Stephen King has this great initiative. He offers aspiring film students and filmmakers a possibility to adapt his short stories to film for one dollar only, under contractual obligations, of course. These so called “Dollar Babies” are the world famous best-selling author’s way to contribute to the film industry and annoy his accountants. For example Frank Darabont (the director of The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile) used this initiative as a stepping-stone, which landed him his following work with Stephen King.
Canadian filmmaker Stephen Baxter’s “Rest Stop” is one of these King’s “Dollar Babies”. And very mature and polished one, too. While being a cinematic crystallization of Baxter’s talent, the drama thriller tells a story of a restrained and refined English professor, whose alter ego is a badass Indiana Jones looking mystery writer Rick Hardin. The professor in the film’s protagonist is a little embarrassed about his other darker and robust side, which brings additional income by attracting the crowd, who buy their books from gas stations. After one of his students brings the professor’s hidden life into the focus during a lecture, the protagonist’s dichotomous identity comes to the fore, again. This sets the complex but clear frame for the story and continues to engrossingly explore the dynamics between the two sides of the writer and how these tensions materialize in this real life and in his creative work.
Stephen King’s short story is adapted to the film form splendidly with a captivating multilayered approach that mixes the protagonist’s reality together with the fiction that he produces without seeming too confused or pushed. Furthermore, the tensely written dialogue that flirts with topical themes carries the story forward with a well-paced tone that knows, how to have fun and when to tighten the tension curve. Although we can thank Stephen King for the great protagonist who has all the complexities that a good character should, the screenwriter Amy Halloran is one to adore, when we look at the coherent and progressing storytelling of “Rest Stop”. Halloran’s polished and well-structured screenplay vitalizes the characters, while it gives relevance for the gripping story.
The director Stephen Baxter’s solid work builds a wonderful tone for the story. By relying on the duality of the protagonist, he maximizes the great performance of the lead actor Eric Davis (Mother!, The Bone Collector, 19-2, Midway), who manages to pull of the two completely different natures of his character with charm and power. While many contemporary authors fail to create a balance between different genres, Baxter mixes the visual elements and tools of both drama and thriller skillfully.
The cinematography by Wyler Diome Montour creates an awesome atmosphere for the film and finds the best angles for supporting the progressing tone of the scenes from tense crime action to charmingly lit bar sequences. The score reinforces the duality of the narrative and thus the tone further. Due to its cinematic and narrative consistency, I hope that Stephen Baxter’s “Rest Stop” is one of those “Dollar Babies” that the director’s namesake ends up watching. It’s truly worth it.