What Killed It? In the wake of “Pirates of the Caribbean,” Johnny Depp was back on the A-List, with his choice of any hot project, and he long leaned towards “Shantaram.” An extraordinary true story, “Shantaram” followed a drug addict bank robber who took on multiple identities to evade cops in several countries, eventually settling in Mumbai where he practiced medicine for the locals. The script by Eric Roth (“Forrest Gump”) was much buzzed-about, and Peter Weir became attached, but the studio could never agree on the budget for what was definitely R-rated material. As the studio dithered, Depp quickly attached himself to a host of other projects, though “Shantaram” was always a possibility, even if Weir gave way to Mira Nair (“Vanity Fair”). It wasn’t until Disney’s plans to shoot two 'Pirates' sequels back-to-back that “Shantaram” breathed its last breath at a studio.
How Can It Be Resurrected? Depp’s suddenly very busy, but there has to be room for a palette cleanser, something that endears him to critics again as he’s about to embark on “Dark Shadows,” a sidekick role in “The Lone Ranger” and, if things pan out, two more 'Pirates' films. It would have to be a very exciting project (perhaps Kathryn Bigelow’s “Sleeping Dogs”) to push the possibility of “Shantaram” out of the picture. It’s been years since we’ve heard anything about the project, but the role is too good for us to hear nothing about it before Depp begins another ridiculously lengthy Disney excursion.
What Killed It? The candy-coated Isaac Adamson adaptation went through a sea of rewrites to accommodate producer/star Tobey Maguire, who was set to take on the nunchuks of international journalist-turned-graphic novelist Billy Chaka. 'Suckerpunch,' which attracted the attention of Barry Sonnenfeld and Gary Ross, is the first of a madcap series of novels about hardboiled gaijin Chaka stranded in Japan and forced to rely on his wits and unusual knowledge of J-pop culture to survive a shadowy world of gangs, thugs and rock stars. After several false starts, Maguire and Anne Hathaway were attached for a fall ‘09 shoot, but when Hathaway dropped out, the project fell apart, and with the (aborted) “Spider-Man IV” shoot looming, Maguire abandoned the film.
How Can It Be Resurrected? Since Maguire was the creative force getting this project into the right hands, it just doesn’t look likely now. Chaka’s always been a young-ish character, and Maguire is entering his mid-thirties. His odd periods between “Spider-Man” pictures remain underwhelming, as he worked sparsely (possibly due to the back condition he developed on “Seabiscuit”), casting doubt on whether the once-promising actor is even a leading man anymore. It’s more likely, though, that the enthusiasm Sony had for this project was in employing Spidey and the redhot Hathaway, the latter too expensive now, and the former not expensive enough.
“To the White Sea"
What Killed It? This was meant to be the grand kahuna of Coen Brothers films. After “Fargo” had connected and they had their biggest success with the off-kilter “O Brother, Where Art Thou?,” the duo was ready to go big, enlisting Brad Pitt for an $80 million WWII adventure pic that found him stranded in China after his plane crashed, unable to communicate due to unfamiliarity with the language. The hefty budget and period setting was only further troubling to the money men when they realized Pitt’s character would essentially be a mute, content with expressing himself in this new environment with gestures. With critical hits, box office success, and Oscars, the Coens thought that they could finally get their expensive passion project off the ground. That is, until the studio said, not at those prices.
How Can It Be Resurrected? The topic of “To the White Sea” reportedly remains a sore topic for the brothers, who apparently reacted to the project dying by jumping into the studio system, producing ersatz Coen films “Intolerable Cruelty” and “The Ladykillers” while pundits considered them done. After a couple of bona fide hits and a genuine Best Picture Oscar on their mantelpiece, a green light for an $80 million Coen brothers film seems like a slightly easier commitment. But it looks like all parties involve were simply happy to just move on and forget what some say was a dark time for the brothers.
“Untitled 1930s Noir"
What Killed It? With the writers’ strike looming, a lot of studios scrambled for product to shoot, giving filmmakers a chance to pitch pretty much any material they could get their hands on, no matter how unmanageable the budget might be. Michael Mann took this to heart and became the point man for two exciting-sounding projects, one a moody John Dillinger biopic called “Public Enemies” and another similarly expensive period piece. This untitled project, from a script by John Logan, had Leonardo DiCaprio attached and would be filmed entirely on soundstages, an action-thriller set in the 1930’s, where a private investigator gets caught in the middle of a mob war as he starts poking around regarding the murder of a young starlet. It’s likely the $100 million budget that kept studios away, but if Johnny Depp didn’t get involved in 'Enemies,' this could have played out very differently.
How Can It Be Resurrected? Easily. Mann is still deciding what his next project will be, while DiCaprio is coming off an $800 million success with “Inception.” Mann gets attached to several projects, but when you’ve got the attention of one of Hollywood’s bona fide leading men, someone has to pull the trigger. There’s a good chance this project fades into oblivion, but the premise and talent involved are too exciting to write off. That said, Mann also has the 1930s-set "Big Tuna" currently in the works so he may get his period gangster kicks out with that one instead.