Glen David Gold's 2002 novel "Carter Beats The Devil" is something close to a masterpiece: following a famous stage magician, Charles Carter, who becomes embroiled in a conspiracy after the death of President Warren G. Harding, it's a hugely exciting, terrifically-plotted, beautifully-written book, full of thrills and tragic romance, and as such, people have been unsurprisingly been trying to bring it to the screens
Tom Cruise optioned the rights swiftly, setting the great Robert Towne to write and direct, but it never came together, while AMC planned a TV series a few years later, with "Cape Fear" writer Wesley Strick penning the script, but that too fell apart. Last year, however, it got a new lease on life, with Warner Bros picking up the rights, and setting fast-rising screen-writer Michael Gilio, who penned the Black Listed script "Keep Coming Back," to work on the script. That was over a year ago now, but it seems like Gilio's made it work, as 24 Frames reports that the studio is hot on the project again, and actively pursuing directors and stars: first and foremost arguably the biggest A-lister around right now.
The site says that Johnny Depp tops the studio's wish-list for the lead role, and it's actually not a bad choice at all, as long as Depp can keep his freak flag under control. Of course, the actor's likely on the top of every wishlist, so don't count on his involvement at all, plus he's incredibly busy: he's tied up for the rest of the year on "Dark Shadows" and "The Lone Ranger," with "The Thin Man," "Triple Frontier" and more "Pirates of the Caribbean" films percolating after that (expect Robert Downey Jr. to be the studio's next port of call if Depp turns it down). But with the right director, it could certainly move to the top of his dance card.
Speaking of directors, Hollywood's biggest agencies have all been informed that the studio is looking for a helmer, although no front-runners have emerged yet. As such (and as big fans of the book), we've decided to help them out by picking 5 likely candidates who could, or at least should, end up with the job -- bearing in mind that anyone with commitments taking them well into 2012, people like Sam Raimi, Robert Zemeckis and Depp's usual go-to-guys Gore Verbinski and Tim Burton, would probably be excluded. Still, the studio is going to be looking for A-listers here: below: 5 names who might be tempted to go for it.
Why He Could Do It: Ritchie's become something of a favorite at Warners after turning "Sherlock Holmes" into a big hit, and many of the qualities that showed he could play in the mainstream there -- handling period setting in a contemporary way, action, bringing strong performances out of big stars -- would work well, and tonally 'Carter' isn't a world away from the Robert Downey Jr. vehicle. Plus, with sequel "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows" set for release this Christmas, Ritchie technically has a clear slate.
Why He Might Not: We say technically, because we've heard whispers that Ritchie's moving straight on to a different tentpole at Warners, likely to shoot late this year or early next (one of them being "Excalibur"), and he's also said to be in embryonic stages of work on a remake of "The Cannonball Run." Plus, to be honest, Ritchie's not right for the material -- last time he worked on something with more drama and romance than antics and action, we got "Swept Away."
Why He Could Do It: The music video helmer arrived in a big way with his stylish work on sleeper hit "(500) Days Of Summer," and almost immediately found his way onto the A-list by landing one of the biggest vacancies going, helming "The Amazing Spider-Man" for Sony. He's shown that he's a dab hand with the visuals, but also seems to have more substance to his work than, say, Ritchie, plus his work on the Spider-Man franchise will mean that he's more experienced at working on a bigger canvas.
Why He Might Not: For one, 'Spider-Man' isn't due for release until July 2012, which, depending on Warners' time-line, might make things tricky. Furthermore, he's still something of an unproven quantity in the big budget world: while we've got good feelings about that film, fucking it up will land him in director's jail for some time. He's not had any experience working with A-list actors yet, either, and, more importantly, the tonal issues that "(500) Days Of Summer" suffered from are a concern, considering that 'Carter' is a genre-hopping piece of material.
Why He Could Do It: Depp and Australian veteran Weir were meant to work together on another long-in-development novel adaptation, "Shantaram," although he was eventually replaced by Mira Nair, and the film never happened. As long as they didn't fall out, if Depp takes the gig, he might be an option. He's also a good fit for the job, having jumped between genres across his career, and has long demonstrated that he can blend mainstream genre thrills with a prestige-y sheen. After "The Way Back" underwhelmed, he could use a hit, furthermore.
Why He Might Not: Weir left "Shantaram" after 'creative differences' with Warners, and they might not be willing to let him loose on this: there are safer options. He's no longer the most bankable name around, with a decade having passed since his last sizable hit, "Master and Commander," and he doesn't necessarily have the light touch needed here. But if whichever star involved wants him, we're sure they'll get him, and he's one of the stronger options out there.
Why He Could Do It: Arguably the most talented animation directors working today, Bird's helmed three classics in a row with "The Iron Giant," "The Incredibles" and "Ratatouille," more than demonstrating he can blend excellent action with real drama. He's now moved into the live-action world with "Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol" and it's looking like he might have knocked it out of the park again -- the trailer is aces, and the buzz is very, very strong. It's the kind of big-budget project that gives a studio confidence in a director, and working with an A-lister like Cruise can only help: indeed, if the megastar is still interested in the project, and Depp turns it down, having Bird at the helm could help land Cruise.
Why He Might Not: Bird doesn't have anything immediately lined up after 'Ghost Protocol' hits in December, but he has a dream project he's been working on for years, and it's another San Francisco-set period tale at Warners, the earthquake drama "1906." If the spy blockbuster gives Bird the cache we suspect it will, he might rather use the energy to get that going instead. Or, indeed, he may return to Pixar for another animation, possibly an "Incredibles" sequel or the long-planned sci-fi noir "Ray Gunn."
Why He Could Do It: Long-touted as a dream candidate by fans of the book, Johnson's shown across "Brick" and "The Brothers Bloom" that he's well-matched to the material: indeed, 'Bloom' has tonal similarities with 'Carter,' and without the twee quality that turned many of his sophomore feature. He's worked on bigger and bigger canvases each time out, with sci-fi actioner "Looper," with A-lister Bruce Willis, currently in post. That film might not be out until September 2012, but it's already wrapped, and will likely be in a state of completion by the start of the year, so it's not the hindrance that it might otherwise seem.
Why He Might Not: Johnson doesn't have the kind of big-budget experience that most of the directors here do, so Warners might be nervous about about giving him a high-profile gig like this, even if he is working his way up. More importantly, he's never shown any interest in making anything he didn't originate himself: unless he's a fan of the book, taking a gig-for-hire like this is unlikely to appeal. Still, if we were picking, Johnson would be our first pick.
Alternates: David Yates is currently being offered every high-profile gig in town, so we'd be surprised if he didn't crop up as a possibility, while Matthew Vaughn doesn't have an immediate follow-up to "X-Men First Class" lined up yet. Depp may be keen on his "On Stranger Tides" director Rob Marshall, although they're meant to be doing "The Thin Man" together. Alfonso Cuaron would do a great job, although his "Gravity" schedule might not allow it, while Bryan Singer and Marc Forster similarly could have a tight turn-around from "Jack The Giant Killer" and "World War Z," respectively. Either Scott Frank or Francis Lawrence might have been options, but they're working together on another Houdini-themed project, so they're out. Bennett Miller's getting good buzz for "Moneyball," while Mark Romanek could be tempted, although he's a bit somber for the material. Finally, Noah Baumbach's been moving towards the mainstream of late, and is having problems getting his current film going, while Spike Jonze and Andrew Dominik would both be interesting, but Warners aren't likely to be too happy with the idea, after "Where The Wild Things Are" and "The Assassination of Jesse James." Curveball choice: could Francis Ford Coppola be ready for a return to the mainstream? We suspect not, but it's an interesting thought.