The trailer for Spenser Confidential dropped recently. Let’s just say I have some thoughts. 

There’s some definite star power attached here, encompassing the three male leads, the director, and musician Post Malone. But is this Spenser?

Before we delve too deeply into the answer, I also recorded a YouTube video on this. You can view it here. My channel is still new as of this writing, so I’d appreciate any likes and subscribes you can provide.

The big question I posed above was: is this Spenser?

No. Not as we know him, at least.

Before you tell me I’m a fan of the books who’s bitter over the adaptation, hear me out. This isn’t the Spenser we know because I don’t think he’s designed to be. While the movie’s IMDB page is pretty light, Wikipedia tells us the characters are basically just named after their literary counterparts. It also says the story is “very loosely based” on Wonderland, the second Spenser novel Ace Atkins wrote after Robert B. Parker’s death. It’s probably my favorite of the Atkins books.

This doesn’t look like the Wonderland I remember, just like these don’t look like the Spenser and Hawk we know. Like I said, I think this is by design. The movie needs to appeal to as many people as possible. Crime fiction fans know and love the characters, but outside of our sphere, how many do? Some folks may remember the 1980s Spenser: For Hire TV series (I do). Many may not—and many people watching the movie may have been born after it folded its production tents. 

Spenser Confidential poster

From the trailer, I think this is a buddy PI movie. It’ll have action, fistfights, some gunplay, and laughs. Many movies pepper these elements in successfully. Spenser and Hawk may have some humorous banter, but it won’t carry the gravitas it does in the novels.

Just because a film is “very loosely based” on a book doesn’t mean it’s bad. They’re different media, so I don’t think we could ever have a completely faithful adaptation. Look at The Bourne Identity. It borrowed a few elements from the Robert Ludlum novel, modernized a couple others, but for the most part, the movie told its own story. The second and third films in the series shared nothing with their source novels apart from names.

And they were great. 

Fans of the TV show will remember Avery Brooks as Hawk. How could you not? He owned the role like he’d been born to play it. He was cool, badass, poignant, and funny all at once. I like Winston Duke as an actor, and he may do a great job in this movie, but the shadow of Avery Brooks looms large. Robert Urich was a good Spenser in my opinion—this is far from universal—even though he wasn’t a perfect physical match. He captured the sincerity, glibness, and overall attitude of the character well. 

Whether you love or hate Susan, by the way, she’s not in Spenser Confidential. Iliza Shlesinger is credited as playing a character named Cissy. Susan wasn’t in the first novel, but omitting her from a movie really drives home the fact this isn’t the literary Spenser.

Will I see it? Yes. A friend of mine, talking about the uneven quality of Star Trek shows, says, “Bad Trek is better than no Trek.” I’ll port it over here and say this: Spenser in name only is better than no Spenser.

After I see Spenser Confidential once or twice, I’ll be back with some thoughts on it. Let’s cross our fingers and hope the star power pulls through.