Casting the Uncastable Adaptation: Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian

Jeremy Renner, Liam Neeson/Photos © Featureflash/DFree/Shutterstock
Jeremy Renner, Liam Neeson/Photos © Featureflash/DFree/Shutterstock

Have a conversation with any well-read film buff about unfilmable books, and one novel is sure to come up: Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian or The Evening Redness in the West. And with good reason: It would be a damn-near impossible task to do it theatrical justice.

Every few years, a Hollywood director will take an interest in bringing the book to theaters before inevitably throwing in the towel. Most recently, James Franco joined Todd Field and Ridley Scott in the list of directors who’ve given up on adapting the epic Western. And who can blame them? Unlike McCarthy’s other books that have been turned into award-winning adaptations – like All the Pretty Horses, The Road, and No Country For Old MenBlood Meridian is not camera-friendly.

For starters, it’s violent as all hell. To which, you may be thinking, “But No Country for Old Men is violent. It features a man killing a cop point blank with a cattle gun!” While the Coen Brothers did a commendably flawless job of adapting No Country for Old Men for the silver screen, Blood Meridian makes No Country look like a “Finding Nemo” sequel. Scalpings and savagery abound throughout Blood Meridian, but what’s amazing is how breathtakingly poetic McCarthy portrays the violence. It is so jaw-droppingly shocking and vivid that it would be difficult to capture for theatergoers. Not convinced? By all means, put down your lunch and try this paragraph on:

All about her the dead lay with their peeled skulls like polyps bluely wet or luminescent melons cooling on some mesa of the moon. In the days to come the frail black rebuses of blood in those sands would crack and break and drift away so that in the circuit of few suns all trace of the destruction of these people would be erased.

But perhaps the biggest contributor to the book’s unfilmable nature is its cast of characters. Blood Meridian offers a long list of hard-to-cast roles. But if there’s anything Hollywood has shown us time and time again, it’s that “unfilmable” is just one of those industry buzz words with no meaning like “unnecessary reboot” or “superhero movie overload.” So here is a list of would-be actors if the book ever meets the box office.

The Kid: Kodi Smit-McPhee
The novel’s main character, the kid, is meant to be in his mid-teens. “He is not big but he has big wrists, big hands ... the eyes oddly innocent.” It’s a pointless exercise to try to cast him since any current age-appropriate actors will likely have kids of their own by the time the film sees the light of day. But were it filmed tomorrow, Kodi Smit-McPhee might be able to fill the role. He played the boy in the film adaption of McCarthy’s The Road and is now sixteen.

Judge Holden: Liam Neeson
The novel’s most iconic character, Judge Holden, is almost supernatural. Holden is described as being seven feet tall and hairless and has a penchant for violence. Although a few inches shy of seven feet, Liam Neeson is certainly imposing enough to play the terrifying yet pensive character.

Benjamin Tobin: Bryan Cranston
Who better to play an ex-priest who turns to a life of crime than Bryan Cranston? His Emmy-winning portrayal of the chemistry teacher-turned-meth-dealer, Walter White, in “Breaking Bad” makes him a perfect match for Tobin.

John Joel Glanton: Brad Pitt
Glanton leads a gang of scalphunters through the Western plains. Who else have we seen lead a band of men motivated by bounties for scalps? Ah yes, Brad Pitt in his unforgettable “Inglourious Basterds” role as “Nah-tzee scalp” hunter, Lt. Aldo Raine.

Louis Toadvine: Sam Rockwell
Toadvine is a role that requires grit. On a behavioral level, he’s a veteran outlaw and brawler. And physically, he’s got no ears and the letters “H.T.” branded on his forehead. Few in Hollywood have the grit to pull it off like Sam Rockwell.

Captain White: Jeremy Renner
Jeremy Renner could play an American soldier in any time period. You could send him into the year 3000 or back to 1850 and he’ll still fit in. He’s just got that soldier look about him.

David Brown: Ben Foster
Brown is a ruthless and unpredictable member of Glanton’s gang. In just about every movie he’s done, from “30 Days of Night” to “The Mechanic,” Ben Foster has played ruthless and unpredictable characters. And in “3:10 to Yuma,” he proved he can play the heck out of a badass Old West bandit.

So, how did we do? What would you do differently? And is a big-screen adaptation of Blood Meridian simply impossible?