I’m not exceptionally excited about the idea of a remake of The Thin Man due both to the perfection of the original and because I have no idea how the alcoholic lassitude broken up by bouts of crime-solving will play for contemporary audiences. But I am intrigued by the news that Billy Ray is the most recent writer attached to the project.
Ray wrote and directed what I think are indisputably the two finest Washington movies of the last decade: Shattered Glass, about the New Republic fabulist Stephen Glass, and Breach, about the operation that brought down FBI traitor Robert Hanssen (though he also wrote the remake of State of Play, which was too inert to be actually bad). There are a reasonable number of movies that get, in particular, the national security apparatus in Washington generally right. But pop culture almost never nails journalism, and Hollywood is currently stuck in a moment where it doesn’t understand that there’s a professional blogging corps, so it’s spending a lot of time scapegoating journalists as pajama-clad, basement-dwelling amateurs. Shattered Glass actually had a real sense of the dynamics of communities of young, ambitious journalists in Washington — as well as some of the problems the New Republic habitually faces, including a young staff and editor churn:
Breach, like Shattered Glass, is an unconventional thriller, full of extreme boredom as the young agent assigned to crack Hanssen goes through the motions and waits for something to happen, punctuated by the extreme risk of exposure. It’s quiet, and lonely. In some of the tensest scenes, the worst thing that could happen is not that someone will get killed, but that someone might say something irrevocable:
So what does all of this mean for The Thin Man? Ray doesn’t write exceptionally funny, but the guy does write a good, tense mystery. And he does a great job of squeezing the drama out of the institutional settings where his characters work. The former could mean we’re getting a less-quippy Nick and Nora, which might make them an entirely different thing. And there isn’t really a hook for the latter in a story about two wealthy people who essentially work out of their apartment. It might be best, in fact, if the movie ends up being The Thin Man in name only, and like the Prime Suspect remake, really ends up being something entirely different. William Powell and Myrna Loy are a tough ticket to beat. Johnny Depp, who’s stepping into the Nick role, might be wise not to really try.