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Cornwell and Brooks present ‘The Front’

Published: April 9, 2010
Section: Arts, Etc.


CHATTING WITH CORNWELL: Author Patricia Cornwell (right) answered questions about the TV movie adaptation of “The Front” with the film’s executive producer, Stanley M. Brooks ‘79 (left).
PHOTO BY Nafiz R. “Fizz” Ahmed/The Hoot

The Film, Television and Interactive Media program’s sneak preview of “The Front,” a Lifetime original movie, made for an entertaining evening, especially when coupled with the question-and-answer session which followed. The film, based on a novel by crime writer Patricia Cornwell, had a satisfyingly twisty plot, featured stellar acting and, apart from a few discordant garish touches, was an enjoyable experience. After the screening, the film’s executive producer, Brandeis alum Stanley M. Brooks ’79, led the Q&A session with Cornwell, who gave witty and smart replies. This was to be expected, given that the film based on her work was extremely well-researched and featured a sly, dry humor.

My only experience with Lifetime movies have been the ones that are like junk food: fun and fluffy, but ultimately not very good for you. I should have had higher expectations given the fact that Brooks—with 58 movies under his belt, some of which have been Emmy-nominated—is clearly a master of the ‘made-for-TV’ genre. The film’s source material, the novel “The Front,” is also by someone who is plainly in the top tier of her field.

The film follows detective Win Garano (Daniel Sunjata) as he attempts to solve a cold case that might be connected to the Boston Strangler killings. As he delves deeper into the mystery, a killer obsessed with the detective begins a spree that endangers Garano and the people closest to him.

One of the highlights of the film is its Massachusetts setting. Harvard, the State House, the Boston skyline and even Watertown all make an appearance in vibrant colors.

However, the characters that populate the film’s world are just as vibrant. Sunjata plays Garano with an easy charm that never comes across as sleazy, despite the fact that he flirts with all his female coworkers. The best performance, though, was given by Andie Macdowell, who makes her character Monique Lamont, a witchy district attorney, entirely believable. She spreads rumors, sleeps with nearly all the men with whom she interacts and manipulates with a grin on her face. Despite all of this, Macdowell prevents Lamont from becoming a caricature.

In the question-and-answer session that followed, Cornwell commented on how she was impressed by the film’s actors and their ability to bring her characters to life.

“Macdowell was so believable by the time I left the set I was irritated with her,” Cornwell said.

“The Front” was tightly plotted and, though the twists were occasionally predictable, most of the time director Tim McLoughlin succeeded in keeping the audience in suspense.

Nevertheless, there were a few moments in the film that seemed over-the-top, almost cartoonish. While this style worked for the incredibly well-crafted opening credits, it seemed out of place at other times. For example, all of the flashbacks were extremely stylized: the characters were in black-and-white while set against a heavily saturated background with garish reds and greens. One of the characters meets a ghoulishly gory end with a paperweight that appeared too over-the-top as well.

Despite that minor quibble, the film’s direction seemed to complement the film’s moods. One prevalent theme is sight; every character at some point spies on someone or is unknowingly watched. This is captured in the camera technique that makes it appear that the viewer is the voyeur, making the audience feel uncomfortable.

After the screening, Brooks posed questions to Cornwell, revealing amusing anecdotes on the filming and writing process.

Brooks asked Cornwell why it took so long for her novels to be adapted into films. She explained that there have been many attempts, but all of them have failed. “I have made more movies that were never shown than anyone else … I feel like the curse has been lifted.”

Cornwell described the challenges that come in adapting a novel for the screen. “One thing that I learned from my failed attempts is how hard [adaptation] is. A lot of things that work on paper just don’t work when they to put it in this medium.” She compared screenwriting to writing a computer program, “writing something that makes things happen.”

When it comes to Cornwell’s own writing process, rather than resort to outlining or plotting out her novels, she begins writing without any idea of where the story will end.

At times she advised aspiring writers in the audience.

“Go out and experience things, that’s when creativity lands on your shoulder and tells you something,” she said.