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Michael Mann Confirmed To Direct Historical Epic 'Agincourt'

by Oliver Lyttelton
May 16, 2011 3:45 AM
8 Comments
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Plus 'The Duchess' Helmer Saul Dibb Tackling Undercover Cop Drama 'Codenames Only,' & More From U.K. Production Company Independent


Since 2009's underwhelming "Public Enemies," a fascinating example in style that simply doesn't work as a movie, Michael Mann has been beavering away on "Luck," a HBO collaboration with "Deadwood" writer David Milch, with a cast including Dustin Hoffman, Michael Gambon, Ian Hart, John Ortiz, Dennis Farina and many more. But he's remained undecided as to his next big-screen project, with a number of possible films percolating.

There's the Hemingway adaptation "For Whom The Bell Tolls," the wartime photographer biopic "Capa," possibly with Andrew Garfield and Gemma Arterton, another period gangster tale, "Big Tuna," from "Up in the Air" writer Sheldon Turner, and, most recently, the contemporary prospecting adventure "Gold," from writer Paul Haggis, but none has yet come to the front of the pack. One of the more intriguing, out-of-the-box possibilities has been "Agincourt," an adaptation of the Bernard Cornwell novel that retells the famous battle between Henry V's English army, and the French, which Mann was developing with "Elizabeth" and "The Tudors" writer Michael Hirst. And it looks like that project just got something of a boost.

Screen Daily reports that Independent, the production company run by Luc Roeg, the son of filmmaking great Nic Roeg, is in Cannes unveiling its new slate, fresh off the success of Lynne Ramsay's "We Need To Talk About Kevin," and the announcement was headed up with confirmation that Mann will indeed direct "Agincourt" for the company. "RKO 281" director Benjamin Ross is currently re-writing the script, with Roeg saying the project now has momentum, although the company are waiting for the film to be fully developed before they go out to studios for full financing -- no start date is yet planned, but the shoot will likely take place in France and the United Kingdom. It's not the only pending take on the character, it should be noted; "Thor" star Tom Hiddleston just signed to play Henry V in a TV adaptation of Shakespeare's play, directed by Richard Eyre ("Notes on a Scandal") and produced by Sam Mendes.

We like the idea of Mann going even further back in time than "Public Enemies," considering our love for his "Last of the Mohicans," and the long development process hopefully means that the script won't be as rushed as the one for the Johnny Depp vehicle. Having said that, while this certainly seems to be in the lead as Mann's next project, it's entirely possible that he could switch to something else, or make another film first -- we're sure more will emerge in the coming months.

Independent have a fairly impressive slate even without the Mann film. They're currently finishing up "Boxing Day," another Tolstoy adaptation from "ivansXTC" director Bernard Rose and star Danny Huston, which will likely do the festival rounds in the fall, while a shoot is being planned for a British thriller, "Clean Face," which pairs "Harry Brown" writer Gary Young, and "Shank" director Mo Ali. "Public Enemies" writer Ronan Bennett is also working with the company, on an adaptation of Dean King's non-fiction book "Skeletons on the Zahara," about a shipwrecked American crew who are sold into slavery, and have to trek across the Sahara to escape -- that film's currently seeking a director and financing.

Finally, director Saul Dibb, who graduated to the big leagues with the Keira Knightley vehicle "The Duchess," is now attached to direct "Codenames Only," a character-driven thriller about police officers undercover on a council estate, with a script by "Red Riding" scribe Tony Grisoni, although that film won't shoot until the start of 2013, so it's a way off yet. Fingers crossed, the company's impressive line-up is another sign that the British film industry hasn't been crippled by the recent overhaul of government financing.

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8 Comments

  • Matt | May 17, 2011 12:04 PMReply

    @daniel
    I'm glad to hear someone else take up the banner for Michael Mann. He has been unfairly raked over the coals for his last two pictures. Public Enemies is a well shot movie, with many of the "over the shoulder" action setpieces that made Mann famous in first place. However, I would have to say that of Miami Vice and Public Enemies, Vice is is the more aesthetically enticing. The pop of the neon lights on digital footage, long shots of the tumultuous South Florida weather, and seedy location shots with camera grain that makes you want to take a shower are why I give the edge to Miami vice.

    I'm not sure about the rest of you, but the thought of a Michael Mann adaptation of For Whom the Bell Tolls makes me giddy. If anyone could film the story of a suicide mission to destroy a bridge during the Spanish Civil War, it's him.

  • Oliver Lyttelton | May 17, 2011 11:55 AMReply

    Like I said in the piece, I agree wholeheartedly that Public Enemies is a formal masterpiece. The content? Not so much.

  • Niles | May 17, 2011 11:53 AMReply

    The form of "Public Enemies" was sublime. I gave an academic presentation on Mann shortly after it began production, and prayed that it would not cater to classical visual paradigms of '30s gangster pictures. The final film answered my prayers. In the same way that "INLAND EMPIRE" is for me more beautiful than "Blue Velvet", I will take "Public Enemies" over "Mohicans."

  • jordan | May 17, 2011 7:45 AMReply

    Agincourt is one of Bernard Cornwell's best novels, and a story that deserves the larger audience film can provide.

  • tristan eldritch | May 16, 2011 5:04 AMReply

    Brevity or no, I'd agree with Daniel. Public Enemies is full of things that we tend to admire in older or foreign pictures, but because it's a big-budget Hollywood movie they're construed as flaws.

  • Gatz | May 16, 2011 4:46 AMReply

    So much for brevity.

  • daniel | May 16, 2011 4:35 AMReply

    Very excited about this, though I expect that it will be greeted with the same reception that Public Enemies received. Critics always say they want something fresh and new, but Enemies was proof that, really, they just want the same ol' same ol', just done with a few novel flourishes. Enemies has a tight, good script, phenominal editing, and beautiful cinematography -- but all in a style that has become the sole territory of modern crime film (thanks largely to Mann's own work). Applying this style to period subject matter, though a relatively straightforward artistic experiment, was far too much for critics. This is in the 30's, Michael. It's supposed to look and play like The Untouchables, not Heat.

    This kind of experimentation is greatly rewarded by critics if it happened in the past, when they can talk about how 'bold' it was -- for intance, with 'Breathless.' But doing it in a modern, popular context is a faux pas. Especially the 'popular' 1/2 of the equation. I feel certain that if this had been a foreign picture, or not a megabudget Johnny Depp vehicle, it would be reviewed far more favorably -- seeing as though critics often rave for high-end mediocrity like the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, which is essentially at the level of a decent TV movie. But oh! Subtitles! I must be very smart to be enjoying this!

    Public Enemies not only uses modern film (video) style -- (ultra short lenses, high-grain, low light work -- the kind of low-end, shakey/dirty look that Cassavetes films were originally critiqued for, and now praised.), but it employs these techniques for a purpose: the film is a film about gangster films, and it's final setpiece compares and contrasts these styles in the most direct and poignant way; Dillinger is watching Manhattan Melodrama, and the film is shown specifically as film, not as a movie screen shot on video. His longing for Myrna Loy is not simply a transposition of his feelings for Cotillard, but his own longing for his life to be the way it's represented on film, as opposed to his video reality. It's our longing for the romance of the movies.

    But instead of seeing anything new in this, critics simply said "the video looks like shit," as if it were just used because it was inexpensive -- never mind the beautiful framing, the incredible use of the low-light that only video can give you -- and even the errors that only can provide, like the video clipped colors of the flares around the plane and final crime scene. Exploiting errors unique to the medium are how, in film, we get things like lens flares, light leaks, and rollouts. Originally considered giant mistakes, they've now become so popular as artistic modifications that they are available as plug ins for my phone's camera.

    Not to mention that the staging of the action in Public Enemies is some of Mann's best in years. This is Mann working in top form, and unlike Miami Vice , the movie is jam-packed with action setpieces. All of these things lead toward this being a high budget hit.

    Enemies didn't find its audience until it hit HBO, which plays it roughly every three hours. I can't tell you the number of folks I've talked to who say "oh yeah, I just saw that and it was actually really good. I skipped it 'cause I read on Rotten Tomatoes that it sucked."

    So, in short, I blame the critics. We used to applaud when studios made daring stuff like this -- French Connection, for example. But for most of today's reviewers, posing and backpedaling have become the format.

    So i'm hopeful that Mann will simply continue on in this vein, and with Agincourt, perhaps deliver us from the hell of Lord of the Rings stylistic mimicry that the genre is mired in. But in particular, if it's good work, i hope critics realize it before people have to catch it at 11pm on Cinemax before it's noticed.

  • tristan eldritch | May 16, 2011 4:10 AMReply

    If he does it, I'd imagine it will be more in the Public Enemies style than Last of the Mohicans: hand-held, ultra-high-def, minimal character development. Which would produce entertaining reactions, if nothing else.

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