and adventure into it, is to miss the point.
And fortunately, Tommy Lee Jones seems to recognise that. In an interview with the Sunday Times UK last month, Jones admits that the 1977 version was a “bad movie”, and that his version will be “a family film”. I think it’s safe to say that he means that the story will focus on the theme of family, rather than a PG-rated flick about learning lessons.
Considering the last film Jones directed, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, and his acting roles in the similarly toned No Country for Old Men and In the Valley of Elah, his version of Islands in the Stream could very well be a classic, and the first true adaptation of a Hemmingway novel.