By Edward Davis | The Playlist January 21, 2011 at 9:59AM
Michael Mann's 'Big Tuna' Project Covers The Same Subject, But A Very Different Story
Three-time Oscar nominated actor/director/writer Todd Field ("In the Bedroom") has been missing in action for around five years now -- his last picture was 2006's "Little Children," which earned him his second Academy-Award nomination for writing (Best Adapted Screenplay with Tom Perrotta, the author of the book which the film was based on) -- but it's not for lack of trying. The triple threat had been toiling away on an adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's "Blood Meridian" as produced by Scott Rudin for what felt like several years, but it appeared as if it was stuck in development hell. We've asked around and no one can give us a clear answer whether Field is still involved or not, but Rudin still owns the rights and James Franco has been angling for it of late (all signs point to no, frankly).
In the summer of 2009, Universal hired Field to adapt "The Creed of Violence," a Boston Teran novel that takes place in Mexico in 1910 during the Mexican Revolution, focusing on the American intervention in the war and two men -- a desperado and a government agent with a secret connection to him -- attempting to thwart an arms smuggling ring. We've been told recently that Field has finished this adaptation and has handed it in, but it's unknown if that project will be his next directorial gig.
In spring of last year, Deadline reported that Field had set up another project at Universal that he would direct called "Hubris," written by Bobby Moresco (who co-wrote "Crash" with Paul Haggis, but favors gangster material such as "One Eyed King," "10th & Wolf" and "The Black Donnellys"), but zero details were given. We asked around after the "Blood Meridian" news piqued our interest, and we've received some details from Universal, plus done a bit of our own digging, uncovering what sounds like a truly intriguing project.
"Hubris" is a true-crime gangster revenge film based on a 2007 Playboy article titled "Boosting the Big Tuna" by investigative reporter Hillel Levin and based on the FBI-led "Operation Family Secrets" trial, which covered the murders of the men who burglarized Chicago mafia boss Tony Accardo's (known as "Big Tuna") River Forest house in the late '70s. While Accardo was away on vacation in California in 1978, prowlers brazenly broke into his River Forest home. Within a month, five of the suspected thieves were found brutally murdered and in some cases, excessively tortured. To cover their tracks, even more killings took place -- eventually even the caretaker of the home disappeared when Chi-town police had enough evidence to bring it before a grand jury in 1978. Over the years, a chain of events led to 18 ruthless murders angled at silencing witnesses and handing out swift mob vengeance (one victim was even Tony Spilotro, the Chicago mob's Vegas enforcer and the basis for Joe Pesci's character in Martin Scorsese's "Casino"). Prosecutors believed Accardo was furious that someone had dared to violate his home and ordered the killings. No charges could ever be brought down.
Why five thugs were stupid enough to break into a godfather's palatial mansion is where the story gets good. At the epicenter is John Mendell -- one of the five burglars and one of "Chicago's top wire men" capable of tricking the most sophisticated alarm systems. A month before the "Big Tuna" break-in, he had orchestrated a million-dollar jewel heist -- one of the biggest Chicago scores of the '70s. But jeweler magnate Harry Levinson was also friends with the mob boss Accardo, who in turn stressed the thieves' lower-rung on the mob food-chain and then informed them he was taking their loot, and handing it over to his fences. Bitter and angry, they decided to steal back their own score as a type of "fuck you" to the mob. Of course, they ended up dead shortly thereafter. But the chain of events led two FBI officers, Bob Pecoraro and Zack Shelton, to come pretty damn close to nailing Accardo, including gathering enough evidence to impanel a grand jury in the fall of 1978.
The entire story -- at least from Levin's Playboy article -- sounds like a cross between "Goodfellas" and "Zodiac" and we could easily see both stories of the cops and robbers being told in parallel.
What transpired later is likely not part of the story, but could make for another movie on its own if someone was so inclined. We'd assume this is probably something that might be mentioned in the film's coda. Three decades later later in 2002, the police theory that Accardo had ordered the hit on the quintet that dared to defy him was affirmed on the witness stand by Chicago Outfit turncoat Nicholas Calabrese, who had participated in all of the murders. Calabrese, the first made man to ever testify against the Chicago mob, was ratting everyone, including his father, to save his own skin when the authorities, decades later, had linked him to the murders through DNA testing. The surviving assassins, including Calabrese's father, were all convicted in the famous "Family Secrets Trial" led by U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald (of Valerie Plame fame) and sentenced to long, near-life terms.
If some of this sounds vaguely familiar, it's because it is. Last December, Michael Mann enlisted Sheldon Turner to write a biopic of this exact same Chicago outfit crime boss and Sam Giancana -- the protege that replaced him -- called "Big Tuna." However, one seems like it's broad (the biopic) and the other ("Hubris") seems like it's very specific. Accardo has been considered by some to be one of the most powerful men in the history of organized crime, so it makes sense that his story can be covered from multiple angles.
While it's not 100% confirmed, it seems clear from reading "Boosting the Big Tuna" that "Hubris" is in reference to not only god-like mob bosses who think they'll never go down and brazen thugs who have the gall to try and rob a top wiseguy.
Levin's articles have yielded several movie projects. He has "In with the Devil in development over at Paramount with Graham King (Film District), and Brad Pitt's Plan B as producers (Pitt could star one day) and William Monahan ("The Departed") as the screenwriter (it's based off a Playboy article called, "The Strange Redemption of James Keene," once rumored to have Scorsese attached). Then there's another Paramount film in development called "When Corruption Was King" being produced by Temple Hill Entertainment and Frank Baldwin on board as the screenwriter ('Corruption' made the 2009 Black List; his script "The Art of Making Money" made the Black List in 2007).
Thanks to author Hillel Levin who was kind enough to share the original Playboy article with The Playlist and some of its artwork.