Saturday, October 9, 2010

Thomas W. Young's "The Mullah's Storm"

Thomas W. Young has logged nearly 4,000 hours as a flight engineer for the Air National Guard in Afghanistan, Iraq, Bosnia, Kosovo, and elsewhere, including Latin America, the Horn of Africa, and the Far East. Military honors include two Air Medals, three Aerial Achievement Medals, and the Air Force Combat Action Medal. He continues to serve with the Air National Guard as a Senior Master Sergeant.

He holds degrees from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and studied writing there and at the Sewanee Writers' Conference, among other places. He is also the author of the oral history The Speed of Heat: An Airlift Wing at War in Iraq and Afghanistan, and contributed to the anthology Operation Homecoming, edited by Andrew Carroll.

Here Young explains which actors might best portray the lead characters in a big screen adaptation of  The Mullah's Storm, his first significant work of fiction:
If a director chose to bring The Mullah's Storm to the screen, he or she wouldn't need a lot of special effects. With the exception of the opening scene involving the shootdown of a C-130 transport plane, the bulk of the film would require only two strong leading actors--one male and one female--a few extras, and mountains and snow. Lots of mountains and lots of snow.

The two main characters, Air Force navigator Michael Parson and a woman Army translator--Master Sergeant Gold--embark on a journey of survival through the Hindu Kush in Afghanistan. While fleeing for their lives, they must also hold onto a prisoner--an important Taliban mullah--who was bound for prison and interrogation when their aircraft went down.

Parson can handle himself on the ground--he's a lifelong outdoorsman from Colorado. But as a flyboy, he's not a Special Forces badass. The actor playing him would need to show competence and military bearing, but with a hint of vulnerability. I've always thought Eric Bana did a fantastic job in Black Hawk Down. Barry Pepper made a highly believable World War II sniper in Saving Private Ryan. Either of these gentlemen could make a good Parson--an aviator who's just had an aircraft blown out from under him and seen his best friends killed.

The question of who would play Sergeant Gold is even more interesting. Though Gold is not the book's point-of-view character, early readers have responded to her with an enthusiasm I honestly did not anticipate. Some of the real-life military women with whom I have served inspired that character. Though Parson outranks Gold, she becomes the functional leader on the ground in Afghanistan. She speaks fluent Pashto; she knows Afghan cultures. She's an expert in the human terrain she and Parson must navigate. In addition, she possesses a wisdom and perspective that Parson lacks. Her knowledge helps keep him sane, while his outdoor skills help keep her alive.

Though Gold is a soldier, a senior noncommissioned officer, at her core she is a scholar. Think of the smartest girl in the class, then give her a rifle and the know-how to use it, and that's Sergeant Gold. She doesn't talk a lot, but when she does you want to listen. When she doesn't, you wonder what she's thinking. She would be a great role for an actress who can project quiet strength. Imagine the intensity of Angelina Jolie, the heart of Evangeline Lilly, and the cerebral appeal of Jodie Foster.

Finally, the mountains themselves are practically a character in The Mullah's Storm. Since I don't recommend shooting a film in the Hindu Kush just now, the Rockies or the Alps would make a good substitute. The sweep and grandeur of the terrain inform the novel's tension, and a cinematographer could capitalize on the forbidding beauty of the locale as an engine of the story.

For some visuals relevant to The Mullah's Storm, please take a look at a video from Putnam. The video includes stills of the Hindu Kush that I took from the flight deck of a C-130 on missions in Afghanistan.
Read an excerpt from The Mullah's Storm, and learn more about the book and author at Thomas W. Young's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue