Will Smith is almost certainly the most bankable actor of this generation. His films have alternated between the serious dramas (Ali, The Pursuit of Happyness, Seven pounds) comedies (Men In Black, Hitch) and high profile blockbusters (I, Robot, Independence Day, Hancock). His new project could potentially combine all of these into one Biblical “dramedy”. The film he’s being scheduled for is called Joe and is being written by Paul Tamasy, one of the minds behind the recent success story “The Fighter”. Speaking on the Movie BS podcast, he announced his upcoming project based on a retelling of the story of Job. He had the following to say:“He’ll be playing Joe. The movie’s called Joe. It’s about a man who is living the American dream. He’s got the nice house, white picket fence, great kids, great wife, nice cars. God and the devil get together every thousand years to bet on a man’s life, and the fate of the world is at stake. What all of us get hit with in a lifetime, this man gets hit with in one week. And it’s about whether or not he can still pick himself up from that and survive it. It’s a dramedy. At its heart, it’s a comedy — but it’s got, obviously, a real dramatic core to it.”
I’ve recently read the story of Job and it didn’t strike me as one that naturally lends itself to a film. The structure is more suitable for a play; lots of dialogue and very little action. The structure is also a bit wrong for a film, as the ending of God telling Job he’s got it all wrong is not really going to work on the big screen. It works great on the page and is a real eye opener moment, but the whole story is too wordy to make a good film. It therefore does not surprise me overly much that this film is not going to be strict about sticking to the original. Even with Will Smith in the lead, I don’t think that could be anything but a miserable failure. Modernising it is also not hard to justify, as the story is one that any human being can relate to and the ideas behind it are common to all cultures.
What I object to is the change of focus from the original. What you can see from the quote above is that the main point of the story is that Joe can cope with whatever is thrown at him and is ultimately an overcomer. The problem though is that he is overcoming God and not succeeding because of God, but in spite of Him. The original shows Job struggling to come to terms with being treated this way and moans at God throughout, before God just tells him how awesome He is. Job blames God for his problems, but it’s God’s faith in Job that meant he allowed the devil to do these things. This is completely different from the proposed plot of Joe and almost bears no resemblance.
Admittedly it’s early days yet. Will has to finish Men In Black III (yes, they are making another one) before he can even plan which project to pursue next. This isn’t the only biblical retelling he’d been aligned with though. The Legend of Cain recasts the world’s first murderer as a vampire. Make of that what you will.
Personally, I hope he takes the Job-like film and makes it into something that’s a cross between Evan Almighty, Hitch and Atonement. It has potential and in my opinion, films based on the Bible are a good thing. Sure you have to alter the source sometimes, but I would never have read Lord of The Rings if I hadn’t seen the story on the big screen first. That is why even a bad film about the Bible is good in my book.