Okay, now I’m conflicted.
I’m sure I’ve mentioned it here a few times already, but I can always say it again: I love Travis McGee. I wish I was Travis McGee. He is, hands down, my favorite literary creation, and I think John D. McDonald is one of the great American writers. I don’t just think he writes good thrillers… I think his use of language, his observations on our culture and our character, and the way he defines his people in his fiction… he’s unmatched. I see echoes of his voice in the writing of so many people on the bestseller lists of today, whether it’s Stephen King or Carl Hiaasen or Lee Child, and honestly, I don’t think any of them offer the complete package the way he did.
So, yes, I have very strongly held opinions about a possible film version of Travis McGee, and I’ve read the draft by Dana Stevens that got everyone excited. To say I’m skeptical is an understatement. Stevens introduces his Travis McGee on a surfboard, for god’s sake. Travis McGee decidedly does not surf. Not at all. I hope that Kario Salem, whose work I don’t know at all, made some major improvements with his drafts, and that they were smart enough to just get back to the book, which works perfectly without any unnecessary invention.
The character lives on a houseboat in a marina in Florida, The Busted Flush, and he only works occasionally, taking his retirement in installments. He works as a “salvage consultant” when he does chose to work, which means that he’ll retrieve things that the law can’t retrieve, and in exchange, he’ll take a flat percentage of the value. And the script doesn’t even really get that right, instead turning McGee into a type of private eye. That’s got to be fixed.
I’m more concerned by Leonardo Di Caprio’s long-stated desire to play the character. I think Di Caprio is a great actor, and he strikes me as a smart guy. So I’m going to hope that the right thing eventually occurs to him, and he steps aside as the star of the film. If he’s a real McGee fan, he’d be a powerful producer to have spearheading the project through his Appian Way company, and the idea of Paul Greengrass possibly directing the film is actually a huge step in the right direction.
The thing is, Greengrass is anything but a done deal. His Martin Luther King movie “Memphis” fell apart at Universal for a number of reasons. I sort of love the sound of “Here There Be Monsters,” a Legendary Pictures project written by Brian Helgeland. It pits historical figure John Paul Jones against a sea serpent, with Jones using all of his naval battle strategy knowledge to try to beat the creature. I love that Legendary seems to be getting into the giant monster business in a big way, and I think it would be a blast to see Greengrass try something like this.
But honestly, if he did decide to make “The Deep Blue Good-by,” it would be an amazing match of filmmaker and material, and I’d hate to see him hampered by the wrong McGee or the wrong script.
Mr. Di Caprio, if you are the fan you say you are, then please… consider the character again and do right by him. You can help Travis McGee live and breathe… just not if you’re the one playing him.