We Read It: Michael Mann & John Logan's Unmade 1930s Noir A Nasty Look At Old Hollywood That Doesn't Quite Work

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by Oliver Lyttelton
March 21, 2012 1:56 PM
9 Comments
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And for us, that's rather what held the script back. It's an enjoyable read, to be sure, but far from the great lost film that many have made it out to be -- it felt too pastiche-y, too self-conscious, too empty to stand among the noir classics that it emulates. The idea of a film in the genre really getting to the heart of the darkness that Hollywood is a terrific one, but for all its movie trivia and references, for all its private dicks and femme fatales, what Logan wrote is less film noir and more police procedural, a sort of "Law & Order: Sunset Boulevard." Which is a little disappointing for someone who riffed so heavily on "Chinatown" with his "Rango" script.

Despite a last-minute speech by Mayer talking about a "river of money," there's not much of a link between the main mystery plot and the setting. If the script could be said to be about anything, thematically, it's the transience of stardom, making it a sort of genre-tinged comparison piece to "The Artist" -- there's no real sense of a city with a rotten core that devours people up as in the great L.A. noirs, just one that turns actresses out on their ear once they hit a certain age. And like Logan's "Hugo" script, the structure feels off: it rarely feels that much is at stake, or that there's any particular urgency to the events, particularly in a languid middle section once the two leads become romantically entwined.

All that said, if his past works have made anything clear, it's that Logan knows how to create memorable characters. The fading starlet with a dark past isn't a new character, but Ruth is nicely drawn -- it could have provided a nice demonstration of range for someone like Reese Witherspoon, and while Anne Hathaway would have been too young back in '07, she would do a good job these days. Louis B. Mayer is an enormously fun part, the wisecracking, cynical voice of wisdom, while obese queen of vice Bess is a memorable adversary, although has only a few brief scenes. Bugsy Siegel (previously played on screen by Warren Beatty in "Bugsy") practically steals the show, even if he's essentially extraneous to the plot.

But he highlights one of the major problems with the script: he's infinitely more interesting than Slidell, who's a disappointingly bland lead for a film of this type, a fairly rote ex-cop-turned-P.I. who's charming, but doesn't have much internal life. When he beats a man half to death late in the script, it's meant to be shocking, but we don't really know enough about him to know whether this is atypical or not. DiCaprio wouldn't have been a great choice, either: the actor's not known for displaying suavity or a sense of humor, and a more effortlessly charming actor, a Hugh Jackman or (these days) a Ryan Gosling might have been a better fit.

Somehow, it feels like an atypical choice for Mann: it would have been lighter than anything he's done, and a more commercial picture. And with that, it's important to note that this was, after all, just a draft, and Logan might have developed the film further with Mann (although it's worth noting that the film was being sold as a package, and was in the run up to the 2007 writers' strike, so time would probably have been limited). But on the basis of what we read, it's an intriguing prospect and a fun read, but not necessarily a film to mourn the absence of too greatly.

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9 Comments

  • Forward Pass | March 22, 2012 1:57 PMReply

    This is stealing. As the screenplay you have stolen from says on the title page, "THIS MATERIAL IS THE PROPERTY OF FORWARD PASS, INC. AND IS INTENDED AND RESTRICTED SOLELY FOR THE PRODUCTION COMPANY'S USE BY PRODUCTION COMPANY PERSONNEL. DISTRIBUTION OR DISCLOSURE OF THE MATERIAL TO UNAUTHORIZED PERSONS IS PROHIBITED. THE SALE, COPYING OR REPRODUCTION OF THIS MATERIAL IN ANY FORM IS ALSO PROHIBITED."

  • Ken Waters | March 22, 2012 11:00 PM

    Sorry to hear about the theft. Sounds like a slam dunk if you decide to pursue that road. Or you can handle it the east coast way. Dark alley. Lead pipe. Maybe a chain. Just joking. I am east coast.

    Derp -- it is a theft if the content was used without permission. Derp. Trying spending the amount of time it takes to pen a screenplay then have someone steel your work. It stings. A lot. I'm positive you wouldn't be too happy about it.

  • DERP | March 22, 2012 3:40 PM

    Shut up, Dingus. There is nothing illegal about posting a review.

  • cbh | March 21, 2012 6:07 PMReply

    I know you will call me old fashioned, but I really think it's harmful and inapropriate to review unmade scripts that still have the chance to get made (and that have been leaked to you by shady connections). This is not journalism, certainly not criticism, but chatter and shallow speculation with other people's hard work. What do you want? The power to greenlight films? Who the fuck cares for a Playlist-approved script? Stick to the films, please.

  • Carson Wells | March 21, 2012 11:37 PM

    I tend to agree. If a script is deliberately released by a studio or author, intended for public consumption, then a review is fair enough. If it is dubiously leaked a review should be avoided. Films should be judged on the final product.

  • Mass | March 21, 2012 9:31 PM

    What's wrong with reviewing it before it's put on screen? People review play's before they begin production.

    I like these "We read it" things, because they fill us in on some of the plot details, and speculate on what actors will play which roles. If anything, this article brings more awareness and excitement to the project. At least for me it does.

  • Ken Waters | March 21, 2012 8:27 PM

    @ CBH -- We really don't know where they got the script from but have to say I immediately thought the same thing about the article but did it not just protect the storyline as belonging to them. At least no one can steal it now cause that never happens in Hollywood. I have to agree, tad to many spoilers but then my next thought was, good platform to bring up and pitch one of my scripts and let's face it. If it was easy to get a big budget film produced, everyone would be doing it. If you've never written a screenplay. It doesn't happen over night, takes months and months to pen and polish before you can shop it around. Then be prepared to spend months on the rewrites they may ask for. Like CBH addressed, be kind to other people's hard work.

  • Ken Waters | March 21, 2012 3:54 PMReply

    You should try and get Mann to revisit Runaway Weekend AKA Angels Never Die, content also about an LA P.I. -- this one is based on and inspired by a true story. I've had some major production companies showing interest -- now they want their top level director and A-list talent attached. Still working on that. The aforementioned content would be a great fit for Mark Wahlberg and I don't think he's worked with Mann yet.

  • Christian | March 21, 2012 2:30 PMReply

    I'd still like to see the film happen someday. Thanks, Playlist!

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