Photos: EdStock/iStockphoto (Michael Shannon) and Torbakhopper/via CC (Nicholas Hoult).
William Landay has a few things in common with John Grisham. Both suspense writers parlayed their law careers into written entertainment for the masses and, also, both men will have novels adapted into feature films during the first half of this decade. This past March, Warner Brothers purchased the rights to adapt Landay’s latest novel, Defending Jacob, into a movie. (Here’s hoping we find future cause for comparison between Grisham and Landay; a whopping eight of Grisham’s novels have been adapted into movies thus far.)
Defending Jacob, Landay’s third novel, put him on the radar of readers everywhere, which clearly helped catch the eye of Hollywood. The book tells the story of Assistant District Attorney Andy Barber’s battle to clear his teenage son Jacob’s name after he is accused of murdering his classmate. A few keen individuals have drawn similarities between Landay’s Defending Jacob and Rosellen Brown’s 1992 novel, Before and After. Brown’s book focuses on a New Hampshire couple dealing with the aftermath of their teenage son (also named Jacob) being accused of murdering his girlfriend. Before and After was adapted into a 1996 film starring Liam Neeson, Meryl Streep, and Edward Furlong, and wasn’t very well received, netting a disappointing score of thirty-two percent on Rotten Tomatoes. Despite the failure of Before and After, we have the highest hopes for Defending Jacob’s development journey — and have a few suggestions to help pave the course.
Andy Barber narrates the story, and though readers do not get a direct description of his physical appearance, they understand him better than any other character in Defending Jacob. When we close our eyes we see one — and only one — actor we want to play Andy: the extraordinary Michael Shannon. If any of his past roles (“Revolutionary Road” and “Take Shelter“) have been any indication, Shannon is a seasoned actor who favors taking on challenging characters on the verge of snapping.
Jacob Barber is described as a teenager who already resembles a man (“a big handsome boy”) so it won’t be a stretch to cast a slightly older actor to fill his shoes. With a diverse resume that includes “Skins,” “About a Boy,” and “A Single Man,” we would love to see Nicholas Hoult take on the the character of Jacob, a socially awkward outcast who prefers the company of video games and his computer to socializing with his classmates. We think Hoult would be able to bring that necessary mysterious complexity to the title character.
The two directors we have in mind are perfect for one reason: They know how to take the seemingly beautiful, innocuous suburbs and slowly unravel everything to reveal the ugly, hidden truths festering within. Our first dream director is Sam Mendes, nominated for his incredible work starting with directorial film debut “American Beauty,” and especially for his painstakingly detailed adaptation of Richard Yates’ novel about a struggling couple in the 1950s, “Revolutionary Road.” We would also choose Todd Field, responsible for two incredible book-to-film adaptations: “Little Children” (based on Tom Perotta’s novel) and “In the Bedroom” (based on Andre Dubus’ short story, Killings). Both directors truly excel at respecting the original source materials they adapt into watchable, well-acted feature films.
If you’ve read Defending Jacob, do you agree with our casting musings? If not, weigh in with who you would nominate to star and direct.