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Netflix Takes Liberties With Tom Wolfe’s A Man in Full

It took three years for legendary journalist and social mores chronicler Tom Wolfe’s first work of fiction The Bonfire of the Vanities  (1987) to be adapted for the silver screen.  Unfortunately, the 1990 Brian De Palma film starring Tom Hanks, Bruce Willis, Melanie Griffith, and Morgan Freeman was a critical and commercial bomb. Given, the Bonfire backstory, it is perhaps no surprise that it took twenty-six years for Wolfe’s second novel A Man in Full  (1998) to get the small screen treatment, with David E. Kelley’s (Big Little Lies, Ally McBeal)  just-released Netflix miniseries of the same name. A Man in Full stars Jeff Daniels, Diane Lane, Lucy Liu, and Tom Pelphrey and boasts an A list of directing talent with Thomas Schlamme (The West Wing) and Regina King (One Night in Miami) at the helm. While Kelley’s adaptation of Wolfe’s novel, which premiered May 2, has received mixed reviews, I found the series so engaging that I watched all six episodes in one sitting. 

Political posturing and social justice maneuvering aside, I still highly recommend A Man in Full.

A Man in Full is the story of Charlie Croker (Daniels), a former Georgia Tech football star and Atlanta real estate developer who epitomizes Wolfe’s idea of a “big swinging dick”: a powerful but overbearing man who commands every situation and every room.  When we meet Croker, he is overleveraged and given that he now owes his lender Plannersbanc over $800 million, he is forced to sit through the indignity of a contentious and humiliating loan workout session. 

During this meeting, he starts visibly sweating to the point where two large pools of perspiration appear under his underarms. These “saddlebags” tell the powers that be at Plannersbanc that Croker is aware that he has gotten himself and Croker Industries into a situation from which it will be difficult to extricate unscathed. It is the ultimate “after pride, cometh a fall” moment. The ensuing plot concerns Croker’s efforts to fight off this ticking time bomb while various representatives from the bank — including loan workout specialist Harry Zale (Bill Camp) and  loan officer Raymond Peepgass (Tom Pelphrey) — are actively seizing his assets. (READ MORE from Leonora Cravotta: Arabella Advisors: the Dark Money Incubator for Leftist Billionaires)

Croker’s in-house counsel, Morehouse College graduate Roger White (Aml Ameen), suggests that Croker might be able to avoid bankruptcy if he supports the mayoral re-election campaign of his former fraternity brother Wes Jordan (Wiliam Jackson Harper) by engaging in some dirty scandal-mongering of Jordan’s opponent. Croker is also navigating a complicated personal life, which includes his ex-wife Martha (Diane Lane), who has a financial interest in Croker Industries, and Croker’s young trophy wife Serena (Sarah Jones), who is trying to make a name for herself in Atlanta society despite her husband’s increasingly diminished liquidity.

Wolfe’s behemoth novel, which clocks in at over 700 pages, is difficult to condense into a less than six-hour format. Yet Kelley does an admirable job of integrating the large gallery of characters along with several subplots. However, the setting has been moved from 1998 to the present day and the storyline has also been modified to appeal to a social justice warrior palate.

In the book, Croker tries to salvage his empire by helping to clear the name of a black Georgia Tech football star who is accused of rape by the rich white daughter of one of Croker’s closest friends.  This storyline was completely omitted from the series. 

The character of Conrad Hensley also experienced a book-to-film transformation. Wolfe depicts Hensley as a struggling young white father whose life spirals out of control after he loses his job at a  Croker Food Industries warehouse and later gets into an altercation with a police offer after his car is towed following his accidental parking in a red zone. As a result of this encounter, Hensley ends up in prison.

In Kelley’s version,  Hensley (Jon Michael Hill), a black soon-to-be-father is also a Croker warehouse employee. And while he does not get fired, his car also ends up in a red zone which leads to an altercation with a white police officer. While the plot that takes place in the book and the miniseries is similar, the decision to cast a black actor as Hensley adds a racial element to the story, while predictably eliminating the white working class character Wolfe so adeptly portrayed in his book. 

Kelley’s version presents Hensley’s wife Jill (Chanté Adams) as  Croker’s executive assistant. As a result of this relationship, Croker arranges for Hensley’s defense. While Jon Michael Hill’s sensitive nuanced portrayal of Hensley strikes an emotional cord, elements of the progressive narrative strain credulity.  Does anyone believe that the most dangerous thugs in an Atlanta area prison with a 70 percent black population are all white? 

This adjustment for political correctness is nothing new.  Thirty-four years ago, in the wake of the Rodney King riots, Brian De Palma was pressured  to update the Bonfire of the Vanities script by replacing a  respected white Jewish judge with a respected black judge to mitigate some of the film’s negative images of black America. As a result of that decision, the role that was originally going to be played by the white character actor Alan Arkin went to Morgan Freeman, a bigger star who also commanded a much bigger fee.

However, while A Man in Full’s plot and character updates are interesting from a popular culture perspective, they do not diminish the quality of  the miniseries. Furthermore, Wolfe’s voice is present in the dialogue and the cinematography.

There are some over-the-top scenes such as Shania Twain performing at Croker’s birthday party and Croker wrestling a rattlesnake. There’s also plenty of creative conniving which makes for some literal and figurative strange bedfellows. That it was filmed in Atlanta further enhances the story’s authenticity. Jeff Daniels deserves an award for his performance. He exudes Charlie Croker through his every pore with his studied Southern accent, raw physicality, and subtle moments of introspection. He successfully manifests a larger-than-life character without becoming a caricature.  Diane Lane, Lucy Liu, Thomas Pelphrey, Aml Ameen, and the always intriguing Bill Camp also turn in first-rate performances. (READ MORE: ‘Who You Gonna Call?’: Ghostbusters Reboot Reaffirms Traditional Values) 

However, while I have a lot of respect for Jeff Daniels’s acting ability, we could all do without his using the promotion of this miniseries to propagate anti-Trump messaging as he did in this interview  with Nicolle Wallace for MSNBC earlier this week.

After all, the 1998 book was not written about Trump. While it is possible that Wolfe was partially influenced by Donald Trump’s outsized presence and financial struggles following his divorce from Ivanna in 1990’s,  Charlie Croker is believed to be a composite of three separate prominent figures in the Atlanta business community. Secondly,  Jeff Daniels is an actor not a political historian. Maybe, he should be focusing on using his visibility to promote his work and that of his co-stars. Or here is an idea, maybe he should just say thank you for the praise that his performance has already generated.

Political posturing and social justice maneuvering aside, I still highly recommend A Man in Full as an entertaining, provocative adaption of Tom Wolfe’s masterful novel. And if you have not read the book or re-read it recently, this marvelous series will motivate you to do so.

The post Netflix Takes Liberties With Tom Wolfe’s<i> A Man in Full</i> appeared first on The American Spectator | USA News and Politics.


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