* * * B
The Dark Tower, a book series described by Stephen King as his magnum opus, now has a film adaptation. The gunslinger Roland Deschain, is played by Idris Elba, which is an odd piece of casting, since Roland is clearly described by King as resembling Clint Eastwood. Since the obvious problem with this choice, Roland’s relationship with Detta Walker, is not part of the film, making the people of Gilead black doesn’t hurt this film, and Elba handles the character well.
The film starts with Jake Chambers, who is well played by Tom Taylor. Fans will recognize material from the third book in the series, “The Wasteland”, which is probably my favorite. The iconic opening line, “The man in Black fled across the Desert, and the Gunslinger followed,” doesn’t occur until well into the first act, and even then, it is part of a dream sequence.
Also appearing in Jake’s dreams is the man in black, Walter O’Dim. Matthew McConaughey’s portrayal is easily the highlight of the film. The dark and shadowy figure of the first book is given a much larger role, and elements of the later books and King’s Novella “The Low Men”, are brought in to form a third act unlike anything in the books.
While there is plenty to like about this film, die hard fans of the books will be disappointed if they are expecting a faithful adaptation of them. I won’t spoil the ending, but it is nothing like the ending of the first novel, “The Gunslinger”. Since much of the first act of the third novel takes place in this film, that ending, which sets up the third book, may be less necessary to the plot of any future films, but it also defines the essential characteristic of Roland: that he will ruthlessly pursue his goal, no matter the cost.
I recommend seeing this film. If you are a fan of the books, go in, as I did, with the expectation that you will be seeing a retelling that is effectively a different story. Assuming further films are made based on the books, more liberties will have to be taken, some to repair the deviations made in this one. Judging by the IMDB rating of 6.0, sequels may be in doubt. Don’t believe that rating (which is probably IMDB’s equivalent of two stars), nor the 18% rotten score from the critics. This is a good film, just not a great one.