A father and his pyrokinetic daughter are hunted down by a government agency hellbent on capturing them to weaponize their powers.
Directed by Mark L. Lester
Written by Stanley Mann
Starring David Keith, Drew Barrymore, George C. Scott,
Martin Sheen, Art Carney, Louise Fletcher, Freddie Jones,
Moses Gunn, Heather Locklear
Based on the novel by Stephen King
Firestarter is not the first to suffer a problem that seems to plague many of Stephen King's film adaptations. I covered it when I reviewed Pet Sematary. It always comes down to pacing. His novels are very paced out. The horror comes gradually, allowing the reader to experience the full reach of the story he's trying to tell. It's possible to do that in film. Some of his accomplish this (The Shining, Misery, It, etc.), but many of them don't for some reason. It's a shame because this really is a surprisingly decent adaptation of the novel. It just has too many things holding it back.
The cast is mostly great, with Drew Barrymore stealing it as the tragic protagonist Charlie McGee. She goes where most child actors can't, portraying her gradual loss of innocence and ultimate acceptance of her dark ability with a skill well beyond her years. David Keith was good as her father Andy, giving off the average Joe vibe that made Andy such a relatable character in the novel. Martin Sheen was a good choice for Cap Hollister, but his role was seriously downsized for the movie. Then we come to George C. Scott, one of Hollywood's most talented powerhouses in what may be the worst performance of his career. The villain he plays, John Rainbird, is a Native American contract killer with psychopathic tendencies. I don't know if you knew this, but George C. Scott is about the farthest you could get from Native American. Casting him in the role removed the character from the narrative and had me constantly thinking, "Why couldn't they just get a Native American actor?" It's yet another example of the longtime whitewashing problem that's been plaguing Hollywood since films began, and it doesn't do the film any favors.
I'd like to point out that I did enjoy the film. I found it to be as close to the novel as they could get. What I didn't like was the lack of tension. The novel's constant sense of paranoia was scaled down immensely, as were the vast resources at the government agency's disposal. They felt played down, as if they weren't a faceless shadow agency but a private firm made up of barely ten people. Problems like these are the reason Firestarter is at the bottom of the barrel when it comes to King movies. Still, the film has a silver lining in its attention to plot detail and mostly great cast. I expected it to be much worse.