There was a Big Unaddressed Element in Michael Fleming‘s 9.21 Variety story about Crash director Paul Haggis suddenly abandoning Against All Enemies, a feature adaptation of Richard Clarke‘s best-seller about the roots of 9/11, and his jumping into “talks” to direct Tommy Lee Jones and Charlize Theron in The Garden of Elah .
The BUE is why did Against All Enemies, a Sony project with Sean Penn playing Clarke, suddenly disassemble? An ICM source close to the situation says Fleming’s story creates a misleading impression since “there’s always been this little movie” — i.e., the Garden of Elah project — “that Haggis has wanted to do before Enemies, which, for the longest time, has been set for a March or April ’07 start date.”
Haggis never returns calls, but here’s a scenario involving Penn. A person who usually hears reliable info passed part of this along (he first heard it around the time of the Telluride Film Festival) and the core of it has been confirmed again today by another party in a position to know.
Sony execs, it’s being speculated, finally saw a finished version of All The King’s Men in July/August, realized they almost certainly had a bomb on their hands, and decided this was imminent partly due to Penn’s less-than-charismatic lead performance as Willie Stark. (The $3,709,000 it’s expected to earn this weekend means it has bombed, and as much as Penn’s performance has been admired by some criitcs, lovable and charismatic he’s not.)
This determination led to attempts to try and figure a way to uncast Penn as the Enemies lead. One way to push him out was to renegotiate (i.e., reduce) his fee. (Before he won the Best Actor Oscar for Mystic River Penn was probably struggling in the under $5 million range, and after the Oscar he probably got his quote up to the $8 to $10 million range…maybe.) Penn’s CAA agents balked and wouldn’t reduce it, and Haggis stood by Penn, and so Sony pulled the plug.
The Penn-wouldn’t-reduce-his-fee-so-Sony-pulled-the-plug story is precisely how it was passed along to me. The rest is informed speculation. If it turns out to be true it could be read as another instance of a big studio saying no to out-of-proportion demands from a big-name movie star.
Another possible factor is that Sony had developed concerns about the box-office potential of Against All Enemies, given the decent but less-than-explosive responses to United 93 and World Trade Center.
Sony may have also developed cold feet due to the political storm that came out of the anti-Clinton-administration inaccuracies in ABC TV’s Path to 9/11, which covered some of the same territory as the Clarke book, and perhaps because they saw a potential for troublesome controversy in Against All Enemies, which had onscreen speaking parts in an early screenplay for Bill Clinton, Condoleezza Rice and Dick Cheney (but not President Bush).
Fleming reported that Warner Independent Pictures will distribute Garden of Elah (which is ashitty title, by the way…what does “Elah” mean?) domestically, because WB owns the underlying material from which Haggis wrote the script.
Elah is an adaptation of Mark Boal‘s Playboy magazine piece “Death and Dishonor” about a mysterious disappearance of an Iraq War veteran.
“Jones will play a career soldier whose son mysteriously goes AWOL, shortly after returning to the U.S. from the front lines in Iraq,” Fleming’s story reads. “Theron will play a local police detective who helps him get to the bottom of the soldier’s disappearance.
“Pic is a fictionalized version of a true story, in which retired Army vet named Lanny Davis uncovered that his son had been murdered during a night of carousing. He’d been attacked by members of his own platoon who were still hopped up from a ferociously violent battlefield tour in Baghdad.”