I saw Collateral some time ago, but haven’t got round to writing about it, have nothing original to say, and feel slightly let down by Michael Mann (who is a god). It’s not that it’s a bad film; it is, in many ways, superb, but, like others who’ve seen it, I think that Mann or the scriptwriter lacked that sliver of nerve that could have made it a truly outstanding piece of work. The action in it is, however, beautifully choreographed and rendered and the acting is excellent. I’m not giving anything away by saying that Tom Cruise persuades as a ruthless killer.
When it comes to the latest Blade movie, the pattern will, I’m sure, be the usual one. I’ll attend against my better judgement, and, even though I’ll be prepared for disappointment, I’ll still be disappointed. Afterwards, I’ll bang my head to the soundtrack by way of consolation and lie to myself that the actual spectacle was better than I remember it. (Blade II at least shocked me by proving that one of the former members of British boy band Bros could act—so well, in fact, that I had no idea that it was him until later.) However, as well as showing you what will probably turn out to be all of the good bits, one of the film’s trailers is worth checking out because it contains a neat summary of a moral debate of our day. A small girl asks our vampire-hunting hero—the only black man in America who still has a flat-top haircut and baggy trousers—why he can’t “just be nice”. “Because,” he growls, “the World isn’t nice.”
Frederick Forsyth was in Nigeria just as I was entering that un-nice World. What he saw there changed him. Perhaps most trivially, it changed him from being a reporter to a writer. He does do opinion pieces for magazines and newspapers, though, and sometimes speaks his thoughts to the microphone. Sadly, these are usually bonkers Tory grumps of the sort found in The Daily Telegraph‘s letters page. When he writes about writing, however, he can be frighteningly good. Once he shredded The English Patient for The Spectator, slicing through the work’s errors of fact and logic until you wondered why anyone would waste his or her time reading its tattered pages. As for his own books: Forsyth’s characters are made of chewy cardboard, every page contains at least two overused figures-of-speech, and he likes his boys’ toys a little too much. He does, however, have a filing cabinet mind for geopolitics, often knows who the bad guys really are, and has (as he would write) “an iron grip” on his plot.
I’d go further. When it comes to plotting, Frederick Forsyth is in the top five percent of thriller writers. His latest, Avenger, is so neatly constructed and exploits our own knowledge of the real world going on around his invented one so elegantly and to such powerful effect that it probably deserves a prize for architecture. You don’t care much about the players, but you can understand why they are doing what they are doing and you certainly care about what’ s going to happen to them next. And, as you rapidly approach the end of the story, you keep asking yourself, “How can he resolve all these questions in this short space without resorting to some clunky device?” The answer is that he is a great storyteller, so the only device whose clunkiness he relies on is your brain.