By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist May 16, 2011 at 4:34AM
The announcement of new projects from some directors are greeted in The Playlist's headquarters with a robust cheer. These days, the announcement of a new film from writer-director Neil LaBute musters nothing more than a groan and an immediate game of 'pick the short straw' to see who has to go and review the damn thing. The playwright-turned-director started strongly, making Aaron Eckhart a star with "The Company of Men," and followed it with the flawed but interesting "Your Friends and Neighbors" and the decent "Nurse Betty."
But since then his output's been miserable, both on the stage, with a seemingly endless stream of sub-Mamet would-be-taboo-busting dramas, and on film, where the likes of "Possession," "The Wicker Man," "Lakeview Terrace" and "Death at a Funeral" seemingly compete with each other to find new lows. The director has been promising/threatening a slate of new projects so far in 2011: he was set to helm an adaptation of his own short story, "Seconds of Pleasure," but dropped out before floating a reteam with Aaron Eckhart on old script "The Hope of Geography" and, terrifyingly, stating his intention to make a film of Stephen Sondheim's classic musical "Company."
But it looks like he's found his next film: Variety report that, as rumored, the director is set to helm an adaptation of Agatha Christie's "Crooked House," and he's attracted a very, well, Agatha Christie-esque cast, with Julie Andrews, Gemma Arterton, Matthew Goode and Gabriel Byrne all signed on to appear. The plot, one of Christie's personal favorites, involves a large, wealthy Anglo-Greek family in the home of the title, torn apart after the patriarch is murdered. So, a bit like every other Agatha Christie plot, then.
The script comes from Tim Rose Price ("The Serpent's Kiss") and Oscar-winner Julian Fellowes, who's proven himself a dab hand at this kind of thing before after winning an Oscar for Robert Altman's Christie homage "Gosford Park," as well as finding success with the similarly-themed TV series "Downton Abbey."
LaBute comments, "The story has a couple of fresh sides to it that I didn't remember from Christie's work. There's a love story, which didn't feature strongly in many of her books, so that seemed very different to me and fresh. Plus it's quite morally ambiguous, which also appealed to me." We do like the cast members, so maybe it'll turn out to be something of a return to form, but we can't imagine LaBute finding the interesting subtexts of Altman's film, and suspect at best, it'll be a faintly enjoyable potboiler. Filming starts in the U.K. in the summer on a $20 million budget.